WASHINGTON – It didn’t take long for a buzz of electricity to crackle through the glorified shoebox that is the White House press briefing room.
It was the news they’d all been waiting to hear.
Network reporters jumped on boxes to do live reports breathlessly passing on the news: The New York Times had just dropped a bombshell.
And then they all proceeded to miss the lead.
That was likely because the Times itself had buried the lead 10 paragraphs below the headline, which read: “2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports.”
However, the tenth paragraph read: “But the officials’ description of the intelligence is in line with Mr. Nunes’s own characterization of the material.”
In other words, the New York Times’ own sources confirmed that the way House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had described the information in key classified documents was accurate.
And what Nunes had seen may prove President Trump’s claim that former President Obama spied on him and his transition team.
Still, the media remained fixated on how Nunes got the information, and whether it was improperly obtained, rather than what the information actually said. And why he wasn’t sharing it with other key lawmakers, including the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
So, on Thursday afternoon, the White House dropped a bombshell of its own, and announced at the start of the daily press briefing that it had invited leaders of congressional intelligence committees to review the documents Nunes has seen.
In that one fell swoop, President Trump totally changed the dynamic in the hottest controversy in Washington, by:
- Defusing much of the criticism of chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. for not sharing the information with other congressional leaders;
- Providing congressional leaders access to evidence that may show President Obama spied on the Trump transition team;
- Forcing the media to focus on the message instead of the messenger.
To recap, Nunes had announced on March 22, as WND reported, he had learned from intelligence sources that “on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
And details about those people “were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting” even though they had “little or no apparent foreign intelligence value.”
Then it was reported that on March 21, the day before Nunes made his announcement, he had come to the White House to meet a source and review dozens of intelligence reports on the Trump transition team acquired via government spying.
The next day, Nunes discussed the intelligence reports with President Trump but said he hasn’t been able to share the contents with others because he wants to protect his sources, who he described as whistle-blowers taking great risks to expose wrongdoing.
Essentially, the chairman has been waiting for the FBI, CIA and NSA to provide information to the Intelligence committee which could corroborate the information his sources provided. Then the committee would know what Nunes knows and see what he’s seen.
On March 15, Nunes and Intelligence committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., sent a letter to the heads of the FBI, CIA and NSA, asking for a full account of surveillance activities by the Obama administration on the Trump transition team.
WND has learned the committee has received a little information back but is waiting for much more from all three agencies. If the agencies fully comply with the request, they believe the documents will shed a lot of light on the issue.
Nunes has said the NSA has been complying with the request, but the FBI has not.
However, those three spy agencies were not the only ones to whom the March 15 letter was addressed.
The letter was also CC’d to acting Director of National Intelligence Michael Dempsey. The DNI is a member of the White House staff, as the principal adviser to the president on intelligence matters related to national security.
So, White House Counsel Donald McGahn responded to the March 15 request by inviting intelligence committee leaders to look at the documents for themselves, and “determine whether information collected on U.S. persons was mishandled and leaked.”
The White House letter also asks the committees to determine if the intelligence collection was proper, whether names were revealed improperly, and “to the extent that U.S. citizens were subject to such surveillance, were civil liberties violated?”
“Our view was that the smart move was to make all the materials available to the chairman and the ranking member of the relevant committees,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
He added, “We want them to look into this, as we have maintained all along – that I think there’s a belief that the president has maintained – that there was surveillance that occurred during the 2016 election that was improper.”
Before the start of the press briefing Spicer read from the White House letter to the ranking members and chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that said:
“In the ordinary course of business, national security staff discovered documents that we believe are in response to your March 15, 2017 letter to the intelligence community seeking ‘documents necessary to determine whether information collected on U.S. persons was mishandled and leaked.'”
Spicer then said, “We have and will invite the Senate and House ranking members and Chairman up to the White House to view that material in accordance with their schedule.”
As WND reported on Thursday, a former Obama official appears to have inadvertently confirmed the former president’s administration spied on then President-elect Trump’s transition team for political purposes.
Speaking on MSNBC March 2, Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense under Obama, confirmed that not only was the previous administration collecting intelligence on the Trump team, it was attempting to share it as far and wide as possible.
Farkas said the reason for that was, “We have very good intelligence on Russia,” and she “very worried because not enough was coming out into the open.”
However, since then, intelligence chiefs who have seen the classified information in question, including Obama’s own former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as well as former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, have said they have seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government.
That would appear to indicate the real reason the Obama administration was feverishly collecting and sharing the classified information was not for national security purposes, but for political reasons.
For weeks, reporters have demanded to know: Where is the evidence to back up President Trump’s claim that the Obama administration spied on him?
Then reporters demanded to know details about how Nunes got the intelligence information showing the Obama administration spied on the Trump team and where he got it.
Nunes said he went to the White House to meet a source and review dozens of intelligence reports because that was simply the most convenient secure location that had a computer connected to the system that housed the reports.
The chairman told Bloomberg News, “We don’t have networked access to these kinds of reports in Congress.”
Nunes also said his source was an intelligence official and not a member of the White House staff.
But when the Times story broke Thursday morning, claiming that a pair of White House officials “helped” Nunes get the intelligence reports, reporters thought they had a smoking gun proving the administration colluded with the chairman in some nefarious way to obtain the information.
However, a close look at the Times story shows that it said only that a pair of White House officials “played a role” in providing the reports to Nunes and “assisted” in the disclosure.
Those vague descriptions did not indicate the Trump White House played any role in shaping the content of the reports.
Ever since Nunes made his March 22 announcement that he had seen the intelligence information, Spicer has accused the reporters of attacking the messenger and ignoring the message, and the Times story added gasoline to the fire.
Spicer’s sentiments were perhaps best summed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who said earlier in the week, “Whether it was the White House or Waffle House, what difference does it make if the information is reliable and authentic?”