Today, (3/20/17), it was finally disclosed that on 3/21/17, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) reviewed intelligence data pertinent to the president’s claim of having been under surveillance. with two sources at the White House, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis, both known associates of Mr. Nunes.
Then on 3/22/17 he had his huddle with the US House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-KY) before he participated in a quickie press conference, followed by a run to the White House to share his findings with the president which culminated with him holding another press conference.
Now on (3/30/17), we learn about a White House letter stating that in the course of the staff doing they regular duties, they inadvertently discovered the intelligence data which was shared at the White House with Rep. Devin Nunes, but which has yet to be shared with his fellow committee members.
Note: Rep. Nunes and his spokesperson have previously told at least two news outlets that the sources were not White House staffers but the White House has made just the opposite claim.
This leaves many of us asking the question, for what ostensible reason would the republican President Donald Trump and his team go through all this clock and dagger stuff?
The rest of the story…
On 3/30/17, Barton Gellman of The Century Foundation penned the following inquiry, “Is the Trump White House Spying on the FBI?”
“This week (3/21/17) it emerged that (the California republican chair of the US House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin) Nunes had met his whistleblowers on the grounds of the White House. That meant he left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, caught a ride to the Capitol (3/22/17), held a news conference, and only then drove back to the White House to deliver the ostensibly urgent news to President Trump. Today (3/30/17) we learned definitively that the whole performance was a charade.”
“The intelligence chairman’s sources, according to the New York Times, were a pair of Trump appointees: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a detailee from the Defense Intelligence Agency who is senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, an assistant White House counsel for national security affairs. They are not just any presidential appointees. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster recently tried to fire Cohen-Watnick, a holdover selected by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and Trump himself ordered McMaster to stand down. Ellis, the White House lawyer, used to work for Nunes on the intelligence committee.
“If the Times report is accurate, there seem to be two significant breaches of the rules governing classified information. I stipulate that I am not an ideal messenger here, given my role in Ed Snowden’s NSA disclosures, and I also stipulate that news organizations are using classified leaks to track the Russia investigation. But journalists are not generally bound by secrecy regulations, and sometimes we cannot do our jobs without publishing classified facts.”
“This case is different. Three named officials—two Trump appointees and arguably his leading defender on the Hill—appear to have engaged in precisely the behavior that the president describes as the true national security threat posed by the Russia debate. Secrecy regulations, including SF312, the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, do not permit Ellis and Cohen-Watnick to distribute sensitive compartmentalized information through a back channel to Nunes.”
“This is true, and their conduct no less an offense, even though Nunes holds clearances sufficient to receive the information through proper channels. The offense, which in some cases can be prosecuted as a felony, would apply even if the White House officials showed Nunes only “tearsheet” summaries of the surveillance reports. Based on what Nunes has said in public, they appear to have showed him the more sensitive verbatim transcripts.”
“Those are always classified as TS/SI (special intelligence) or TS/COMINT (communications intelligence), which means that they could reveal sources and methods if disclosed. That is the first apparent breach of secrecy rules. The second, of course, is the impromptu Nunes news conference. There is no unclassified way to speak in public about the identity of a target or an “incidentally collected” communicant in a surveillance operation.
“Two more questions raised today look even more serious to me. One has to do with the main complaint that Nunes aired in his news conference. Even if Trump and his associates were swept lawfully into the eavesdropping operations, he said, their identities should have been masked in the intelligence reports. Under the intelligence community’s “minimization” rules, names of American citizens and green card holders are normally removed and replaced with some variation of “(MINIMIZED U.S. PERSON).” The rules allow for somewhat more specificity. Nunes said he could easily guess the names, even when minimized. That would be true, for example, if a report mentioned a “(MINIMIZED U.S. CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL)” who did business in Ukraine. That may look like a joke, but it’s not. I have seen references in NSA reports to “(MINIMIZED U.S. PRESIDENT).”
“There are well-established procedures for the “customers” of an intelligence report to request that the names of Americans be unmasked entirely. The governing standard is supposed to be that the names are essential to understanding the meaning or significance of the report.”
“This brings me to the second question, which I see as the core disclosure of the Times story (even though the Times does not explicitly mention it). If Nunes saw reports that named Trump or his associates, as he said, the initiative for naming names did not come from the originating intelligence agency. That is not how the process works. The names could only have been unmasked if the customers—who seem in this case to have been Trump’s White House appointees—made that request themselves. If anyone breached the president’s privacy, the perpetrators were working down the hall from him. (Okay, probably in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.) It is of course hypocritical, even deceptive, for Nunes to lay that blame at the feet of intelligence officials, but that is not the central concern either.”
“If events took place as just described, then what exactly were Trump’s appointees doing? I am not talking only about the political chore of ginning up (ostensible) support for the president’s baseless claims about illegal surveillance by President Obama. I mean this: why would a White House lawyer and the top White House intelligence adviser be requesting copies of these surveillance reports in the first place? Why would they go on to ask that the names be unmasked? There is no chance that the FBI would brief them about the substance or progress of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russian government. Were the president’s men using the surveillance assets of the U.S. government to track the FBI investigation from the outside?”