WASHINGTON — The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee declared today that they have seen no evidence of Obama administration wiretapping at Trump Tower, while the president retorted that wiretapping was a broad term and “interesting” things related to his tweet would surface within a couple of weeks.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted March 4 while in Mar-a-Lago. “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”
That sparked congressional review of the claims in committees already probing Russia’s influence campaign during the presidential election.
“We don’t have any evidence that that took place… I don’t believe there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters today at a joint press briefing on Capitol Hill with Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, said there remains the possibility of the “incidental collection on Americans who were tied to the Trump campaign” in the course of other investigations, but they’ve yet to substantiate that.
Schiff added, “I’ve seen no evidence that supports the claim that the president made that his predecessor wiretapped he and his associates at Trump Tower — thus far, we have seen no basis for that whatsoever.”
The Justice Department missed this week’s deadline to turn over evidence of wiretapping to the committee; Schiff said the committee extended the deadline until March 20 and stressed that both he and Nunes are willing to use “the compulsory process” if necessary. He added that FBI Director James Comey will be asked in open session if such evidence exists at a March 20 hearing.
“It concerns me that the president would make such an accusation without basis,” Schiff said. “I would think it’s in the public’s interest that this be addressed very openly by the director, and we certainly expect that he will.”
National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers is also scheduled to testify in the March 20 open hearing.
“President Obama wouldn’t go over and physically wiretap Trump Tower, so now you have to decide … are we going to take the tweets literally, and if you are, then clearly the president was wrong,” Nunes said. “But if you’re not going to take the tweets literally, if there’s a concern that the president has about other people, other surveillance activities, looking at him or his associates, either appropriately or inappropriately, we want to find that out — I think it’s all in the interpretation of what you believe.”
Schiff added that if the committee hears as expected from Comey on March 20 that there “was no substance to the accusation that Barack Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower,” it’s important “that the president explain himself.”
“I think you can’t level an accusation of that type without either retracting it or explaining just why it was done,” the congressman said.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by Trump over her refusal to defend his travel ban executive order, are tentatively scheduled to appear at a March 28 intel committee hearing.
“I think our chair and the ranking member, Devin and Adam, gave the facts. I got the same briefing and they are still doing their investigation, all things related to Russia and the election,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told CNN this afternoon. “And I think during their investigation this is information that they felt was important to shed light on, so that’s what they did. And I support what they’ve done and I support their continuing investigation in this entire episode.”
In an interview recorded today with Fox News, Trump argued that “wiretap covers a lot of different things.”
“I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” the president added.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN he had no idea what Trump was talking about. Ryan said he hadn’t seen any information to suggest Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, either.
“I’d just say that the intelligence committees are doing an ongoing investigation about all things related to Russia and their involvement in our elections, their attempt to meddle in our elections. So that’s probably what’s being discussed,” Ryan added.
“We’ve had an investigation for quite a while, actually. This isn’t just something that just got started. It’s continuing on. So, perhaps what [Trump’s] talking about is the continuation of the investigations by both the House and the Senate intelligence committee, which are bipartisan investigations.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today, after insisting Tuesday that Trump’s claim would eventually be vindicated, that the president was “very clear that, you know, he used the wiretap generally — he put it in quotes, to mean that it counts for surveillance and all types of activity of that sort.”
“We are still at the beginning stages of this. We asked both the House and Senate to look into this. We hope they will. We believe that they will have further updates as they go through this process,” Spicer said.
“But, again, [Nunes and Schiff] today were making comments on where we stand right now. And I think, as we go through the process, I think as I mentioned yesterday, the president feels very comfortable that there is information out there regarding surveillance that was conducted during the 2016 election.”
Over in the Senate, Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said at a hearing on Russia’s activities today that he was just promised a response to his request of the Justice Department and FBI to hand over copies of any existing warrants or court orders related to surveillance of the Trump campaign.
Graham jointly sent the letter a week ago with the subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
“We would take any abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously,” Whitehouse and Graham wrote. “We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.”