The New York Times is reporting that two Trump administration officials helped House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes access material that allegedly revealed that the names of Trump associates may have been inappropriately disclosed in intelligence reports after being caught up in incidental U.S. surveillance of foreign officials.
In a move that now seems bizarre, Nunes subsequently announced his discovery of that information—and briefed Donald Trump on it—without mentioning that he had obtained it at a meeting on White House grounds. (The point of Nunes’ announcement seems to have been to push the administration-friendly idea that Obama officials’ leaks of classified information regarding Trump and Russia are a more troubling problem than whatever contact the Trump campaign may have had with Russian officials.)
From the Times:
Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee …
Mr. Cohen-Watnick is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser. The officials said that earlier this month, shortly after Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter about being wiretapped on the orders of President Barack Obama, Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.
The backgrounds of the men identified do not undercut the appearance that Nunes’ ostensibly independent investigation is being conducted with the intention of helping the White House politically. Ellis is a former Nunes staffer, while Politico reported earlier this month that Trump’s political advisers intervened to overrule National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster when McMaster asked to move Cohen-Watnick to a different job.
Nunes had reportedly refused to tell even the other members of the House Intelligence Committee who had given him the information he saw at the White House and denied to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake that his source had been a “White House staffer,” telling him instead that he had been aided by an “intelligence official.” After being asked on March 23 whether anyone at the White House had given Nunes access to the classified documents, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer dodged the question by pointing out that Nunes had later briefed Trump on the matter. “I don’t know why he would come up to brief the president on something that we gave him,” he said. “That doesn’t really seem to make a ton of sense.”