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.
Donald Trump asked Congress to examine the allegation as part of an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who is leading the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of allegations of Trump-Russia ties, has pressed the FBI to come forward with more details of its own probe into the issue.
Lindsey Graham said on March 15 he would use a court order to force FBI Director James Comey to submit details on its Russian investigation and whether there was any evidence of Donald Trump’s phones being wiretapped.
Meanwhile, the New York Times quoted senior officials as saying that FBI director James Comey had asked the justice department to publicly dismiss President Trump’s allegation this weekend.
The officials were quoted as saying that James Comey believed there was no evidence to support the allegation, which he thought insinuated the FBI had broken the law.
However, the DoJ has made no such statement, and the Times said neither it nor the FBI had officially commented.
James Clapper, who left his post when Donald Trump took office on 20 January, told NBC’s Meet the Press: “There was no such wire-tap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, as a candidate, or against his campaign.”
He said that as intelligence director he would have known about any “court order on something like this. Absolutely, I can deny it”.
However, James Clapper added: “I can’t speak for other authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.”
Some media reports had suggested a warrant was sought from the foreign intelligence surveillance court (FISA) in order to monitor members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials.
James Clapper’s comments appear to contradict the reports, which said that a warrant was at first turned down, but then approved in October 2016.
Under FISA, wire-tapping can only be approved if there is probable cause to believe that the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power. President Obama could not lawfully have ordered such a warrant.
Donald Trump, who has faced intense scrutiny over alleged Russian interference in support of his presidential bid, made his wire-tapping allegation in tweets written from his weekend home in Florida early on Saturday.
Donald Trump’s claims sparked Republican and Democrat politicians alike to demand details to back them up. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was the latest, saying on March 5 that “the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to”.
However, in his series of tweets on March 5, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not provide any further evidence.
Sean Spicer said: “Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling.
“President Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”
The press secretary added: “Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.”
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told ABC News that if President Trump’s allegations were true, “this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we’ve ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself”.
Donald Trump’s tweets follow allegations made by conservative radio host Mark Levin, including that the Obama administration “sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop” on the Trump campaign last year.
Other media reports had previously suggested the FBI had sought a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance court (FISA) in order to monitor members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials.
The warrant was first turned down but then reportedly approved in October 2016, though there has been no official confirmation.
Under FISA, wiretapping can only be approved if there is probable cause to believe that the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power. President Barack Obama could not lawfully have ordered such a warrant.
Writing from his weekend home in Florida, Donald Trump called the alleged tapping “Nixon/Watergate”, referring to the most notorious political scandal of 1972, which led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon after a web of political spying, sabotage and bribery was exposed by the media.
Kevin Lewis said the accusation was “simply false”.
He said that a “cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice”.
The statement left open the possibility that a judicial investigation had been taking place.
Earlier Ben Rhodes, who was Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser and speechwriter, also addressed Donald Trump’s claims in a tweet, saying: “No President can order a wire-tap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”