House intel chair says Trump transition team 'incidentally' surveilled, president feels 'somewhat' vindicated

PHOTO: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) speaks to reporters during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, March 22, 2017.PlayWin McNamee/Getty Images
WATCH House intel chairman: Members of Trump transition team 'incidentally' surveilled

Donald Trump today said he felt "somewhat" vindicated after being briefed by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, R-Calif. -- who said he had been given credible intelligence suggesting that the personal communications of members of Trump's transition team and possibly even the president himself had been caught up in foreign intelligence surveillance after the election.

“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting," Nunes, who worked on Trump's transition team executive committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill today.

"Third I have confirmed additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked."

Nunes, who briefed the president after talking to the press, stressed that the communications picked up had "nothing to do with Russia" and were shared with him "legally." He also said that he believed that the surveillance was conducted legally using a FISA warrant and that the information gathered had foreign intelligence value, meaning that the agencies would have been justified in collecting it.

"Bluntly put, everything I was able to view did not involve Russia or any discussions with Russia," Nunes said. He would not say which country or countries were involved and has asked the National Security Agency for more information.

Nunes' announcement was blasted by the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who said he was not made aware of the information.

"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. "All of us are in the dark and that makes what the chairman did today all the more extraordinary."

Congressman Schiff also said today that Trump should not feel vindicated and that Trump’s claim in those tweets that he was being wiretapped by his predecessor remain false. “There is still no evidence that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor,” Schiff said.

President Trump's claims that he was remain as baseless today as they were yesterday and the day before when the directors of the FBI and NSA testified that they were made without any basis in fact.”

Asked if he felt "vindicated by Chairman Nunes" Trump said: “I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. But I somewhat do.”

FBI Director James Comey said Monday that no individual could order direct surveillance and that his agency had no information that supported Trump's allegations against Obama. It was not clear exactly what Trump was referring to.

The announcement came amid swirling questions about Russia meddling in the 2016 election and in the wake of the FBI announcing it was investigating potential links between Trump associates and Russian officials, allegations the president has called "fake news."

Republican lawmakers, as well as the administration, have placed a premium on finding out whether U.S. nationals were "unmasked," or had their identities revealed to officials during the intelligence gathering process. They also have been pushing to find out who was responsible for leaking classified information to the press.

Democrats have focused on whether there was potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russians.

Nunes also said the intelligence came specifically from November, December and January during the transition phrase, but that it was possible communications were gathered before the election or after.

Asked point-blank if he thought the president-elect had been "spied on," he would not directly answer.

“I guess it all depends on one’s definitions of spying, Nunes said. “I mean clearly it bothers me enough, I'm not comfortable with it, and i want to make sure the White House understands it.”

In the wake of a firestorm generated by the president tweeting that former President Barack Obama had his "wires tapped" at Trump Tower, Nunes maintained that while a physical tap of the building had been ruled out, Trump's team may have been surveilled in other ways, a position also proffered by the White House.

"The House Intelligence Committee will thoroughly investigate surveillance, and its subsequent dissemination to determine a few things here: who was aware of it; why it was not disclosed to Congress; who requested and authorized the additional unmasking; whether anyone directed the intelligence community to focused on Trump associates and whether any laws, regulations or procedures were violated," he said.

Nunes said the intelligence he was looking at was so "alarming" to him that he wanted to let the press know.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked numerous questions about the information Nunes shared.

"I literally heard the statement, came out and briefed," Spicer explained.

Despite saying he didn't want to get ahead of Nunes' briefing, Spicer called the findings "a startling revelation" and "raises serious questions."