WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday invited the congressional intelligence committees to review secret surveillance materials it said that National Security Council staff had found in the “ordinary course of business.”
But the House panel’s top Democrat noted the invitation coincided with a published report that two White House officials helped the committee’s GOP chairman view intelligence, which he then told reporters supports to some extent President Donald Trump’s claim of U.S. surveillance of his team.
“The timing certainly looks fortuitous,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said.
The letter from a White House attorney said the security council found documents possibly fulfilling a committee request. Schiff said he could come to the White House as soon as Friday to review the newly available surveillance.
Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), via a spokeswoman, said the group has asked the White House to instruct the agencies that own the intelligence “to immediately provide them directly to the committee.”
The House panel has been embattled compared to its Senate counterpart.
Its chairman, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has been under scrutiny since he disclosed to reporters March 22 that an unnamed source informed him of incidental pickup of Trump transition team conversations.
Nunes went to the White House to brief Trump but has not shared his findings with the rest of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes first viewed the reports on White House grounds.
Democrats and even some Republicans have called for Nunes, a former Trump transition team member, to recuse himself from probes into Russian meddling in last year’s election and into any potential Trump ties to the Kremlin.
Asked about the New York Times report on White House involvement, Nunes’ spokesman Jack Langer said, “As he’s stated many times, chairman Nunes will not confirm or deny speculation about his source’s identity, and he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told a reporter who asked about the Times story: “Your question assumes that the reporting is correct.”
He refused to confirm or deny the report, and repeated his concerns about what’s contained in the intelligence. “We are not as obsessed with the process as much as the substance,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the National Security Council documents are the same intelligence Nunes had seen.
“The letter that I got from White House counsel certainly raises far more questions,” Schiff said, suggesting that Nunes may not have needed to act as an intermediary if the documents were at the White House in the first place.
“Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?” Schiff asked.