Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, has apologized for not informing Democratic colleagues before going public with allegations about surveillance of President Donald Trump’s team.
He apologized privately and vowed to work with them on the issue, a committee aide said.
Democrats were furious that Devin Nunes went straight to the White House.
They questioned whether the committee’s inquiry into Russia’s alleged role in the election can proceed objectively.
However, when Donald Trump was asked if he now felt vindicated for his accusations against his predecessor, he answered: “I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.”
Image source Wikimedia
The US intelligence agencies regularly, and legally, monitor foreigners, and the communication of Americans is often incidentally collected. They are not usually named but can be if the context of the intelligence requires it.
Devin Nunes said the material he had seen “bothered” him and that the unmasking of individuals, and the content of some of the material gathered, was “inappropriate”.
Of his decision to go public and brief President Trump, Devin Nunes said: “It was a judgment call on my part.
“Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the wrong decision.”
A Republican intelligence committee aide told Reuters: “He apologized to the minority on the committee for going public and to the [White House] with his announcement before sharing the information with the minority. He pledged to work with them on this issue.”
Devin Nunes had also stressed that the information in the intercepts he had seen was not linked to an FBI investigation into alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials during the election campaign.
However, Democrats said Devin Nunes’ actions could scupper the House panel’s investigation.
Democrat Jackie Speier, who serves on the committee, said: “I think over the next few days we are going to assess whether or not we feel confident that [Devin Nunes] can continue in that role.”
Democrat Adam Schiff said: “A credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.”
Devin Nunes has refused to reveal who passed him the information.
When asked whether it was the White House itself, he said he was “not going to ever reveal sources”.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: “I don’t know why he would come up to the president to brief him on something we had briefed him on.”
Devin Nunes’ disclosure came two days after FBI Director James Comey confirmed the organization was investigating alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials.
Adam Schiff on Wednesday told MSNBC he believed there was evidence “that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of an investigation” about the links.
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.”
Image source Wikimedia
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.