The chairman of the House intelligence committee said Wednesday that he has evidence suggesting intelligence agencies may have misused and spread information legally obtained through surveillance of President Donald Trump or those close to him as they communicated with foreigners after the election.
The disclosure fed a debate over the government’s surveillance powers and Americans’ privacy that had been renewed by Trump’s claim that his predecessor “wiretapped” him toward the end of the election campaign.
Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he had no evidence to support Trump’s claim that he was the illegal target of wiretapping last fall ordered by President Barack Obama. The directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency had dismissed those allegations two days earlier.
Nunes, R-Calif., said communications of Trump or transition team officials may have been swept up by the government as part of “incidental collection”—meaning somebody else was the target.
“What I have read bothers me,” Nunes said, “and I think it should bother the president himself and his team, because I think some of it seems to be inappropriate.”
Such collection of information is permitted by eavesdropping rules that civil liberty advocates long have viewed as overly expansive.
“The most interesting question from a surveillance standpoint is what legal authorities may have been used to obtain communications involving Trump or his aides, and how were those authorities used,” said Elizabeth Goitein, who co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program.
“The statutes are written so broadly and so permissively that there is a lot of room there for mischief,” Goitein told The Daily Signal in an interview. “I have no reason to think anything inappropriate happened in this case, but because the potential for abuse has been built into the statute, it’s certainly a question that comes to my mind.”