House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) held a press conference in front of the Capitol today and stated that President Obama ordered surveillance on members of President Donald Trump’s team following his electoral victory in November. This continues a weeks-long conversation that started with President Trump tweeting that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower, causing chaos across Washington D.C, and the press. Here is what we learned from Nunes’ presser:
1. Trump’s team was not the intended targets of surveillance.
According to The Wall Streeet Journal, Nunes told reporters that the information gathered through interceptions were examples of “incidental collection,” meaning that Trump’s advisers and transition team members were not targeted by intelligence entities. In other words, the United States was intercepting an additional foreign party that supposedly contacted members of Trump’s team.
2. It was completely legal.
Nunes told reporters that the wiretapping was legal since it was authorized to assist various governments in surveiling foreign entities for intelligence-gathering purposes.
3. Nunes indicates that Russians were likely not involved in these particular interceptions.
Nunes stated that the interceptions that he discussed with President Trump today did not seem to involve the Russians. However, he did not specify where intelligence agencies were surveilling. This raises additional questions as to whom Trump’s advisers could have been in contact with at the time that Obama authorized the surveillance operation and why Obama was taking information from those specific nation-states.
4. The interceptions occurred after Trump’s election up until his inauguration
The Wall Street Journal also reported that communications between Trump’s people and the unknown foreign entity occurred in November, December, and January. Given this information, it seems suspicious that intelligence services managed to capture members of Trump’s campaign and transition teams during Obama’s lame duck period. Trump’s team also received access to government offices and resources in order to help the transition between Obama and Trump.
5. Other than Flynn, we do not know how many members of the transition team were intercepted.
Politico states that while we know about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had his calls with the Russian ambassador intercepted, Nunes did not give any information about other members of the Trump team who got surveiled between Trump’s electoral victory and his inauguration. Their identities have yet to be unmasked by intelligence services. It is also possible that Trump himself was intercepted.
6. Nunes said the information was likely meaningless.
Politico also reported that Nunes said that the information that he had seen of the communications between the intended surveillance targets and members of Trump’s team seemed to have “little or no apparent intelligence value.” While that seems comforting on its face, it still calls the question of what was discussed between the intended target and the Trump transition team.
7. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) was not informed of this information ahead of Nunes’ press conference.
Reporters also stated that Rep. Schiff, Nunes’ counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee, was not informed of any of the information the chairman shared with the President. He ripped Nunes for his failure to disclose this information and charged him with improperly conducting the investigation.
Today, Chairman Nunes shared information with WH still withheld from our committee. He cannot conduct a credible investigation this way. pic.twitter.com/wwrp7H7JWC
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 22, 2017
8. There is still no evidence that Trump Tower was bugged
NPR stated Nunes made it clear there is still no physical evidence to corroborate Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. However, Nunes did help Trump’s claim that the Obama administration did listen on his team’s transition into office. As The Daily Wire‘s Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro wrote, Trump would have been better off broadening his controversial claim instead of doubling-down on a story that has yet to be proven correct.
While more information needs to be disseminated over time to answer additional questions, it is becoming clear that Trump might not have been wrong in stating that President Obama was keeping tabs on members of his transition team prior to entering office. Trump still refuses to back down from his Trump Tower allegation, but if this newly-released information is entirely credible and legitimate, then the electorate might not care that Trump distorted the truth. This also demonstrates that then-President Obama took a very low road in having intelligence agencies listening to his successor’s team — although it’s unclear whether they captured Trump’s team intentionally or indirectly.