Two White House aides reportedly were sources for a top House Republican who said earlier this month that Trump transition team members were incidentally caught up in surveillance conducted on foreign targets after the presidential election.
It had previously been unclear who showed embattled House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes the documents; though it previously emerged Nunes viewed the files on White House grounds.
But on Thursday, “several” current officials identified the sources to The New York Times as Ezra Cohen-Warnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, an attorney at the White House Counsel’s Office who previously worked for the House Intelligence Committee.
Earlier this month, after President Trump tweeted that former President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” him, Ellis began viewing classified reports that showed “intercepted communications of foreign officials,” The Times reported. The reports mainly focused on foreign officials “talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump’s family and inner circle,” according to The Times.
Nunes shocked many observers with his revelation that Trump team members had been “unmasked” and had their identities widely disseminated throughout the government. Sources told The Times that Nunes’ characterization of the reports as having nothing to do with Russia appeared to be correct.
After his shocking news conference, Nunes, in a move panned by many Democrats, went to the White House to inform Trump of what he had found. Other members of the House Intelligence Committee say they have not seen the documents, though Nunes has said he is trying to get members access to them.
Nunes has said the intelligence collection appeared to have been done lawfully, and the intercepts of Trump team members were only collected incidentally. However, Nunes raised questions over the apparent unmasking of multiple officials and the extensive dissemination of the information — ostensibly to be used against Trump.
Though The Times report doesn’t dispute any essential facts of what Nunes said, it’s likely to embolden detractors who already say Nunes is too close to the White House and Trump – on whose transition team Nunes served.
Democrats want Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Nunes has resisted, defending his actions.