U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes is facing complaints of launching his own investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election after recusing himself from leading the committee's Russia probe in April.
Aides to Democratic committee members have complained that Nunes, a Republican, has begun investigating allegations that senior members of President Barack Obama's administration improperly "unmasked" the identities of Trump associates who were caught communicating with Russian officials.
The aides maintain Nunes failed to consult with Democrats when he subpoenaed the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA).
Congressional sources said the subpoenas requested the intelligence agencies to provide details of any requests made by two top Obama administration officials and the former CIA director to "unmask" the names of Trump campaign advisers inadvertently captured in top-secret foreign communications intercepts.
Named in the subpoenas were former national security adviser Susan Rice, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and former CIA Director John Brennan.
President Donald Trump seized Nunes' subpoenas as an opportunity to tweet that the Obama administration had committed wrongdoing.
The big story is the "unmasking and surveillance" of people that took place during the Obama Administration.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
The CIA has declined to comment on the subpoenas. The FBI and the NSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
U.S. laws and intelligence regulations require the concealment of any American names picked up in foreign communications intercepts unless senior officials request their disclosure for law enforcement or intelligence purposes.
Several U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity have told Reuters that all such requests by Obama's administration were properly vetted and appropriate.
Nunes' subpoenas were not cited in a bipartisan House Intelligence Committee announcement Wednesday that the panel approved subpoenas in connection with the Russia probe for Trump's first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
The panel also authorized subpoenas for Flynn's and Cohen's companies, Flynn Intel LLC and Michael D. Cohen and Associates PC.
"As part of our ongoing investigation into Russian active measures during the 2016 campaign, today we approved subpoenas for several individuals for testimony, personal documents and business records," Republican Congressman Mike Conaway and Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who are leading the committee investigation, said in a joint statement.
Conaway replaced Nunes as the Republican leader of the committee probe after Nunes recused himself. Democrats had questioned Nunes' ability to lead an impartial probe into Russian attempts to influence the election in Trump's favor. They questioned Nunes' credibility after he first informed Trump, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and journalists he had viewed documents showing Trump associates had been caught up in surveillance — before telling committee Democrats.
It was later disclosed that Nunes, a close ally to the president, secretly viewed the documents at the White House, after Trump made unsubstantiated claims that Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower in New York in an attempt to quell suspicions that Russia assisted his campaign.