Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been under fire recently for declaring that he had information from an anonymous source claiming that the government “incidentally” collected some of the Trump team’s communications before the inauguration. It sure looked like Nunes was providing political cover for the president, who had claimed that Barack Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower—a claim that everyone (including Nunes!) has acknowledged is bunk.
Nunes, who rushed to the White House with this information, refused to disclose who his sources were. But then it was reported that he had made a secret trip to the White House the night before his infamous press conference. Was the White House his source? Nunes tried to downplay this revelation, saying that he was indeed meeting his sources there, but that he only chose the White House because he needed a secure location (this is not a great excuse—the Capitol building would have worked just as well). This possible collusion was a pretty bad look for Nunes, who is supposed to be leading an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russian government.
Today, the New York Times reported that two White House officials helped provide Nunes with information: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, national security lawyer at the White House Counsel’s Office and Nunes’s former staffer. Interestingly enough, Donald Trump recently personally overruled H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, to save Cohen-Watnick’s job. (Cohen-Watnick was a Michael Flynn hire.)
The timeline is important here. Trump saved Cohen-Watnick’s job after he tweeted the allegation that Obama had tapped his phones, but before Nunes’s press conference. (It also appears that Nunes rushed to the White House with his information after receiving his information from ... the White House.) According to the Times, “The officials said that earlier 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.”
Furthermore, it appears the government wasn’t really monitoring Trump. The Times says 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.”
Chuck Schumer has already called upon Paul Ryan to push for Nunes’s recusal from the investigation. After previously denying that the White House was involved in Nunes’s stunt, Sean Spicer is now issuing non-denials. Nunes might have been trying to provide cover for Trump, but his massive bungle is pulling the White House down with him.