White House invites lawmakers to see intel material
Washington — The White House refused to say on Thursday whether it secretly fed intelligence reports to a top Republican investigating possible coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Fending off growing criticism, the administration invited lawmakers from both parties to view classified material it said relates to surveillance of the president’s associates.
The White House’s invitation letter came amid a quickly rising storm over Rep. Devin Nunes, who heads the House intelligence committee. The New York Times reported that two White House officials — including an aide whose job was recently saved by President Donald Trump — secretly helped Nunes examine intelligence information last week.
Meanwhile, Michael Flynn’s attorney says the former national security adviser is in discussions with the House and Senate intelligence committees on receiving immunity from “unfair prosecution” in exchange for questioning.
Flynn was fired from his job as President Trump’s first national security adviser after it was disclosed that he misled the vice president about a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
The House panel’s work has been deeply, and perhaps irreparably, undermined by Nunes’ apparent coordination with the White House. He told reporters last week that he had seen troubling information about the improper distribution of Trump associates’ intercepted communications, and he briefed the president on the material, all before informing Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat.
Speaking on Capitol Hill Thursday, Schiff said he was “more than willing” to accept the White House offer to view new information. But he raised concerns that Trump officials may have used Nunes to “launder information to our committee to avoid the true source.”
The White House continued to sidestep queries about its role in showing Nunes classified information that appears to have included transcripts of foreign officials discussing Trump’s transition to the presidency, according to current and former U.S. officials.
Meanwhile, the Senate intelligence committee held its own hearing, a less combative affair in which Russia experts from universities, think tanks and elsewhere described a serious attempt to meddle in the U.S. election — and efforts in France and Germany as well.
In Washington early last week, White House officials privately encouraged reporters to look into whether information about Trump associates had been improperly revealed in the intelligence gathering process. Days later, Nunes announced that he had evidence, via an unnamed source, showing that Trump and his aides’ communications had been collected through legal means but then “widely disseminated” throughout government agencies.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Thursday the material the White House wants the House and Senate intelligence leaders to view was discovered by the National Security Council through the course of regular business.
The Times reported that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the White House National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a White House lawyer who previously worked on the House intelligence committee, played roles in helping Nunes view the materials.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.