House Intel Committee chiefs spar over revelation of Trump team surveillance

Trump surveillance

The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee said again on Wednesday that there is no evidence to support President Trump’s claim that his phones were tapped during the campaign on the orders of President Obama

But U.S Rep. Devin Nunes did reveal Wednesday that after the election, Mr. Trump and some of his aides were intercepted speaking to foreign officials. Nunes said the intelligence intercepts were routine and lawful, but the committee chairman took the unusual step of briefing Mr. Trump.

House Intel Chair: May have been "incidental collection" of Trump communications

“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes said Wednesday. 

Nunes said he had seen about a dozen intercepted communications involving members of the Trump transition team, CBS News’ Margaret Brennan reports. That means either Trump associates - or Mr. Trump himself - were in contact with foreigners under surveillance or the foreigners were discussing the Trump team. 

Trump feels "somewhat" vindicated by Rep. Nunes' comments

“I believe it was all done legally,” Nunes said. 

Nunes’ committee is investigating Russian interference in the election, but the chairman said the reports did not involve Russia. After briefing the president, Nunes said he was concerned that Mr. Trump’s name and those of his team were not properly redacted from reports, thus “unmasking” their identities.

“There’s additional unmasking of names, which I think is totally inappropriate,” Nunes told CBS News’ Brennan. 

Rep. Adam Schiff slams Rep. Devin Nunes' comments on Trump intel

A short time later, Mr. Trump was asked if the new information vindicated his claims that former President Obama wiretapped his phones.

“I somewhat do, I must tell you, I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, but I somewhat do,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday.  

But Nunes himself said the president was wrong.

“That did not happen,” Nunes said.

Nunes took the unusual step of briefing the press and the president before telling Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee. 

“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians or he’s going to act as a surrogate of the White House because he cannot do both,” Schiff said. 

Nunes himself was a member of the Trump transition team, and now even some Republicans are calling for a special congressional committee to lead the investigation.

Former CIA director Michael Morell told CBS News that this type of surveillence is aimed at a “legitimate foreign national intelligence” target and not an American. 

Why might Trump's associates have been surveilled?

Morell, who was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, said the target “wasn’t Donald Trump.”

Just because there is surveillance doesn’t necessarily mean there was nefarious activity, Morell said, and there are “thousands of conversations everyday between U.S. officials and foreign officials, and some of those conversations are picked up.”

Morell said Nunes is wrong to say there was no valuable intelligence collected. “These reports would not have been disseminated by NSA had NSA not believed there was intelligence value there,” Morell said.  

Morell told CBS News that the unusual step of taking the news to Mr. Trump indicates to Morell that Nunes did not get these intelligence reports directly from NSA director Mike Rogers.  

Morell said it would have been more “appropriate” to have spoken to Rogers and the House intelligence speaking and going to the White House first with the information.