In a tweetstorm he posted on Saturday, President Trump accused former President Obama of wiretapping him ahead of the election last year. He framed the allegation as a fact, but didn’t provide any evidence.
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
In response to the ensuing uproar, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested on Sunday that Trump’s claim is based on “reports” that are “very troubling” to the president.
(1/4) Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling.
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 5, 2017
According to the Washington Post, Spicer was referring to a Breitbart story that circulated among White House staff last week and other unconfirmed reports about the Obama administration filing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests to monitor the communications of people associated with the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russian officials.
But on Monday, White House officials changed their story. During a Fox & Friends interview, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked about Trump’s evidence. Instead of citing reports from right-wing media, she cited classified intelligence.
“Let me answer that globally. He’s the president of the United States, he has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not,” Conway said of the her notoriously intelligence briefing-averse boss. “And that’s the way it should be for presidents.”
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) March 6, 2017
One agency that might know about the truth of Trump’s claim is the FBI. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey “asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones.”
“Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, [senior American officials] said, but the department has not released any such statement,” the Times report continues. “Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.”
But during a Good Morning America interview with George Stephanopoulos on Monday, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders flatly said Trump does not accept the denials.
“I don’t think he does,” Sanders said after Stephanopoulos asked if Trump accepts Comey’s denial. “I think he firmly believes that this is a storyline that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets — the wiretapping has been discussed in the New York Times, BBC, Fox News — and we believe it should be looked at by the House Intelligence Committee.”
But Stephanopoulos pushed back, pointing out that none of the media reports Sanders cited actually support the claim that Obama order the wiretapping of Trump.
Sanders didn’t cite any evidence, but flatly asserted that the Obama administration “could’ve done this.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 6, 2017
Conway and Sanders went on TV to talk about Trump’s wiretapping allegation less than 24 hours after Spicer vowed that “neither the White House nor the President will comment further” until the House Intelligence Committee investigates Trump’s baseless claim.
The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), has promised that “the probe of the president’s allegation would be wrapped into an existing investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential campaign,” the Los Angeles Times reports. The Trump administration has already used Nunes, who was an early Trump ally and a member of his official transition team, to knock down media reports about ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.