A senior Republican lawmaker says U.S. intelligence officials inadvertently collected information from members of President Donald Trump's administration.
The March 22 statement by Devin Nunes, Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, came amid an ongoing furor raised by revelations that the FBI is conducting an ongoing investigation into potential links between Trump's associates and Russian officials.
It also came two days after the head of the FBI and the National Security Agency testified that they had seen no evidence supporting Trump's extraordinary claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, had order his private offices in New York offices to be wiretapped.
Nunes, who served on Trump's transition team, said information he has been provided leads him to believe that the collection of communications from Trump's team in November, December, and January -- after he was elected president but before he was sworn into office -- had been legal.
He said the information on Trump's team was "incidental" and was not the target of the surveillance.
He also said the communications were not related to investigations into potential ties between Trump associates and Russia, and that their intelligence value was negligible.
Nunes's Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff, said the Republican congressman's comments have given him "grave concerns" about the committee's ability to conduct a credible investigation.
"I have expressed my grave concerns with the chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way," Schiff said in a statement.
Schiff said Nunes must decide whether he is the committee chairman or a White House surrogate.
The Democratic lawmaker also said he's more convinced than ever that an independent commission must investigate alleged ties between Russia and Trump's election campaign.
The House panel is conducting one of five congressional committee investigations that are looking into possible ties between Trump's associates and Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.
Trump said on March 22 that he felt "somewhat" vindicated by the statements from Nunes.
"I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found," he said.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP