Right-wing media figures are claiming that House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) statement that President Donald Trump’s transition aides were surveilled “vindicates” Trump and prove he “was right” about his unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But Nunes’ report -- that Trump aides were caught in “incidental collection” while surveilling other targets -- was already widely suspected, and Nunes himself admitted it does not prove Trump’s false claim is correct. Multiple current and former government officials have said Trump’s claim is false.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Says Trump Aides Were Under “Incidental” Surveillance
House Intelligence Committee Chairman: Trump Transition Aides Were Surveilled. House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said that “members of the Donald Trump transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under U.S. government surveillance” after the presidential election, according to Politico. Nunes also said that it occurred as part of “‘incidental collection,’” which Politico reports can happen “when a person inside the United States communicates with a foreign target of U.S. surveillance.” From the March 22 article:
Members of the Donald Trump transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under U.S. government surveillance following November’s presidential election, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday.
Nunes said the monitoring appeared to be done legally as a result of what's called “incidental collection,” but said he was concerned because it was not related to the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and was widely disseminated across the intelligence community.
Nunes described the surveillance as most likely being “incidental collection.” This can occur when a person inside the United States communicates with a foreign target of U.S. surveillance. In such cases, the identities of U.S. citizens are supposed to be kept secret — but can be “unmasked” by intelligence officials under certain circumstances. [Politico, 3/22/17]
Right-Wing Media Baselessly Claim Nunes’ Remark Vindicates Trump’s Wiretap Claim
Sean Hannity: “President Trump Vindicated On His Wiretap Claim.” During the opening of Sean Hannity’s March 22 radio show, Hannity claimed that Trump was “vindicated on his wiretap claim,” adding, “Donald Trump, right. Sean Hannity, right. … We’ve been telling you for two weeks.” Hannity argued that the only way to not see the news as vindication is if “we’re now splitting hairs,” arguing that “surveillance” is the “same thing” as wiretapping. Hannity also falsely suggested Nunes had confirmed claims Trump Tower was wiretapped; the Politico article indicates Nunes said, “he did not know yet whether the Trump transition team members who were unmasked were communicating from Trump Tower.” From the March 22 edition of The Sean Hannity Show:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): President Trump vindicated on his wiretap claim unless you don’t think surveillance of Trump Tower and the president or the president-elect of the United States is wiretapping. Surveillance, same thing, we’re now splitting hairs. But the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes says he has learned of, yes, the collection of communications concerning not only the president-elect but his transition team during surveillance operations. Donald Trump, right. Sean Hannity, right. Sarah Carter was right. John Solomon was right. We’ve been telling you for two weeks, and the rest of the alt-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump media with egg on its face once again. [Premiere Radio Networks,The Sean Hannity Show, 3/22/17]
Fox Host Bill O’Reilly: Trump's False Wiretap Claims “Might Not Have Been Far Off.” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly claimed that statements made by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) proved that Trump “might not have been far off” in claiming “that he was tapped by President Obama.” From the March 22 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor:
BILL O’REILLY (HOST): Congressman Devin Nunes of California said that someone gave him evidence that intelligence agencies under President Obama did pick up electronic surveillance on members of the Trump transition team and put that so-called “incidental information” into intelligence reports. That might be illegal.
So, when President Trump tweeted that he was tapped by President Obama, he might not have been far off.
So, the controversy deepens. For weeks, the Trump haters have been vilified the president for his suggestion -- lacking evidence -- that his predecessor tapped his organization. But now, the story takes a major turn because, keep in mind, that President Obama, in his last days in office, allowed intel agencies to share information they had previously not been allowed to share. [Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, 3/22/17]
Breitbart.com: “Nunes ‘Unmasking’ Report Vindicates Trump Claims On Surveillance.” Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak, in an article headlined “Nunes ‘Unmasking’ Report Vindicates Trump Claims on Surveillance,” wrote that Nunes’ remark “vindicates the bulk of Trump’s claims earlier this month,” along with “earlier reporting by Breitbart News, Mark Levin, and others.” From the March 22 article:
Nunes’s information -- which he said he would deliver to the White House later -- vindicates the bulk of Trump’s claims earlier this month.
The new information vindicates earlier reporting by Breitbart News, Mark Levin, and others, and which President Trump may have relied upon in tweeting the wiretapping claim Mar. 4.
Though the media, and the political opposition, had attacked Trump for his claims about wiretapping, he later clarified that he had used the term to refer to surveillance in a general sense. He also suggested that more evidence would soon emerge.
The result is a vindication of Trump’s controversial claims. Questions remain about whether President Obama himself knew of the surveillance, which other Obama administration officials were involved, and whether Trump was monitored directly. [Breitbart.com, 3/22/17]
Rush Limbaugh: Nunes’ Remarks “Is What Trump Meant” With His Wiretap Claim. Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Nunes’ remark “is what Trump meant,” because “in Trumpspeak, if the government is wiretapping people, then the president knows about it, and therefore, the president’s doing it. That’s what Trump means.” From the March 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): Turns out -- and I think it’s safe to say that Trump’s record remains 100 percent; the things he says generally have happened or do happen. Nunes says he found this on his own going through reports. Called a press conference about this. Admits to being concerned by it, that Trump and his people were surveilled during the transition. That is what Trump meant. I have no question that’s what he meant. When Trump says in his tweets something about how outrageous it is that Obama would tap the wires at Trump Tower. In Trumpspeak, if the government is wiretapping people, then the president knows about it, and therefore, the president’s doing it. That’s what Trump means. The president runs the executive branch. The executive branch houses the Department of Justice, which houses the FBI. And therefore all these agencies report to the president, and therefore the president would know if this kind of thing is going on and could theoretically even ask that it go on. [Premiere Radio Network, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 3/22/17]
Fox News’ John Roberts: Nunes’ Statement “Advances The Ball” On Trump’s Wiretap Claims. Following the March 22 White House press briefing, Fox News White House correspondent John Roberts said that Nunes’ statement that “advances the ball just a little bit” on the validity of Trump’s claim that he was the victim of wiretapping ordered by Obama. From the March 22 edition of Fox News’ America’s News HQ:
JOHN ROBERTS (FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT): In terms of Devin Nunes and what we learned now from the intelligence committee, he came out earlier today, just before the briefing, and said that there was incidental collection of intelligence that people who were associated with the transition during the time between the election and the transition. Of course, the president has talked about this idea that he was wiretapped, [Shepard Smith], now this kind of advances the ball just a little bit. But we did know there was potentially incidental collection of intelligence of people involving the transition going back, again, to Michael Flynn because they had recorded conversations -- this is the intelligence community -- of phone calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the United States. [Fox News, America’s News HQ, 3/22/17]
The Gateway Pundit: “TRUMP WAS RIGHT!” The Gateway Pundit’s Cristina Laila, writing about Nunes’ remarks, wrote, “TRUMP WAS RIGHT!” [The Gateway Pundit, 3/22/17]
Incidental Collection On Trump Aides Was Already Widely Suspected And It Doesn’t Prove Trump’s Wiretap Lie Was Correct
Wash. Post Reported Last Week That It Was “Widely Believed” That “Incidental Collection” Occurred On Former NSA Director Michael Flynn. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted that “incidental collection” was “widely believed” to be the reason that “former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his calls with the Russian ambassador” were recorded. Blake added, “Incidental collection is, by definition, incidental — i.e. unintentional. The wiretap wouldn't be of Trump Tower; it would be of whomever was contacting Trump Tower.” From the March 17 article:
Nunes was being asked about something that is referred to in intelligence circles as “incidental collection” — i.e. the idea that Trump and/or his associates were wrapped up in surveillance that wasn't targeted at them, but rather at other people. Say, the Russians. It is widely believed that this is what happened with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his calls with the Russian ambassador that eventually led to his resignation.
The problem with Spicer citing the possibility of incidental collection, of course, is that Trump claimed the surveillance was targeted at him — and directed by Obama. Incidental collection is, by definition, incidental — i.e. unintentional. The wiretap wouldn't be of Trump Tower; it would be of whomever was contacting Trump Tower. [The Washington Post, 3/17/17]
McClatchy: Law Enforcement And Intelligence Agencies Have “Collaborated For Months” On Investigating Russian Influence, Including Whether “Kremlin Covertly Aided” Trump. McClatchy Washington D.C. bureau reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon reported in January that six agencies were involved in a probe “for months” aimed at unveiling whether money from Russian officials “covertly aided” Trump’s presidential campaign. McClatchy reported that the agencies were “scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia.” From the January 18 article:
The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.
The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.
The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.
U.S. intelligence agencies not only have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats’ computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats, some of which caused headaches for the Clinton campaign, were done to help Trump win. [McClatchy DC, 1/18/17]
Former Government Officials Have Debunked Trump’s Claim. Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper told NBC earlier this month that “for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign.” A spokesperson for Obama said that “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.” [Media Matters, 3/6/17]
FBI Director James Comey: “No Information” To Back Up Trump’s Wiretap Claim. FBI Director James Comey testified in a House committee hearing on March 20 that he “has no information that supports” Trump’s wiretap claim. NBC News reported that Comey “did not say ... that no Trump associate was ever picked up by American surveillance.” From the March 20 article:
The FBI director also dealt the president's credibility a blow when he said he “has no information that supports” Trump's allegation from two weeks ago that President Obama ordered surveillance of his communications in Trump Tower during the campaign.
Only courts grant permission for electronic surveillance, Comey told lawmakers, and “no individual in the United States can direct electronic surveillance of anyone.”
Comey did not say, however, that no Trump associate was ever picked up by American surveillance. He declined to comment on anything related to surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the FBI to eavesdrop, with a court order, on people they suspect are agents of a foreign power. [NBC News, 3/20/17]
Rep. Nunes Admitted That Trump Was Incorrect In Stating He Was Wiretapped By Obama
Politico: Nunes “Reiterated” There Was No Proof Of Trump’s Wiretap Claim. During the same March 22 briefing, Nunes said -- contrary to what some members of conservative media now claim -- he still “he had no evidence of” Trump’s claim that Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. [Politico, 3/22/17]
Rep. Nunes: “[Trump] Is Not Right About” Claim That Obama Personally Had Trump Tower Wiretapped. During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper following his announcement that Trump’s transition team faced incidental “surveillance” by the intelligence community, Rep. Nunes clarified that Trump’s original claim that he was wiretapped by former President Obama was “not right”:
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Look, I think the bottom line here is that President Trump, to some degree, is right that he did end up in some intelligence reports and I don't think he knew about it.
JAKE TAPPER (HOST): But how is he right if he said he was -- President Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower?
NUNES: He's not right about that, Jake. But as you know, I've told you that I think many times that he wasn't right about that.
TAPPER: Right, but you just said he was right. What was he right about?
NUNES: In terms of -- It does appear like his name and people and others ended up into intelligence reports. So, I mean, look, you can make what you want of it, but most people would say that is surveillance. [CNN, The Lead, 3/22/17]