The Trump administration invited leaders of congressional intelligence panels to review documents it said raise questions about whether government spy agencies improperly identified President Donald Trump’s campaign officials and associates in the course of routine foreign surveillance.
In a letter signed by White House Counsel Donald McGahn, the administration said Thursday it was responding to a March 15 request from intelligence committees for “documents necessary to determine whether information collected on U.S. persons was mishandled and leaked.” It asks the committees to probe whether the intelligence was properly gathered, whether names were improperly revealed and “to the extent that U.S. citizens were subject to such surveillance, were civil liberties violated?”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced the invitation during a briefing with reporters in Washington Thursday, shortly after the New York Times reported that two White House officials had provided House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes with reports showing that Trump and his associates were named incidentally by U.S. spy agencies monitoring foreign officials.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, said he’s willing to review the material but questioned the administration’s motives, saying officials may be trying to disseminate information that helps Trump’s case. “I hope they’ll have some kind of explanation for why they chose this path,” Schiff told reporters at the Capitol.
The administration has been deflecting questions about Russian meddling in the presidential election by focusing on leaks of classified materials and, more recently, Trump’s allegations that his predecessor may have spied on him and his aides before and after the election. The spying claims and the leaks have become prominent sidelights to a broader investigation by the FBI and congressional intelligence committees into Russia’s campaign to disrupt U.S. politics and whether anyone close to Trump colluded with Russia.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, several experts testified that Russia’s efforts began as early as 2008 and peaked during last year’s election. The moves included propagation of false news stories and the hacking of Democratic Party computer systems followed by the release of emails. Clint Watts, former FBI agent who is now a national security expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said other targets were prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the intelligence panel.
Rubio of Florida said Thursday that staff members on his presidential campaign were unsuccessfully targeted in July 2016 by hackers using an address in Russia and that former campaign aides were again targeted on Wednesday.
SOURCE: Justin Sink, Jennifer Jacobs, and Billy House