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.
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 DoJ has asked for more time to provide information about the allegations.
A congressional committee had set a March 13 deadline for the department to provide any evidence of President Trump’s claims but a spokeswoman said it needed “additional time… to determine what if any responsive documents may exist”.
Image source Wikipedia
The House Intelligence Committee said it would give the department until March 20 to comply with its request.
In his tweet President Trump said: “Just found out that Obama had my <<wires tapped>> in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
He added: “Is it legal for a sitting President to be <<wire tapping>> a race for president?”
Earlier, Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said she did not have any evidence to back up the wiretapping claim but said there were “many ways to survey each other now”.
“You can survey someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets – any number of ways… microwaves that turn into cameras. We know this is a fact of modern life,” Kellyanne Conway told New Jersey’s Bergen County Record.
In this case, considering the target is allegedly Trump Tower in New York – which would definitely have involved American citizens – this would have been hard to argue.
James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under President Obama, has categorically denied a FISA court order existed.
Leading Democrats have called on the White House to produce evidence to support Donald Trump’s claim.
Meanwhile, the White House has called on Congress to investigate whether the Obama administration had abused its powers.
Both Congress and the FBI are currently investigating contacts between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials, after US intelligence agencies assessed that Russia had interfered with the election to help Donald Trump win against his Hillary Clinton.
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”.
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