House Intel Sends Unmasking Subpoenas As Russia Probe Escalates

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., left, speaks to reporters in the Capitol in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., left, speaks to reporters in the Capitol in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election heats up—with a new round of subpoenas sent to associates of President Donald Trump—some committee members reportedly are attempting to push the probe in a different direction.

The panel this week also subpoenaed the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency, demanding information on why the names of Trump campaign and transition staffers who communicated with Russian officials appeared un-redacted, or “unmasked,” in intelligence reports that were later leaked to the press.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the committee is specifically seeking records regarding unmasking requests that may have been made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. The subpoenas went to the agencies and not to those individuals personally, and it’s unclear whether requests for the same information were sent out prior to the subpoenas.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Thursday on MSNBC that no Democratic members of the committee were involved with or even informed of that move, which he said was spearheaded by the panel’s Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA).

“We weren’t consulted,” he said.

Nunes stepped down from leading the panel’s Russia investigation in April, after the House Ethics Committee launched its own investigation into allegations Nunes mishandled classified documents. But recent reports revealed that despite this quasi-recusal, Nunes has continued to review classified material related to the Russia probe and retains the power to issue subpoenas. Schiff said Thursday that he believes Nunes is violating his recusal from Russia probe by doing so.

A senior House Intelligence Committee aide told TPM that by issuing the subpoenas, Nunes was “acting separately from the Committee’s Russia investigation,” adding: “This action would have been taken without the Minority’s agreement. Any prior requests for information would have been undertaken without the Minority’s knowledge.”

A GOP aide emphasized this divide to the Wall Street Journal, saying that “the unmasking investigation was now considered separate from the Russia probe, allowing Mr. Nunes to act on his own.”

As the Russia investigation has consumed Washington, congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump have repeatedly attempted to shift the focus to questions about “unmasking,” charging that Obama administration officials intentionally revealed the names for political reasons. Trump tweeted Thursday that it was “the big story” and deserved more attention than Russian election meddling.

Schiff said on CNN Thursday of Nunes’ new subpoenas: “I have to conclude this is part of the White House effort to direct attention in another direction” as the Russia probe intensifies. He added that he has raised concerns about Nunes’ involvement to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

National security experts have repeatedly emphasized that the alleged unmasking in question is neither rare nor necessarily nefarious. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that in 2016 alone, nearly 2,000 names of U.S. citizens were unmasked. He described it as a routine practice that helps agents “fully understand the context of the communication and the potential threat being posed.”

Schiff said Thursday that he did not understand the necessity of issuing the subpoenas other than “publicity.”

“I think the agencies are cooperating with us and have not attempted to withhold any information from us,” he said. “I don’t see the point. They’re working in good faith with us.”

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Dc
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: