The New York Times reported on Thursday that two White House officials helped give Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) the intelligence reports that he cited in last week’s bizarre announcement that he “recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
Later on Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that three White House officials were involved.
Nunes had previously denied this, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had cast scorn on the allegation.
Last week, Nunes went to the White House grounds and reviewed intelligence documents with a source. Though he and his spokesman repeatedly vowed to never reveal any information about his source, he apparently told Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) that the information came from a “whistleblower-type person” and told Bloomberg’s Eli Lake that the source was an intelligence official but not a White House staffer. Nunes also claimed that no one at the White House knew he was there — a claim that would require shocking ineptitude on the part of the Secret Service team that clears all visits to the grounds before guests can enter.
Spicer also mocked the notion that the White House had provided the information — which Nunes then presented to President Trump before even alerting his committee.
“I don’t know what he actually briefed the president on, but I don’t know why he would come up to brief the president on something that we gave him,” Spicer told the press corp last week. “That doesn’t really seem to make a ton of sense.”
According to the New York Times report, multiple U.S. officials identified Nunes’ connections as “Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.” The Washington Post report added that, “After assembling reports that showed that Trump campaign officials were mentioned or inadvertently monitored by U.S. spy agencies targeting foreign individuals, [Cohen-Watnick] took the matter to the top lawyer for the National Security Council, John Eisenberg.”
Trump claimed after Nunes announced his findings that he felt “somewhat vindicated,” even though nothing in the Intelligence Chairman’s discovery in any way confirmed the president’s definitively debunked claim that President Obama had “tapped” Trump Tower .
Nunes told Bloomberg’s Lake on Thursday that the New York Times story contained inaccurate elements, but conceded, “I did use the White House to help to confirm what I already knew from other sources.” Lake called this new admission “ body blow for Nunes, who presented his findings last week as if they were surprising to the White House.”
The White House refused to comment, but Trump did tweet on Thursday morning that the “failing” New York times “has disgraced the media world” and suggested that libel laws be changed to punish the paper. Meanwhile, Spicer may have inadvertently tipped his hand, acknowledging that “two individuals who are properly cleared — or three or whoever he met with, I don’t know — that, they are sharing stuff that is entirely legal with the appropriate clearances, and then there is an obsession on the process.”
This post has been updated to include the Washington Post report and Nunes new admission to Bloomberg.