According to MSN.com, A pair of White House officials helped provide Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.
The revelation on Thursday that White House officials disclosed the reports, which Mr. Nunes then discussed with Mr. Trump, is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election.
It is the latest twist of a bizarre Washington drama that began after dark on March 21, when Mr. Nunes got a call from a person he has described only as a source. The call came as he was riding across town in an Uber car, and he quickly diverted to the White House. The next day, Mr. Nunes gave a hastily arranged news conference before running off to brief Mr. Trump on what he had learned the night before from — as it turns out — White House officials.
The chain of events — and who helped provide the intelligence to Mr. Nunes — was detailed to The New York Times by four American officials.
Since disclosing the existence of the intelligence reports, Mr. Nunes has refused to identify his sources, saying he needed to protect them so others would feel safe coming to the committee with sensitive information. In his public comments, he has described his sources as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.
That does not appear to be the case. Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’s committee. Though neither has been accused of breaking any laws, they do appear to have sought to use intelligence to advance the political goals of the Trump administration.
Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, refused to confirm or deny at his daily briefing that Mr. Ellis and Mr. Cohen-Watnick were Mr. Nunes’s sources. The administration’s concern was the substance of the intelligence reports, not how they ended up in Mr. Nunes’s hands, Mr. Spicer said.
The “obsession with who talked to whom, and when, is not the answer,” Mr. Spicer said. “It should be the substance.”
Jack Langer, a spokesman for Mr. Nunes, said in a statement, “As he’s stated many times, Chairman Nunes will not confirm or deny speculation about his source’s identity, and he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources.”
Mr. Cohen-Watnick, 30, is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who served on the Trump transition team and was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser. He was nearly pushed out of his job this month by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who replaced Mr. Flynn as national security adviser, but survived after the intervention of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist.
The officials who detailed the newly disclosed White House role said that this month, shortly after Mr. Trump claimed on Twitter that he was wiretapped during the campaign on the orders of President Barack Obama, Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.
There were conflicting accounts of what prompted Mr. Cohen-Watnick to dig into the intelligence. One official with direct knowledge of the events said Mr. Cohen-Watnick began combing through intelligence reports this month in an effort to find evidence that would justify Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts about wiretapping.
But another person who was briefed on the events said Mr. Cohen-Watnick came upon the information as he was conducting a review of how widely intelligence reports on intercepts were shared within the American spy agencies. He then alerted the N.S.C. general counsel, but the official said Mr. Cohen-Watnick was not the person who showed the reports to Mr. Nunes.
That person and a third official said it was then Mr. Ellis who allowed Mr. Nunes to view the material.
The intelligence reports consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump’s family and inner circle before his inauguration, officials said.
The officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the intelligence and to avoid angering Mr. Cohen-Watnick and Mr. Ellis. Officials say Mr. Cohen-Watnick has been reviewing the reports from his fourth-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the National Security Council is based.
The officials’ description of the intelligence is in line with Mr. Nunes’s characterization of the material, which he said was not related to the Russia investigations when he first disclosed its existence.
According to Mr. Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, he met his source on the grounds of the White House. He said he needed a secure location where people with security clearances could legally view classified information, though such facilities could also be found in the Capitol building and at other locations across Washington.
The next day, Mr. Nunes gave a news briefing at the Capitol and then returned to the White House to brief Mr. Trump on the information before telling other committee members about what he had reviewed. His actions have fueled criticism that the committee, under his leadership, is unable to conduct a serious, independent investigation.
On Thursday, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he needed clarification on whether White House officials had pursued “a circuitous route” to feed Mr. Nunes the materials so he could then hand them to Mr. Trump.
“If that was designed to hide the origin of the materials, that raises profound questions about just what the White House is doing that need to be answered,” he said. He later said he accepted an invitation on Thursday to review the same materials that Mr. Nunes had seen.
Yet even before Thursday, the view among Democrats and even some Republicans was that Mr. Nunes was given access to the intelligence reports to divert attention from the investigations into Russian meddling, and to bolster Mr. Trump’s debunked claims of having been wiretapped.
On both counts, Mr. Nunes appears to have succeeded: The House inquiry into Russian meddling that he is leading has descended into a sideshow since he disclosed the information, and the administration has portrayed his information as vindicating the president’s wiretapping claims.
Yet Mr. Nunes has dismissed Democratic calls to step aside. Instead, he has canceled all committee hearings for now, stalling his own investigation, which opened last week with a hearing during which James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I., publicly disclosed that the bureau’s investigation into Russian meddling included an examination of any evidence that Trump associates had colluded in the effort.
The chaotic situation prompted the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is running its own investigation, to bluntly state on Wednesday that their work had nothing to do with the House inquiry. And television news programs have been dominated by arguments about whether the incidental intelligence gathering of Mr. Trump and his associates was the real issue, or simply a distraction from the Russia investigations.
Mr. Nunes has acknowledged that the incidental intelligence gathering on Trump associates last year was not necessarily unlawful, and that it was not specifically directed at Mr. Trump or people close to him. American intelligence agencies typically monitor foreign officials of allied and hostile countries, and they routinely sweep up communications linked to Americans who may be taking part in the conversation or are being spoken about.
The real issue, Mr. Nunes has said, was that he could figure out the identities of Trump associates from reading reports about intercepted communications that were shared among Obama administration officials with top security clearances. He said some Trump associates were also identified by name in the reports. Normally, intelligence agencies mask the identities of American citizens who are incidentally present in intercepted communications, though knowledgeable readers can often figure out the identities in context.