Today House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told reporters that, as has long been rumored and reported, one or more intelligence agencies did collect communications of members of President Trump’s campaign during the Fall of 2016:
Members of the intelligence community collected “incidental” communications of the Trump transition team during legal surveillance operations of foreign targets, a top Republican lawmaker said Wednesday afternoon.
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said this produced “dozens” of reports which eventually unmasked several individuals’ identities and were “widely disseminated.”
He said none of the reports he had read mentioned Russia or Russians and he was unsure whether the surveillance occurred at Trump Tower — as President Trump has suggested. Nunes also was unsure if then President-elect Trump was captured by the surveillance, which occurred in November, December and January.
This is a natural follow-up to Monday’s Intelligence Committee hearing, which, as I wrote here, produced little if any news. But there was a lot of discussion of incidental collection, which is what Nunes is talking about. Whether that incidental collection occurred in connection with a Russia-related investigation is not clear from Nunes’s comments, nor is it clear how (if at all) the incidental collection relates to the FBI investigation that James Comey described on Monday.
Does this mean that President Trump’s famous tweets were right all along? Not exactly. Trump claimed that the Obama administration had his “wires tapped” in Trump tower. That implies that he or his associates were targets of licit or illicit surveillance, whereas Nunes says the government was spying on someone else and picked up Trump team members’ communications only incidentally.
Of course, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that, apart from incidental communications, the FBI or someone else was specifically targeting associates of Donald Trump for surveillance.
Closer to the heart of the matter may be Nunes’s observation that the identities of Trump associates subject to such incidental surveillance were “widely disseminated.” This “unmasking” is a federal crime, as House members discussed with Comey and Rogers on Monday. So, while President Trump may have been wrong in believing that the Obama administration directed surveillance at him or his associates–the jury is still out on that question–he was certainly right to be angry about the fact that information reflecting badly on his associates, collected through apparently legal surveillance, was leaked to the press in an effort to damage his campaign or his administration.