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White House coy on claim it informed House intel chief

31 March 2017

The House Intelligence Committee investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 USA elections ground to a halt this week, as the Republican chairman cancelled all hearings and meetings, while Democratic members demanded he recuse himself from the probe.

Then, Nunes heads back to the White House and talks, in private, with President Trump to share the details he knows.

"Mr. Cohen-Watnick is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser", the report said.

The Times reported that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the White House National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a White House lawyer who previously worked on the House intelligence committee, played roles in helping Nunes view the materials.

That closely maps with how Rep. Devin Nunes described the information he viewed at the White House last week, and subsequently briefed Trump on during a hastily arranged session. Nunes, a member of Trump's transition team, claimed the intelligence he was shown proved that information on members of Trump's transition team, as well as possibly the president himself, was "incidentally collected" by the intelligence community during the transition period on "numerous occasions".

White House press secretary Sean Spicer listens to a question during the daily press briefing, Thursday, March 30, 2017, at the White House in Washington.

"If that was created to hide the origin of the materials, that raises profound questions about just what the White House is doing", Schiff said.

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The committee's work has been deeply, and perhaps irreparably, undermined by Nunes' apparent co-ordination with the White House.

The report did not make clear exactly what the pair did to assist Nunes.

He added that his "smell test" remark was based on Nunes's words at the time.

And the report said the intercepted communications are not related to the investigation into Russian influence, a point Nunes has stressed publicly.

He also raised questions about the "circuitous" path of disclosure of the documents, which he says the White House has said were uncovered by officials in their normal course of business. House Speaker Paul Ryan, in an interview with CBS' "This Morning" that aired Thursday, said Nunes told him a "whistleblower-type person" provided the information.

Devin Nunes, as a reminder, is a California congressman and the highest ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

A spokesman for Ryan later said the speaker was not aware of Nunes' source and continues to have "full confidence" in the congressman's ability to run the Russian Federation investigation.

White House coy on claim it informed House intel chief