After denials from Republicans, Democrats, and even James Comey of the FBI, it now seems one person may know what President Trump was talking about when he went on his Twitter rant about being wiretapped by none other than former President Obama. Even though what Rep. Devin Nunes said about Trump's wiretapping claims doesn't prove anything, it does seem to have offered Trump a way to continue his argument in the face of near universal opposition and skepticism. This could have big implications for the investigation, too.
Nunes claims there was some incidental collection of intelligence on the Trump transition team, supposedly bolstering Trump's original claims. Nunes is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — even if he's not exactly without bias, having served on the Trump transition team himself. Nunes spoke to the press Wednesday and explained the information he had received:
I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. ... This appears to be all legally collected foreign intelligence under FISA, where there was incidental collection that ended up in reporting channels and it was widely disseminated.
In other words, there was no intentional surveillance of the Trump team but rather there were times that members of the Trump transition were mentioned by those who were under surveillance.
To be clear, this does not mean that Trump was wiretapped. We don't know who the people from the transition team who had their communications intercepted were, but it's likely the true targets of the surveillance were foreign nationals.
FISA stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and thus this is all routine and totally legal under section 702 of the act. According to Wired, the term "incidental" in this case refers to mentions of U.S. citizens. They're not being surveilled and thus having intelligence on them is by accident.
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, told the magazine that this is relatively common given the large number of foreigners under surveillance. "It sweeps in such a huge pool of foreign targets," Goitein told Wired. "Thereby assuring that the incidental collection will be massive."
Trump was seemingly pleased, though, by the information. He admitted to being "somewhat" vindicated according to NBC News. Nunes had gone to the White House earlier in the day to share his findings with the president.
Democrats, on the other hand, were livid and claimed this revelation put in jeopardy the current design of the committee investigating Trump's Russia allegation. Now, they argue, an independent prosecutor will have to be appointed. The top Democrat on the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, had harsh words:
The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both.
So Trump may be temporarily looking better, but ultimately this could result in an even more thorough investigation into Russia's involvement in the election.