The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee went to the White House to review the classified documents that he later used to brief the White House on the possibility that President Trump and his associates might have been swept up in legal surveillance, his office acknowledged Monday.
Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., went to the White House last week “in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source,” Nunes’ spokesman, Jack Langer, said in a statement. Langer said that Nunes also met an unidentified source on the White House grounds.
Langer said that because the information had not been provided to Congress, Nunes could not have used secure facilities at the Capitol to review it. He added that “the White House grounds was the best location to safeguard the proper chain of custody and classification of these documents.”
But the revelation is likely to fuel suspicions, as well as accusations from Democrats, that Nunes coordinated his activities with the White House last week, when he rushed to brief Trump about intelligence reports that, he said, included references to people affiliated with Trump, and possibly the then president-elect himself.
At the time, Nunes did not say who provided the documents and where he reviewed them.
Nunes said only that the documents were offered to him after he called during an open hearing last Monday for anyone with information pertaining to the committee’s probe into Russian interference in the election and any potential links between the presidential campaigns and Russian officials to come forward. The documents Nunes reviewed, however, apparently had nothing to do with Russia.
In the past few days, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former campaign advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone have volunteered to make themselves available for interviews with the Senate and House Intelligence committees.
On Monday, officials from the White House and Senate said that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had also offered himself for an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee, at a date yet to be determined.
A senior congressional official said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., spoke with the White House counsel “some weeks ago” to warn that the committee would be seeking to speak with administration officials, including Kushner. The White House indicated to the committee over the weekend that Kushner would be willing to participate.
According to The New York Times, Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period, and later, at Kislyak’s request, he met with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Russian government-owned Vnesheconombank.
The congressional official was not aware that the Kushner aide had met with the Russian banker.
The bank, which handles Russia’s pensions funds and development activity for the state, including foreign debts and investments, has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014, in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
In early 2015, one of the bank’s New York-based employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was also arrested and accused of being an unregistered spy for Russia’s foreign intelligence service, working with two Russian diplomats who were also secretly acting as spies. According to the U.S. government, they collected information about U.S. sanctions against Russia, and American efforts to develop alternative energy resources.
Buryakov pleaded guilty in March 2016 to conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, though he never admitted to being an employee of Russia’s foreign intelligence service.
A White House official said that Kushner was the “official primary point of contact” with foreign governments and officials during the campaign and transition period.
The House Intelligence Committee had not yet decided if it would interview Kushner as part of its investigation.
In the meantime, Nunes’ Monday revelation that he stopped at the White House to view intelligence documents concerning the president is another unorthodox choice in a sequence of events that has thrown the House Intelligence Committee into turmoil.
Nunes was on his way to an event Tuesday night when he received a phone call that inspired him to switch cars and slip away from his staff, during which time his office now says he went to the White House to review classified intelligence material relating to the president and his team. The next day, he called a news conference to tell reporters that the intelligence community had “incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
Nunes then left for the White House again – this time to brief the president on the material he had read at the White House the previous evening. He held a second news conference with White House reporters following that briefing.
Rep. Adam Schiff, Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that Nunes’ action “casts quite a profound cloud over our ability” to conduct an investigation into the Russian role in the election and any coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
“If the chairman is going to continue to go to the White House rather than his own committee, there’s no way we can conduct this investigation,” Schiff said.
Democrats have also charged that Nunes’ news conferences were an effort to distract from FBI Director James Comey’s revelation last week that his agency has been investigating the Trump team’s possible ties to the Kremlin since last July.
Nunes apologized to his committee colleagues for the sequence of events Thursday morning, noting it was a “judgment call” to go to the White House instead of the Intelligence Committee with such information first.
Democrats have openly questioned that judgment, asking why the chairman of a committee investigating the president for ties to foreign officials would brief the subject of his investigation before the committee. They have also questioned whether Nunes himself disclosed classified information in the process – something that could make him subject to an ethics inquiry. Nunes has argued that while the substance of the reports he viewed is classified, he has not revealed anything classified in his comments about those reports.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Karoun Demirjian, Greg Miller, Philip Rucker