Rep. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, has apologized privately to his Democratic colleagues, but is still defending his decision to openly discuss and brief President Donald Trump on typically secret intercepts that he says swept up communications of the president’s transition team.
The Tulare Republican’s decision to disclose the information before talking to committee members outraged Democrats and raised questions about the independence of the panel’s probe of Russian interference into the 2016 election and possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia.
Nunes, a member of Trump’s transition team, says its was a judgment call on his part and that some decisions are right and some are wrong. A congressional aide said the chairman apologized to Democrats and pledged to work with them in the future and share information related to the investigation.
Nunes said Wednesday that private communications of Trump and his presidential transition team may have been scooped up by American intelligence officials monitoring other targets and improperly distributed throughout spy agencies.
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Nunes’ extraordinary public airing of often-secret information brought swift protests from Democrats.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, renewed his party’s calls for an independent probe of Trump campaign links to Russia in addition to the GOP-led panel’s investigation. Schiff also said he had seen “more than circumstantial evidence” that Trump associates colluded with Russia.
On Thursday, Sen. John McCain said it is “disturbing” that the chairman of the House intelligence committee is publicly airing often-secret information.
McCain spoke on NBC’s “Today Show,” responding to Nunes’ statements that Trump transition officials’ communications may have been scooped up in legal surveillance and then improperly distributed.
The Arizona Republican said no new information has come out to refute FBI Director James Comey, who this week rejected President Trump’s claims that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the election.
Of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, McCain said that in situations like this: “There’s always additional information that comes out before it’s concluded.”
Looking ahead, McCain says that a special committee is needed to review the matter.
Committee member Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) has also called for a special commission to lead the investigation.
Swalwell said Nunes “betrayed the independence of our work” and owes the panel and the American people an apology for — and evidence of — his “stunt,” according to the political news site Politico.
“This is a pretty sad departure from a long tradition of doing the people’s work around national security and doing it without a, you know, loyalty to the administration, doing it with independence,” Swalwell told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Nunes’ comments are now being used by Republican groups in fundraising efforts. But the emails are making false or misleading assertions of their own.
The National Republican Campaign Committee blasted out an email with the subject “Confirmed: Obama spied on Trump.” The Republican National Committee made a pitch with the subject line “Vindicated” and went on to say, “President Trump has fought back and been vindicated time and time again.” And a pro-Trump nonprofit is claiming in its subject line “Surveillance CONFIRMED.”
Nunes said Wednesday that any monitoring of Trump and transition officials appears to have been “incidental” to unrelated investigations. He did not support Trump’s claim that Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower.
Meanwhile, President Trump defended his explosive claims that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Trump says “wiretapping was in quotes. What I’m talking about is surveillance.”
Trump pointed to Nunes’ remarks Wednesday that communications of Trump and his transition team may have been scooped up by American intelligence officials monitoring other targets.
There is no evidence that Trump Tower was wiretapped.
In the interview, Trump defended other statements that have been debunked, including his claims that millions of people voted illegally in the November election. He said he is just citing news sources.
He concluded the interview with: “I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not.”