President Donald Trump asserted on social media that former Obama administration officials had illegally surveilled members of his campaign in 2016. The president's tweet arrived after the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, issued subpoenas to federal agencies to provide information on the matter.
On June 1, Trump took to Twitter to accuse officials who served under former President Barack Obama of illegally unmasking U.S. citizens.
"The big story is the 'unmasking and surveillance' of people that took place during the Obama administration," Trump tweeted out.
Whenever the U.S. intelligence community intercepts foreign communications, they are legally required to mask the names of American citizens in any transcripts circulated throughout the American governments. Administration officials are allowed to request that the intelligence community unmask a name if knowing the citizen's identity is critical to analyzing the transcript, according to The New York Times.
On May 31, the HIC issued seven subpoenas for information related to their investigation into the Russian government's interference in the 2016 presidential election. Three of the subpoenas requested that the CIA, FBI and NSA provide any relevant information to Obama administration officials ordering the unmasking of Trump campaign members in intelligence transcripts, The Hill reports.
GOP lawmakers and Trump aides had expressed concern that Obama administration officials had during the election improperly requested that the names of Trump campaign members for partisan purposes. Former Trump campaign deputy manager David Bossie asserted that there was more evidence of illegal unmasking than of his team colluding with Russian officials to subvert the election.
"We have evidence here... These subpoenas will get to the bottom of whether any illegal activity or any political shenanigans went on with sharing classified information," Bossie told Fox News.
The subpoenas, which were issued by Nunes, specifically named former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and U.N. ambassador Samantha Power as persons of interest.
The ranking HIC member Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California blasted Nunes for issuing the subpoenas, noting that the GOP chairman had recused himself from the panel's Russia probe.
"I think that's a violation of the recusal by the Chairman," Schiff told MSNBC, adding that Schiff did not consult any Democratic members beforehand.
Schiff asserted that Nunes issued the subpoenas to satisfy "The White House's desire to shift attention away from the Russia probe and onto the issue of unmasking."
On April 6, Nunes recused himself from the HIC panel's Russia investigation after he was investigated for ethics violations. The California lawmaker had publicly revealed intelligence provided to him by White House officials to support Trump's unfounded claim that Obama had ordered surveillance against his campaign. The disclosure drew accusations that the committee chairman was coordinating with the Trump administration to derail the Russia probe, according to CNN.
On April 7, Nunes told his fellow California Republicans during a private dinner that he had not formally resigned and would resume his powers as chairman as soon as the House Ethics Committee concluded its investigation into his conduct.
"When these ethics charges are gone then I’m going to be back again," Nunes said, according to the Los Angeles Times.