White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer danced madly around media questions about a New York Times report claiming White House aides gave House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) the info that led to his claim that Trump communications may have been swept up in Obama administration surveillance.
The NYT 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 at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.”
Spicer delivered no full-throated dismissal of the report, nor did he confirm, mostly delivering carefully crafted “To comment would be to validate certain things,” responses.
NYT reports that earlier this month when Trump went on his Twitter tirade claiming former President Barack Obama had wiretapped his Trump Tower office, “Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.” Cohen-Watnick, the paper reports, is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who was originally brought to the White House by since-sacked National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
(NYT alleges the reports Nunes saw “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” before his inauguration.)
Asked at today’s press briefing if an NSA official should be combing through classified information to search for material that might validate what Trump tweeted, Spicer shot back, “Your question assumes the reporting is correct.”
On the other hand, Spicer also announced at today’s briefing – again, after the NYT report was published – that the White House has sent over letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, inviting them to come look at information the White House believes is helpful to their investigations.
One reporter, no doubt speaking for several, wondered why the White House did not go this route in the first place, rather than having aides coordinate what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has described as Nunes’ Inspector Clouseau-ish antics last week, in which he visited the White House grounds to sneak a peek at the info behind the back of his committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA), hold a news conference announcing he’d seen some hot stuff, and then run to the White House to inform President Trump what he had seen.
Spicer dodged a question about the timing of the invitation.
NYT alleges the reports Nunes saw “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” before his inauguration.
Asked today if Trump had been briefed on the latest developments, Spicer said he did not know. This morning, shortly before NYT lobbed its grenade, Trump had tweeted another threat to change libel laws, targeting the New York Times.