House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes told Republican colleagues in two closed-door meetings this week he has seen evidence that shows clear "abuse" of government surveillance programs by FBI and Justice Department officials, according to three sources familiar with the conversations, raising more questions about whether the controversial anti-Trump dossier was used by the Obama administration to authorize surveillance of advisers to President Trump.
The California Republican made his comments in private meetings with GOP colleagues as he tried to round up votes in favor of renewing a key section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as Section 702, which eventually passed in the House on Thursday.
That part of the law specifically gives the U.S. government the power to get access to communications, such as emails or phone calls, of foreigners outside the United States who may be plotting a terrorist attack but does not allow the government to target Americans.
Before the vote, Nunes told GOP lawmakers they could trust him that he has not seen abuse of that section of the law dealing with foreigners, but that other sections of the law have in fact been misused by government officials to conduct surveillance of Americans. Nunes vowed that he plans to address his concerns by trying to share the evidence with the entire House later this month, after the debate over Section 702 is complete, according to the three sources familiar with the conversations.
Nunes said he would "read all 435 members of Congress into major abuses with other areas of FISA and will read members in ASAP" on those problems, according to one of the three sources familiar with the conversations.
While Nunes was not specific about the abuses, his comments came after a Washington Examiner report that during the week of January 1, representatives from four key congressional panels -- including the House Intelligence Committee -- examined FISA documents from the Obama administration in a secure room at the Justice Department.
That session at the Justice Department, confirmed by Fox News, came after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed to make the documents available to lawmakers under pressure from Nunes. Nunes had fired off a late December letter to Rosenstein blasting the DOJ and FBI for its "failure to fully produce" documents related to the anti-Trump dossier, saying “at this point it seems the DOJ and FBI need to be investigating themselves.”
Byron York of the Washington Examiner reported this week that representatives from these committees had the opportunity to view documents that cut to "the question of whether the FBI used unverified material from the dossier -- a Clinton campaign opposition research product -- to apply for permission to spy on Americans."
Nunes privately told GOP lawmakers that he will be pushing as early next week to secure access for all 435 members of Congress to see the same documents to decide for themselves what happened, as some of his Republican colleagues have already said they believe the dossier was a significant factor in surveillance of Trump officials.
"But I think that there is a broader question here," conservative North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows told Fox News this week. "Why would the FBI use a Democrat paid-for dossier to actually surveil another campaign?”
But the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, charged in December that Nunes is doing the bidding of the White House by pursuing questions about the dossier as a distraction from the panel's probe into questions of Russian collusion in the 2016 campaign.
"It's more of the same problem we saw early in the investigation, when the chairman had difficulty removing himself from his role during the campaign of being a proxy for the White House," Schiff told MSNBC.