The White House is offering to share with key congressional leaders “material that has come to light” about the handling of communications intercepts involving American citizens, press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday.
Spicer said the new material was discovered by national security staffers “in the ordinary course of business.” He said a letter had been sent, offering to make the information available to House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes and ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.
The announcement during Spicer’s regular daily press briefing is the latest twist in the controversy that was touched off weeks ago by President Trump’s tweet alleging wiretapping of Trump Tower. Although no evidence for that has come to light — and investigators have unanimously debunked the charge — Nunes has suggested that American citizens, presumably connected to the Trump presidential campaign, might have been monitored or overheard in conversation with foreign officials in the course of routine intelligence gathering. Nunes and other Republicans on the committee have made the handling of these intercepts — within the government and in leaks to the media — a focus of their investigation.
Democrats want to steer the investigation toward allegations of contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign members.
Spicer was pressed by reporters to comment on a New York Times report that two White House officials played a role in giving Nunes information related to the so-called “incidental” communications intercepts. He refused to confirm the story.
“I never said I’d provide you answers,” Spicer said at his daily press briefing. “I said we’d look into it.”
“Your obsession with who talked to whom and when is not the answer here,” he told reporters.
Earlier Thursday, the Times reported that several current American officials had identified Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues, as the White House officials who helped provide Nunes with the intelligence reports. Yahoo News had previously reported that the committee’s speculation was focused on Ellis.
Last week, Nunes sparked a firestorm when he declared that he had seen information leading him to believe that Trump campaign officers may have been swept up in the surveillance of foreign officials prior to the election.
His statement, provided at a press conference held at the White House, was seized on by Trump, who said it supported his tweet that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap on his Trump Tower headquarters. The administration has provided no basis for that claim, and investigators, including from the FBI, have found no evidence of it. The White House called on the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate the wiretapping allegations alongside their probe of the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the U.S. election.
Earlier this week, reports indicated that Nunes had talked to his mystery source on the White House grounds, leading to calls for his recusal from the investigation. As a member of Congress, Nunes could not have accessed the White House complex without being cleared or escorted by staff.
“This is what a cover-up to a crime looks like,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the committee, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday. “Going over to the White House, he went to receive information that you know, Joe, we can receive at the Capitol. We have our own secure facility.”
Nunes apologized to his committee members for briefing the White House on his findings first, instead of his panel, and speculation has swirled as to who exactly gave the California lawmaker his secret intel.
On Thursday, a spokesman for Nunes would not comment on the Times report, either.
“As he’s stated many times, Chairman Nunes will not confirm or deny speculation about his source’s identity,” House intelligence committee spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement. “And he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources.”
Spicer refused to add to the speculation.
“If I start going down the path of confirming and denying one thing, we’re going down a very slippery slope,” he said.
At a press conference later Thursday, Schiff said Spicer’s offer raises more questions about the “circuitous route” of the materials being provided to the panel.
“If these materials or a subset of materials were previously provided to the chairman,” Schiff said, “it raises profound questions about just what the White House is doing.”
Read more from Yahoo News: