House Intelligence panel receives documents on wiretapping
By Karoun Demirjian,
The House Intelligence Committee received a set of documents Friday from the Justice Department in response to their request for materials regarding President Trump’s accusation that President Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower during the campaign.
A spokesman for the committee said the panel was reviewing the materials Friday afternoon.
Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) originally requested the Justice Department send them copies of any wiretapping warrants, applications, court orders or other proof of Trump’s allegations by this past Monday. But the lawmakers extended the deadline until this coming Monday at the administration’s request.
Many lawmakers, including Nunes and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have expressed skepticism that such wiretaps existed.
The documents were delivered prior to a public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, where FBI Director James B. Comey has been asked to clarify if the bureau is investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election and alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials. Both the House and Senate intelligence committees are probing those matters, as well as Trump’s wiretapping allegations.
Earlier this week, House Intelligence Committee leaders requested a list of names of any individuals whose names were “unmasked” in the course of surveillance activities focused elsewhere. Nunes and Schiff sent the request to Comey, National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The request stems from the charge, made March 4 by Trump on Twitter, that the Obama administration ordered surveillance of Trump’s phones at his campaign headquarters during the campaign. Since then, Trump has said he was speaking more generally about possible surveillance methods besides wiretaps.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer even suggested this week that Trump may have been under surveillance as part of information that was incidentally collected during an investigation focused elsewhere. He cited Nunes’s comments to reporters this week that “it’s possible” Trump could have been on the wrong end of a phone call being tapped for other purposes.
That runs counter to the president’s assertion he was the unfair target of the Obama administration’s surveillance – a charge both Democrats and Republicans have argued there is no evidence to back up.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was ousted last month after details surfaced about his contacts with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office (Flynn was officially asked to leave because he misled Vice President Pence about the contacts). Though Flynn was not himself under surveillance, Kislyak was, letting the details of Flynn’s contacts be obtained through “incidental collection.”
And this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from any Justice Department investigations pertaining to the Trump campaign, after he was shown to have had two meetings with Kislyak that he had not previously publicly disclosed.