The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to reframe the story about Trump’s shady connections with Russia as really being about the leakers who have conveyed information anonymously to the media.
Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017
In February, Press Secretary Sean Spicer reportedly went as far as to scour White House staffers’ phones in an effort to get to the bottom of who is leaking information.
But during his Monday press briefing, Spicer suddenly struck a very different tone. He said he’s not concerned about the possibility that someone in the White House leaked to House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). Nunes, in a clumsy attempt to validate Trump’s discredited claim that Obama wiretapped him in October, announced Wednesday that he had learned Trump transition officials had been incidentally and legally surveilled. After holding a news conference on the subject, he headed to the White House to brief Trump personally.
“Frankly, and questions regarding who he met with or why he was here should be referred to him,” Spicer said on Monday. Asked whether he’s concerned about the possibility there’s a leaker in the executive branch, Spicer replied, “No, we’re not concerned about that.”
As Spicer mentioned during the presser, Nunes told Bloomberg his source was an intelligence official, not a White House staffer. (This disclosure broke Nunes’ previous promise that he would “protect his source” by not revealing any information about them.)
But even if Nunes’ sources wasn’t a Trump administration official, that doesn’t mean the White House wasn’t complicit in Nunes obtaining his information. Speculation that the White House was somehow involved was heightened by the revelation Nunes met with his source on the White House grounds on Tuesday, the night before he held the aforementioned press conference and announced that he “recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
A former senior White House told NBC’s Peter Alexander that there’s no way the White House wasn’t complicit in Nunes’ rendezvous with his source.
Fmr sr. WH offical: Even House Intel chair must be cleared into WH grounds: "It's just not possible the WH was unaware or uninvolved.”
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) March 27, 2017
A spokesman for Nunes said he met with his source at the White House “in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source.” But such spaces are also available at the US Capitol.
Asked about possible White House complicity during Monday’s presser, Spicer wouldn’t confirm or deny anything.
At this point, the identity of Nunes’ source and the rationale behind deciding to meet at the White House remains unclear. But the Trump administration is clearly happy about Nunes’ so far unsubstantiated claim that Trump transition officials were (legally) surveilled.
The evening of Nunes’ press conference, Dan Scavino Jr., assistant to the president and director of White House social media, praised him for his loyalty to Trump, characterizing the House intel chair as “a member of [Trump’s] campaign from the start.”
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) March 23, 2017
Trump was also appreciative, telling a Time magazine reporter who happened to be interviewing just after Nunes’ news conference that he felt Nunes’ claim validated his wiretapping allegation.
“House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes told reporters, wow,” Trump said to his interviewer, reading a Politico report about Nunes’ news conference. “Nunes said, so that means I’m right.”
People outside the Trump orbit are less impressed, however. In the wake of Nunes’ news conference, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said last week he’s “calling for a select committee because I think this back-and-forth shows that Congress no longer has the credibility to handle this alone. And I don’t say that lightly.”
On Monday, Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) called Nunes’ White House meeting “suspicious,” adding, “anybody who goes anywhere in the White House complex, whether the Eisenhower building or the White House itself, you have to be escorted.” Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) released a statement calling for Nunes to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, saying news of Nunes’ White House trip “implies that the Chairman and the White House colluded in a desperate attempt to salvage the President’s credibility, after the President’s bogus wiretapping claims were debunked by his own FBI director.”