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House Intelligence Chair Attempts To Clean Up Mess After Alleging Trump Team Was Spied On

24/03/2017 3:57 AM AEDT | Updated 24/03/2017 3:57 AM AEDT

WASHINGTON ― House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) apologized to angry Democratic colleagues on Thursday, one day after he unilaterally decided to brief reporters and President Donald Trump on unsubstantiated allegations that the president and his surrogates may have been subjected to indirect surveillance in the final months of the Obama administration.

Committee members gathered in a closed-door meeting Thursday morning, where ranking committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Nunes why he didn’t share his information with his colleagues before holding two press conferences and briefing Trump in the White House. Nunes apologized “in a generic way,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the committee, told CNN. It was not clear exactly what Nunes was apologizing for, she said.

Nunes gathered reporters on Wednesday for an impromptu press conference and said he had confirmed that the intelligence community “incidentally collected information about  U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition” from November through January.

He conceded when pressed by reporters that the spying effort appeared to be lawful surveillance of individuals suspected of being an agent of a foreign power. According to Nunes, the names of Trump associates ― and maybe even Trump himself ― were unmasked in internal surveillance reports. The chairman claimed to have read several dozen reports, but said he did not have them in his possession.

Shortly after his bombshell press conference, Nunes headed to the White House to share his (possibly classified) findings with Trump.

Democrats ― and some high-ranking Republicans ― were angered and confused by Nunes’ decision to abandon committee process and make a rogue announcement. Nunes on Thursday chalked it up to a “judgement call.”

“At the end of the day, sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you don’t,” he told reporters.

The move raised questions about the chairman’s ability to serve as an impartial overseer of the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election ― which includes a probe of possible ties between the Trump team and the Russian government. The optics of Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, leading an investigation that could implicate the president and his team in wrongdoing, were tainted from the outset. But Nunes’ Wednesday disclosures prompted fresh calls for an independent investigation.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime member of the so-called Gang of Eight that has access to classified information, implied on Thursday that Nunes had colluded with the White House. She described his announcement the previous day as a “stunt,” saying he either had been “duped” by the White House or acted as a “willing stooge.”

Pelosi joined Schiff in calling for an independent commission to probe possible ties between the Trump team and Moscow.

Nunes “has demonstrated very clearly that there is no way there can be an impartial investigation under his leadership,” Pelosi said. 

Although Nunes has disavowed Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, he has given credence to current president’s theory that he and his team have been the victims of surveillance by a “deep state” loyal to the previous administration. Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ disclosure.

Nunes has declined to share the source of his information, but has suggested that it did not come through official FBI, CIA or National Security Agency channels. Asked directly if his information came from the White House, Nunes wouldn’t say.

“We have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet,” he said.

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