March 28, 2017 – Democracy 21, joined by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government (CREW),sent a letter today to the Office of Congressional Ethics asking them to conduct an inquiry into whether Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, disclosed classified information to the public on March 22, 2017 in violation of House ethics rules.
The letter was signed by Fred Wertheimer – President, Democracy 21, Ambassador (Ret.) Norman Eisen – Chair, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and former chief White House Ethics lawyer 2009-2011, Richard Painter – Vice Chair, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and former chief White House ethics lawyer 2005-2007 and Noah Bookbinder – Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The letter asked OCE to review Rep. Nunes’ recent activities to see if there is a reasonable basis to believe that Rep. Nunes violated House Rule 23, clause 13. That provision of the House ethics rules states:
Before a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House may have access to classified information, the following oath (or affirmation) shall be executed: ‘‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will not disclose any classified information received in the course of my service with the House of Representatives, except as authorized by the House of Representatives or in accordance with its Rules.
According to published reports, Rep. Nunes on March 22, 2017 said that “American intelligence agencies monitoring foreign officials may have ‘incidentally’ picked up communications of [President] Trump transition team members.” Rep. Nunes did not disclose the source for his information.
A report in Politico on March 23 stated:
On Wednesday, Nunes held a news conference and then briefed Trump on evidence he had been shown by a “source” that, following November’s election, Trump transition team members were caught up in incidental surveillance of foreign targets. He said the identities of some of these transition team members had been “unmasked,” even though U.S. persons typically have their identities shielded when caught up in inadvertent surveillance, and that intelligence reports about the Trump transition were widely disseminated across the U.S. intelligence community.
On March 23, 2017, the day following the disclosures he made, Rep. Nunes appeared to walk back his statements. According to a report in Talking Points Memo:
The office of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) now concedes that the House Intelligence Committee chair is not sure that the intelligence community ever incidentally collected communications from President Donald Trump or members of his transition team.
“He said he’ll have to get all the documents he requested from the [intelligence community] about this before he knows for sure,” a Nunes spokesperson told ABC News on Thursday.
According to a report in The Washington Post on March 23, “Nunes said the information was classified, but he argued that disclosing the existence of the report and the nature of it did not reveal any classified information.”
The letter from reform groups concluded:
Thus, Rep. Nunes has admitted that the information in the report he reviewed was classified.
The question for OCE’s preliminary inquiry is whether there is reasonable basis to believe that the statements made by Rep. Nunes to the public, based on the classified information in the report he reviewed, publicly revealed classified information in violation of Rule 23, Clause 13.