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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., right, accompanied by the committee's ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March, 15, 2017, about their investigation of Russian influence on the American presidential election. Both lawmakers said they have no evidence to back up President Trump's claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Plaza during the 2016 campaign. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Two White House officials reportedly played a role in giving Nunes intelligence documents


UPDATE 4:10 p.m. EST:

Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) held a press conference Thursday afternoon where he confirmed that the White House has sent a letter inviting him  to review classified documents. 

Schiff said the timing of the invitation and the New York Times story "concerns" him. And he said the White House needs to answer questions about whether this is a case where the White House "wish to effectively launder information" through Nunes to disguise the source of the information.

White House letter inviting Schiff and others to review documents.

Schiff's response to the White House invitation.

UPDATE 2:39 p.m. EST:

When asked questions about how House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) received the documents, Spicer repeatedly said he wouldn't "get into that." 

Spicer also said a letter had been sent to the chairs of the congressional intelligence committees. Spicer said the letter said documents pertinent to a March 15 request to determine whether information on U.S. citizens was mishandled and leaked had been collected, inviting the committee chairs to review the documents.

UPDATE 2:12 p.m. EST:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, when asked about The New York Times' report about White House officials giving House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes intelligence documents, said the "question assumes the report is correct." He did not go so far as to call the report false.

"We are not as obsessed with the process so much as the substance," Spicer said. 

ORIGINAL STORY: Two White House officials reportedly helped give House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) intelligence documents that showed President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Nunes has faced criticism from both parties over his handling of the House investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Many argued that his meeting at the White House to receive these documents showed he could not conduct the investigation impartially.

The Times' sources identified the officials involved as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer for the White House Counsel's Office who formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee. 

Cohen-Watnick was brought to the White House by former Trump security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned after criticism for failing to disclose discussing sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

Politico reported earlier this month that Trump had overruled a decision from Flynn's replacement, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, to give Cohen-Watnick a different job. Cohen-Watnick reportedly appealed to White House advisers Steve Bannon and  Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law. The two of them brought the matter to Trump, who agreed to keep Cohen-Watnick as the NSC intelligence director. 


Officials said the reports Nunes saw consisted mostly of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about their efforts to develop contacts with Trump's family and close advisers before his inauguration. 

Nunes said at a March 22 news conference the reports he saw were not related to the Russia investigations. He then briefed the White House before telling his own committee, angering other members. He has insisted his primary concern is not that Trump and his aides were swept up in surveillance, but that their names were shared among the Obama administration.

Nunes' decision to meet his sources at the White House drew criticism. He said it was for security reasons, but the House Intelligence Committee has a secure room to read classified documents. 

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, joined by Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., left, speaks at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 30, 2017. Lawmakers heading the Senate intelligence committee focused squarely on Russia as they opened a hearing Thursday on attempts at undermining the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Amid the storm of the House committee investigation, its Senate counterpart said Wednesday its Russia investigation had nothing to do with the House's. The first Senate hearing was held Thursday.

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