The release by a congressman of vital information has elicited a strong rebuke from a former U.S. House of Representatives lawyer and intelligence expert. The disclosure by California Republican Devin Nunes, who serves as the chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was described as a “breakdown” in the oversight process by Jeremy Bash, who once served as the committee’s chief counsel.
According to Nunes, personal communications involving President Donald Trump may have been intercepted, but noted that this collection was apparently incidental in nature and “appears” to have been done legally. Nunes made the announcement in a press conference before traveling to the White House to brief Trump. This information was collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and, according to Nunes, was not related to the federal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Bash said that he had never heard of a committee chairman briefing a president about material obtained from intelligence reports. He noted that the committee has the responsibility of overseeing the executive branch but should never act as liaison between it and the legislature. Bash emphasized that committee members are supposed to be impartial and conduct their investigations in a bipartisan environment. He further expressed the opinion that the other members were probably “horrified” by the actions of a fellow member.
Bash also said he was concerned about comments by the congressman that the information was collected in a legal manner. He noted that such a lawful gathering, which can only be ordered by a federal judge and must only be directed at a “valid” target, would have involved information that was of foreign intelligence value. According to Bash, the disclosure of information was an attempt by Nunes to create “a political cover story” for Trump’s previous allegations that he had been wiretapped by President Barack Obama. Such allegations had been refuted by FBI Director James Comey in a presentation before the committee.
The committee was created more than 40 years ago to investigate illegal activities by certain federal agencies. In addition to his service as a congressional adviser, Bash had worked for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Nunes was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2002 and currently serves a district situated in California’s San Joaquin Valley.