White House invites lawmakers to see intelligence material

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, and Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., listen to testimony during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 30, 2017, on Russian intelligence activities. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House refused to say on Thursday whether it gave the top Republican on the House intelligence committee access to highly classified materials. But it invited a bipartisan group from the panel to view information it says relates to surveillance of President Donald Trump’s associates.

The New York Times reported that two White House officials — including an intelligence aide whose job was recently saved by Trump — helped Rep. Devin Nunes view intelligence. Nunes is chair of the House intelligence panel, which is investigating Russian ties to the 2016 election and possible Trump campaign connections to Russia.

The committee’s work has been deeply, and perhaps irreparably, undermined by Nunes’ apparent coordination with the White House. He told reporters last week that he had seen troubling information about the improper distribution of Trump associates’ intercepted communications, and he briefed the president on the material, all before informing his Democratic counterpart on the House committee.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Thursday the material the White House wants the House and Senate intelligence leaders to view was discovered by the National Security Council. He would not say whether it was the same material Nunes had already seen.

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

Cohen-Watnick is among about a dozen White House officials who would have access to the types of classified information Nunes says he viewed, according to current and former U.S. officials. He’s become a controversial figure in intelligence circles, but Trump decided to keep him on over the objections of the CIA, according to the officials. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the internal matter.

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