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Democrats denounce 'unusual' claims

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Chairman of US intelligence committee says Trump transition messages were intercepted

WASHINGTON: The Republican chairman of the US House of Representatives intelligence committee set off a political firestorm on Wednesday when he said the communications of members of President Donald Trump's transition team were caught up in incidental surveillance targeting foreigners.

Representative Devin Nunes said at a news conference that it was possible Mr Trump's own communications were also intercepted and disseminated among US intelligence agencies.

The White House seized on Mr Nunes' remarks, which had cited anonymous sources, to bolster Mr Trump's unproven assertion that former President Barack Obama's administration spied on the incoming president.

Mr Nunes himself said there is no proof of that, as have other lawmakers of both parties and the FBI director James Comey.

A short while later, Mr Trump's spokesman Sean Spicer cited Mr Nunes' comments at his White House news briefing.

"I do think it is a startling revelation, and there's a lot of questions that need to get asked," Mr Spicer said.

Mr Trump said he felt "somewhat" vindicated by Mr Nunes' announcement.

According to Mr Nunes, the conversations in question were collected legally in November, December and January.

Democrats denounced Mr Nunes' statements as highly unusual from the chairman of an intelligence committee, with the top Democrat on the committee saying its members had not been informed and implying that Mr Nunes was giving political cover to the president.

A US government source said it was logical, if not normal, that communications from Trump aides would have been incidentally intercepted by US agencies after his election, given that they would have an interest in talking to foreign governments.

In an interview with CNN, the committee's leading Democrat, Mr Adam Schiff said: "The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he's going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both."

Mr Schiff said he was not consulted by Mr Nunes before his news conference.

Mr Nunes' decision to share the information with the White House before informing the committee was a "profound irregularity", Mr Schiff said. 

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