Rep. Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has a history of cultivating independent sources inside the intelligence community (otherwise known as “leakers.”) These are not “whistleblowers” as he would falsely have you believe. If these individuals were true whistleblowers he would follow the law and give his sources whistleblower status and legal protection, and call them to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes has no intention of ever doing this.
This helps to explain Nunes’ cloak and dagger visit to the White House “grounds” the evening before he called his extraordinary press conference in which he disclosed classified information and claimed that Trump transition members were “unmasked” in lawful “incidental surveillance” of foreign persons last week.
Nunes promised to share the intelligence reports he reviewed with his fellow House Intelligence Committee members, something he has yet to do, but he refused to disclose the identity of his sources (leakers) who provided him with the intelligence reports on the White House “grounds.”
Both Nunes and the White House have denied that there was any coordination between the White House and his extraordinary press conference last week. That denial is now falling apart.
The New York Times today has tracked down Nunes’ sources (leakers), and it’s not looking good for Nunes. 2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports:
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 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.
Officials said the reports consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump’s family and inner circle in advance of his inauguration.
The Daily Beast has more about this character Ezra Cohen-Watnick. Report: Trump Overrules McMaster on NSC Aide’s Ouster:
President Trump has reportedly overturned a personnel decision made by his national security adviser at the behest of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had informed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, that he’d be moving to another position on Friday, Politico reported. McMaster reportedly made the decision after receiving complaints from several career officials about the 30-year-old intelligence operative. But Cohen-Watnick went to Bannon and Kushner—with whom he’d apparently formed an alliance while working on the president’s transition team—and fought the move, two sources close to the matter told Politico. After they informed Trump of the situation Sunday, he overruled McMaster and told Cohen-Watnick he could stay put.
Cohen-Watnick was brought to the council by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser forced to step down over his communications with Russian officials. The move seems likely to fuel tensions between Trump and members of the intelligence community, many of whom have expressed concerns about the president’s dismissive attitude toward intelligence agencies’ findings on Russian election meddling. The White House deferred questions about the incident to the NSC, a spokesman for which declined to comment. Cohen-Watnick, Kushner, and Bannon have not commented on the matter.
It sounds as if Ezra Cohen-Watnick is a Trump “mole” within the National Security Council. If he has mishandled classified information for a partisan political motivation, he is a threat to national security and must be removed.
The Times continues:
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the intelligence and to avoid angering Mr. Cohen-Watnick and Mr. Ellis. Officials say Mr. Cohen-Watnick has been reviewing the reports from his fourth-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the National Security Council is based.
But the officials’ description of the intelligence is in line with Mr. Nunes’s own characterization of the material, which he has said was not related to the Russia investigations when he disclosed its existence in a hastily arranged news conference.
The White House said Thursday that members of its staff had uncovered materials regarding surveillance in the 2016 election, raising questions about whether President Donald Trump’s own aides had shared classified information with the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee in an attempt to bolster Trump’s claims he was wiretapped.
In a letter sent Thursday, Trump’s top White House lawyer invited the highest-ranking lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees to view classified materials, which it said had been uncovered in the “ordinary course of business.”
“Our view was that the smart move was to make all the materials available to the chairman and the ranking member of the relevant committees,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during the White House briefing Thursday. “We are focused on the substance of it and I think the goal is to make sure people have the substance that are looking into this.”
Spicer said the information being made available to lawmakers was uncovered by the National Security Council. In the letter, White House Counsel Don McGhan wrote the material related to whether “information collected on US persons was mishandled and leaked.”
That closely maps with how Rep. Devin Nunes described the information he viewed at the White House last week, and subsequently briefed Trump on during a hastily arranged session.
Officials declined to confirm whether the two sets of information are the same. But Democrats cast doubts on the timing, and questioned White House’s intentions in making the information available to a broader set of lawmakers.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said he was invited to the White House to view the intelligence documents, but in a written reply said expressed “profound concern” with the way the materials were being made available to the committee.
The developments came the same hour the New York Times reported that two White House officials played a role in providing Nunes the intelligence he received at the White House last week, a report Spicer would neither confirm nor deny Thursday.
Schiff said he wants to know why the materials appeared to be “laundered” through Nunes if they originated at the White House and expressed “deep concern” in a letter to the White House that the materials were being made the same day the Times story broke.
“If that was designed to hide the origin of the materials, that raises profound questions about just what the White House is doing that need to be answered,” Schiff said. “I have asked the White House for their assistance in answering those questions.”
Schiff added that if things were found in the normal course of business, it raises the question of why they were not directly provided to the White House if they were found in the normal course of business, but were revealed through Nunes instead. (h/t WaPo)
“Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?” Schiff added.
In the letter, Schiff asked White House if the materials he’s been invited to view are the same as the intelligence viewed by Nunes last week.
Spicer again declined to name who within the administration helped Nunes gain access to the White House complex, or who provided him with the information.
* * *
This comes as Schiff and Nunes are trying to get their Russia investigation back on the rails following Nunes’ moves last week.
Nunes and Schiff met Thursday after a week’s worth of canceled hearings and bickering between the committee leaders, as their investigation turned partisan following a decision by Nunes, a Republican, to go to the press and White House with intelligence before alerting the committee.
“We’re doing our best to try and get the investigation back on track,” Schiff said following the meeting. “We’re in the process of exchanging witness lists and are going to see if by the end of the day we can agree on at least a common set of initial witnesses.”
CNN has reached out to Nunes for comment on the meeting and has not yet received a response.
The committee leaders were trying to agree on a common set of initial witnesses, Schiff said, an issue that prompted the cancellation of both an open and closed hearing this week.
Schiff said he and Nunes have agreed to go forward with a closed hearing with FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers. He also requested that Nunes agree to hold the public hearing with former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, though he said the chairman has yet to commit to do so.
The committee’s investigation has effectively ground to a halt after Nunes went to the White House last week with information of potential surveillance of Trump’s aides, without telling Democrats on the committee first.
Schiff, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats have called for Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Schiff said Nunes has still not revealed the intelligence he said he shared with Trump and has pledged to share with the committee, or who Nunes met with at the White House.
“It certainly was a part of our discussion, but beyond what we agreed to do, or hope to achieve to do by the end of the day, I really don’t want to get into specifics,” Schiff said.
But Schiff argued it was up to Nunes to restore credibility in the committee’s investigation.
“Ultimately the speaker and the chair decide who they want to run this investigation and they’ll have to articulate why and how they feel that can be done credibly,” Schiff said. “But our job is to do everything in our power to be responsible to go forward and be constructive and that’s what we’re doing.”
UPDATE: The Washington Post has confirmed Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis, and has identified a third leaker, the top lawyer for the National Security Council, John Eisenberg. Three White House officials tied to files shared with House intelligence chairman.
Three senior officials at the National Security Council — considered part of the White House — played roles in the collection and handling of information shared with Nunes.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick assembled classified reports that showed that Trump campaign officials were mentioned or inadvertently monitored by U.S. spy agencies targeting foreign individuals. He then took the matter to the top lawyer for the National Security Council, John Eisenberg.
The third White House official involved was Michael Ellis, a lawyer who previously worked with Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee but joined the Trump administration as an attorney who reports to Eisenberg. Ellis and Eisenberg report to the White House counsel, Donald McGahn.
Steve Bannon, Assistant to the President and White House Chief Strategist in the Trump administration, also inexplicably serves on the National Security Council.
Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post for his reporting on Edward Snowden and now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation writes, Is the Trump White House Spying on the FBI?
Three named officials—two Trump appointees and arguably his leading defender on the Hill—appear to have engaged in precisely the behavior that the president describes as the true national security threat posed by the Russia debate. Secrecy regulations, including SF312, the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, do not permit Ellis and Cohen-Watnick to distribute sensitive compartmented information through a back channel to Nunes. This is true, and their conduct no less an offense, even though Nunes holds clearances sufficient to receive the information through proper channels. The offense, which in some cases can be prosecuted as a felony, would apply even if the White House officials showed Nunes only “tearsheet” summaries of the surveillance reports. Based on what Nunes has said in public, they appear to have showed him the more sensitive verbatim transcripts. Those are always classified as TS/SI (special intelligence) or TS/COMINT (communications intelligence), which means that they could reveal sources and methods if disclosed. That is the first apparent breach of secrecy rules. The second, of course, is the impromptu Nunes news conference. There is no unclassified way to speak in public about the identity of a target or an “incidentally collected” communicant in a surveillance operation.
Two more questions raised today look even more serious to me. One has to do with the main complaint that Nunes aired in his news conference. Even if Trump and his associates were swept lawfully into the eavesdropping operations, he said, their identities should have been masked in the intelligence reports. Under the intelligence community’s “minimization” rules, names of American citizens and green card holders are normally removed and replaced with some variation of “[MINIMIZED U.S. PERSON].” The rules allow for somewhat more specificity. Nunes said he could easily guess the names, even when minimized. That would be true, for example, if a report mentioned a “[MINIMIZED U.S. CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL]” who did business in Ukraine. That may look like a joke, but it’s not. I have seen references in NSA reports to “[MINIMIZED U.S. PRESIDENT].”
There are well-established procedures for the “customers” of an intelligence report to request that the names of Americans be unmasked entirely. The governing standard is supposed to be that the names are essential to understanding the meaning or significance of the report.
This brings me to the second question, which I see as the core disclosure of the Times story (even though the Times does not explicitly mention it). If Nunes saw reports that named Trump or his associates, as he said, the initiative for naming names did not come from the originating intelligence agency. That is not how the process works. The names could only have been unmasked if the customers—who seem in this case to have been Trump’s White House appointees—made that request themselves. If anyone breached the president’s privacy, the perpetrators were working down the hall from him. (Okay, probably in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.) It is of course hypocritical, even deceptive, for Nunes to lay that blame at the feet of intelligence officials, but that is not the central concern either.
If events took place as just described, then what exactly were Trump’s appointees doing? I am not talking only about the political chore of ginning up (ostensible) support for the president’s baseless claims about illegal surveillance by President Obama. I mean this: why would a White House lawyer and the top White House intelligence adviser be requesting copies of these surveillance reports in the first place? Why would they go on to ask that the names be unmasked? There is no chance that the FBI would brief them about the substance or progress of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russian government. Were the president’s men using the surveillance assets of the U.S. government to track the FBI investigation from the outside?
We now have a National Security Council (NSC) scandal as well.
Rep. Devin Nunes has compromised the integrity of the House Intelligence Committee by coordinating with the White House to undermine the investigation of his own committee. He needs to recuse himself or to be replaced by House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately.
Nunes should also be referred to the FBI for publicly exposing classified information that he received from leakers — the very same thing of which he complained with respect to the news media. He did so for a partisan political motivation.
UPDATE: Our Kremlin troll boy’s pushing the right-wing conspiracy theory about Evelyn Farkas (former Obama administration Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine) has been thoroughly debunked by Snopes.com. Fake news.