Mar 22, 2017

Devin Nunes creates his own "big, gray cloud"

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

On Monday, House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes lectured FBI Director James Comey for putting "a big, gray cloud" over the Trump White House. Two days later, Nunes floated a new gray cloud — this time over the Obama Administration.

Most extraordinarily, Nunes wouldn't rule out the possibility that the surveillance of Trump and his transition team was a politically motivated act by the Obama Administration. That's probably why Trump said afterwards that he now feels vindicated for his wiretapping tweet, even though Nunes still says Obama himself didn't order a tap of Trump's phone.

Bottom line: Nunes' actions today were extraordinary. They raise both substantive and political questions. Was Trump being inappropriately surveilled? Were they appropriately surveilled and inappropriately unmasked? And is Nunes risking his credibility as intelligence chair by giving the administration a giant political gift?

What Nunes revealed, shortly after he briefed President Trump at the White House:

  • Nunes says a person or people — he wouldn't give any more detail than that — brought to him intelligence reports that showed the Obama Administration collected communications related to President-elect and his transition team.
  • He said what he'd seen concerned him and we should have more information by Friday.
  • Nunes said the surveillance had nothing to do with Russia, was "incidental collection," and probably legal, which means Trump or his team were likely talking to an intelligence target or targets whose surveillance was approved by the FISA Court.
  • Incidental means the Trump folks were not the target, but by questioning whether the targeting was appropriate Nunes raises questions about political motive.
  • Some of these names — and he strongly hinted the President was among them —were "unmasked." That likely means one of 20 or so people on the NSA staff decided there was a reason to change the names of the Trump folks from "person A" to their actual name.
  • The intelligence reports naming the Trump team people are circulating around the intelligence community and Nunes doesn't know how many people have seen them.

What Nunes wouldn't reveal:

  • The names of the Trump transition team members under surveillance.
  • What was said in the conversations: "I think it [the surveillance] should bother the President himself and his team... because some of it seems to be inappropriate."
  • The names of the foreign targets of the surveillance. Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative who opposed Trump in the election, tweeted: "If what @DevinNunes says is true, Trump was communicating with persons of intelligence or criminal interest."
  • Who ordered the surveillance.

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