Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 – 12:01 PM
(AFP) US spy agencies scooped up the communications of members of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team late last year, possibly including those of the president-elect himself, a senior Republican lawmaker said Wednesday.
The allegation made by Devin Nunes, Republican chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, could bolster Trump’s heretofore unsupported claims that he was wiretapped by US intelligence.
Nunes said he had been provided information showing the collected communications had nothing to do with investigations into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and had minimal intelligence value.
He said the communications were apparently monitored legally, and that the collection of information on the Trump team was “incidental” — meaning they were not the focus of the surveillance.
Yet the information collected, spanning the November-January period in between Trump’s election victory and his inauguration, was “widely disseminated” in US intelligence circles, he said.
“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told a press conference.
“None of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”
Nunes suggested those involved in the surveillance had violated rules requiring that any information on the US persons involved be masked in intelligence reports.
He questioned why it was not masked when the surveillance reports had “little or no intelligence value.”
US intelligence community rules dictate that information on US citizens picked up incidentally in surveillance must be scrubbed or masked in intelligence reports.
Nunes would not say whether Trump’s own communications were collected.
The lawmaker’s statement came amid recriminations over spy agencies’ listening to phone calls between former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn and Moscow’s ambassador in Washington, which has become part of a sprawling probe into Russia’s role in the US election.
Nunes’ Intelligence Committee is probing Russian interference in the election and Flynn’s activities.
It also came days after the heads of the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation repudiated Trump’s claims that his Trump Tower in New York had been wiretapped under order by then-president Barack Obama.
Nunes did not say who did the monitoring or name anyone in the Obama administration as responsible for spreading the unmasked information.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the White House did not know the details about the communications, and that Nunes would brief Trump on the issue later in the day.
© Agence France-Presse