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Saturday 25 January 2020

Trump surveillance claims congressman 'met source at White House'

Mr Nunes has declined to name his source (AP)
Mr Nunes has declined to name his source (AP)

A senior US congressman who claimed communications involving Donald Trump's associates were caught up in "incidental" surveillance has said he met his source on the grounds of the White House.

The meeting came a day before US House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes disclosed that US spy agencies may have inadvertently carried out surveillance on the US president and his associates during a routine targeting of foreigners' communications, his spokesman said.

Mr Nunes has declined to name his source.

His spokesman, Jack Langer, said the congressman went to the White House to be near "a secure location" where he could examine the information.

Mr Nunes has been concerned that Trump associates were captured in "incidental" US surveillance of foreign targets even before Mr Trump made his baseless claims that former president Barack Obama had wiretapped him last year.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he does not know anything about this secret meeting beyond what Mr Nunes has said publicly about it.

"I'm not going to get into who he met with or why he met with them," Mr Spicer said. He added later, "I don't know what he found."

Mr Nunes's connection to the White House has raised concerns that his committee's investigation is not a bipartisan, independent probe. He was a member of Mr Trump's presidential transition team, as well.

The top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff of California, said Mr Nunes's meeting with his source appeared to have been "a dead-of-night excursion".

On Sunday, Mr Schiff said on CBS' Face The Nation, ''I think the chairman has to make a decision whether to act as a surrogate of the White House - as he did during the campaign and the transition - or to lead an independent and credible investigation."

Mr Nunes's office did not immediately say what time the chairman met his source. Many White House staffers can sign off on someone coming to the grounds.

The disclosure about the intelligence reports brought criticism from Democrats, especially those who sit on Mr Nunes's committee and are working with him on an investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. That investigation is also looking into possible ties between Mr Trump associates and the Kremlin. Mr Nunes said the intelligence reports were not related to Russia.

The Senate intelligence committee, too, is conducting an investigation into Russia's interference in the election and any possible ties with the Trump campaign.

On Monday, the White House confirmed that Mr Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has volunteered to be interviewed by the Senate committee about arranging meetings with the Russian ambassador and other officials. Mr Kushner is the fourth Trump associate to offer to be interviewed by the congressional committees looking into the murky Russia ties. Mr Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, adviser Carter Page and associate Roger Stone last week volunteered to speak as well.

Mr Manafort, Mr Page and Mr Stone's announcements last week that they would be interviewed came amid Mr Nunes's disclosures about the new intelligence he had seen.

The White House was asked repeatedly last week about whether it was the source of Mr Nunes's information. On Thursday, spokesman Mr Spicer mocked the idea.

"I don't know why he was coming up to brief the president on something that we gave him," Mr Spicer told reporters, adding: "It doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense."

Mr Nunes's office said the information provided to the chairman came from "executive branch documents that have not been provided to Congress".

The House intelligence committee has a facility where classified information can be viewed and discussed, but Mr Nunes's spokesman said the circumstances required that Mr Nunes go to the White House grounds.

"Because of classification rules, the source could not simply put the documents in a backpack and walk them over to the House Intelligence Committee space," Mr Langer said. "The White House grounds was the best location to safeguard the proper chain of custody and classification of these documents, so the chairman could view them in a legal way."

"The chairman is extremely concerned by the possible improper unmasking of names of US citizens, and he began looking into this issue even before President Trump tweeted his assertion that Trump Tower had been wiretapped," Mr Langer said.

Mr Nunes, Mr Schiff and FBI director James Comey all have said there is no evidence that Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Barack Obama, as Trump has asserted.


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