(CNSNews.com) - The White House said Thursday that while the media is “obsessed” with the details surrounding House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-Calif.) visit to the White House last week, it is focused on finding out who leaked the names of U.S. citizens, which the intelligence community incidentally collected information on during surveillance of the Trump campaign.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer pointed to Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense during the Obama administration, who admitted to MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski of “Morning Joe” on March 2 that she encouraged her colleagues to “get as much intelligence as you can” on Trump before Obama left the White House in hopes of catching the Trump staff “dealing with Russians.”
Farkas told MSNBC, “I was urging my former colleagues and frankly speaking, the people on the Hill-- it was more actually aimed at telling the Hill people get as much as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration, because I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left.
“So it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy that the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their staff, the Trump staff dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence, so I became very worried, because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more,” she said.
“We have very good intelligence on Russia, so then I had talked to some of my former colleagues, and I knew that they were trying to also help get information to the Hill,” Farkas said. “That’s why you have the leaking. People are worried.”
“If you look at Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of defense that is out there, Evelyn Farkas, she made it clear that it was their goal to spread this information around, that they went around and did this, and she said, ‘That's why there are so many leaks,’" Spicer said.
“They have admitted on the record that this was their goal -- to leak stuff, and they literally -- she said on the record ‘Trump’s team.’ There are serious questions out there about what happened and why and who did it, and I think that's really where our focus is in making sure that that information gets out,” Spicer said.
Spicer was responding to a question regarding a NY Times report that claimed that two White House officials helped give Nunes intelligence reports that show that Trump and his staff were “incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.”
“I want to read to you something you said here at the podium on March 23rd when you were originally asked if the White House might have had any role in providing information to Chairman Nunes. You first said it didn't make any sense to you, and you went to say -- and I’m quoting you here: ‘I don't know why he’ -- Chairman Nunes -- ‘would brief the Speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on. It doesn't seem to make a ton of sense. So I’m not aware of it, but it doesn't really pass the smell test,’” a reporter said.
“There is now reporting -- which I can't tell if you're disputing or not -- that identifies two people within this White House as the sources of this information. So I’m just trying to put these things together, where you said it ‘doesn't pass the smell test’ on March 23rd. Now there’s reporting that suggests that it is within the White House, that they were the sources of this. I’m just trying to put those two things together,” the reporter added.
“I’ve commented on this both yesterday and today, that your obsession with who talked to whom and when is not the answer here. It should be the substance,” Spicer said.
“In the same way that when you guys print a story with 18 anonymous sources, your obsession is the substance, it seems now that you continue to look at from a backwards prism, which is, ‘What happened? Who drove in what gate? Who did they meet with? What were they wearing that day?’ as opposed to, ‘What’s the underlying substance of this? Did something happen in the 2016 election? Did leaks occur?’” Spicer added. “We are not going to engage actively in that kind of leaking that has been a problem.”