The Republican head of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee apologized on Thursday for the way he handled sensitive allegations about U.S. spy agency surveillance of President Donald Trump’s team.
Representative Devin Nunes was criticized by colleagues on Wednesday for calling a news conference to announce that the communications of members of the team that ran Trump’s transition to the presidency were swept up in incidental surveillance targeting foreigners.
Democrats were upset that Nunes made the comments to the media and then briefed Trump in the White House without informing them. They questioned whether the intelligence panel could run a credible investigation.
A Republican intelligence committee aide said on Thursday that Nunes had apologized to Democrats on the panel for not first talking to them.
“Yes, he apologized to the minority on the committee today for going public and to the (White House) with his announcement yesterday before sharing the information with the minority. He pledged to work with them on this issue and share information with them about it,” the aide told Reuters.
The intelligence panel is conducting one of the main congressional investigations over allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia sought to influence the 2016 presidential election, including claims of ties between Republican Trump’s team and Moscow. Russia denies the allegations.
At a hearing of the committee on Monday, FBI director James Comey confirmed the existence of the investigation for the first time.
Nunes, by making his claim about surveillance, appeared to give some backing to an allegation made by Trump in a Twitter post on March 4 that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, wiretapped his election campaign headquarters in Manhattan’s Trump Tower. Through a spokesman, Obama denied the allegation.
Nunes, who was a member of Trump’s transition team, seemed contrite on Thursday for the timing and manner of his statement.
“There was a lot going on yesterday and it was a judgment call on my part. At the end of the day, sometimes you make the right decisions and sometimes you make the wrong ones but you’ve got to stick by the decisions you make,” he told reporters after the intelligence committee’s regular classified meeting.
Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat on the panel, said Nunes had apologized “in a generic way.”
Another Democrat on the committee, Representative Eric Swalwell, told MSNBC that its members had not yet seen the material referred to by Nunes.
“Before we go forward, we really need to see what evidence did the chairman take over to the president, how did he get that evidence and why exactly did he go around our committee,” Swalwell said.
The House committee is investigating whether Russia hacked emails of senior Democrats and released embarrassing information to hurt the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, interfering in the election to benefit Trump.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Alexander, Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Grant McCool)