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Intelligence chair's spying claim renews Russia interference probe battle


House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes walks out of the White House following a meeting with Donald Trump (AP)

House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes walks out of the White House following a meeting with Donald Trump (AP)

House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes walks out of the White House following a meeting with Donald Trump (AP)

The US House intelligence committee chairman has privately apologised to his Democratic colleagues after his decision to openly discuss and brief President Donald Trump on the interception of his transition team's communications.

Republican representative Devin Nunes' decision to disclose the information before talking to committee members outraged Democrats and raised questions about the independence of the panel's probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election and possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

Mr Nunes said: "It was a judgment call on my part.

"Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the wrong decision."

A congressional aide said the chairman apologised to Democrats and pledged to work with them and share information related to the investigation.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House panel, said: "A credible investigation cannot be conducted this way."

The White House quickly embraced Mr Nunes' revelations and the president said they "somewhat" validated his wiretapping allegations.

Mr Nunes' critics also questioned whether the California congressman was coordinating with the White House in order to give the president cover for his explosive claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Mr Trump's New York skyscraper.

Mr Nunes, who served on Mr Trump's transition team, ducked questions about whether he was parroting information given to him by the White House, saying only that he was "not going to ever reveal sources".

He maintained that Mr Trump's wiretapping allegations against Mr Obama were false.

Representative Jackie Speier said Mr Nunes apologised to the minority members of the committee.

She told reporters on Capitol Hill that she does not know where the information came from, but recalled a comment Mr Trump made in a Fox News interview earlier this month where he said the White House "will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn't been submitted as of yet".

The disclosure came two days after FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the bureau's own investigation into the Trump campaign's connections with Russia.

Mr Comey's comments came during the intelligence committee's first public hearing on Russia's election interference, an investigation being overseen by Mr Nunes.

Mr Nunes said he received the new intelligence information after that hearing. He said it revealed that Mr Trump's transition associates - and perhaps even Mr Trump himself - had their communications picked up through legal surveillance.

The surveillance was conducted legally, Mr Nunes said, and did not appear to be related to the FBI's Russia investigation.

He said his concern was that the identities of the Trump officials were improperly revealed and the contents of their communications were "widely disseminated" in intelligence reports.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Mr Nunes said: "What I've read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team."

Ms Speier said Mr Nunes' disclosure could be a "weapon of mass distraction" in light of allegations of coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign during the 2016 campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"This could be a lot of theatrics," the House intelligence committee member said.

Senator John McCain said: "This is a bizarre situation.

"I'm calling for a select committee because I think this back-and-forth shows that Congress no longer has the credibility to handle this alone."

Later, in an interview with MSNBC, Mr Schiff said evidence "that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of an investigation" exists of Trump associates colluding with Russia as it interfered in last year's election.

PA Media