House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes said that post-election communications of Donald Trump’s team were swept up in an “incidental collection” by intelligence agencies.
The Republican lawmaker said individuals were named in “widely disseminated” reports, which he said was “totally inappropriate”.
Devin Nunes said this did not back President Donald Trump’s claim Barack Obama had ordered Trump Tower wiretapped before the poll.
He also insisted the collected information was not linked to an FBI investigation into alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials during the election campaign.
A political row followed Devin Nunes’ announcement, with the top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, criticizing him for not consulting the committee before going public.
Adam Schiff said: “This is not how you conduct an investigation. You don’t take information that the committee hasn’t seen and present it orally to the press and to the White House before the committee has a chance to vet whether it’s even significant.”
Devin Nunes said the incidental collection was legal but his main concern was that people involved had been unmasked in the reports.
However, Adam Schiff said it was “fully appropriate” to give the names of US citizens “when it is necessary to understand the context of collected foreign intelligence information”.
What Devin Nunes had revealed did not indicate that there was any flaw in the procedures followed by the intelligence agencies, Adam Schiff added.
The intelligence collection, which took place mainly in November, December and January, was brought to the attention of Devin Nunes by an unnamed source or sources.
When Donald Trump was asked if he felt vindicated for his explosive accusations against his predecessor, he answered: “I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.”
Trump campaign advisers are currently the subject of an FBI investigation and two congressional inquiries.
Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates co-ordinated with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 presidential election campaign to damage Donald Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.