On Monday, March 20, James Comey revealed that the FBI was investigating ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. A little over 24 hours later, the Republican tasked with leading the House’s investigation into Russian hacking, Devin Nunes, was invited onto the White House grounds. There, administration officials provided him with access to classified intelligence reports. And what Nunes saw shook him to the core.
The contents of those reports were so alarming, the House Intelligence Committee chair brought them to public’s attention the next day, even before sharing them with his fellow committee members. Nunes proceeded to personally brief the president — an ostensible subject of his own investigation into Russian interference — on what he had learned.
These actions jeopardized the integrity of the House’s investigation. And they may also have constituted an unlawful disclosure of classified information. That latter issue, eventually, forced Nunes to step aside from his committee’s Russia inquiry.
But all this was a small price to pay for bringing the terrible truth to the American public: Some members of the Trump transition team were incidentally surveilled when they contacted foreign agents who had already caught the eye of the American spy state. Granted, that’s perfectly legal. But when private citizens have their communications incidentally collected, their identities are supposed to be masked in intelligence reports, unless there is intelligence value in unmasking them. And these reports revealed the names of Trump team members — and did so unnecessarily, at least in Nunes’s opinion.
Later, Bloomberg revealed that former national security adviser Susan Rice — an official who has the legal authority to unmask names in intelligence reports — ordered the unmasking of the names of Trump officials in some intelligence reports.
Conservatives were horrified: This wasn’t just a way bigger scandal than collusion between a presidential campaign and a hostile foreign government — it was a bigger scandal than the one that took down Nixon!
Watergate was “a little spat in the sandbox in the kindergarten” compared to what Susan Rice had done, White House aide Sebastian Gorka told Fox News. The president himself suggested that Rice was guilty of a crime.
Last week, Republican and Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee finally got a chance to see Nunes’s incendiary documents for themselves. What they found will shock you:
After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN … One congressional intelligence source described the requests made by Rice as “normal and appropriate” for officials who serve in that role to the president. And another source said there’s “absolutely” no smoking gun in the reports, urging the White House to declassify them to make clear there was nothing alarming in the documents.
Bizarre. If there’s nothing objectively shocking in these documents, why on earth would Nunes — a man of great integrity, who would never put political considerations above his own commitment to the truth — draw national attention to those documents, just as the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was picking up steam? It just doesn’t make any sense.