White House Mounts Vigorous Defense of Wiretap Tweets After Senate Intel Says No Evidence
WASHINGTON -- A day after the top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said they hadn't seen any evidence to back President Trump's claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, the co-chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed.
But White House press secretary Sean Spicer followed that statement with a vigorous defense of Trump's accusation at the daily briefing.
"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!"
On Wednesday, Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who was a member of Trump's transition team, appeared at a joint press briefing on Capitol Hill with Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to say "we don't have any evidence that that took place... I don't believe there was an actual tap of Trump Tower."
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."
Schiff also noted he expects FBI Director James Comey to shoot down Trump's claim when he testifies in open session Monday before the committee.
Today, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who was a member of candidate Trump's national security advisory council, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) issued a brief joint statement.
"Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016," Burr and Warner said.
Nunes noted that it was "possible" but as yet unproven whether communications involving Americans connected to the Trump campaign were intercepted in incidental collection -- where a Russian subject would have been under surveillance and his or her contacts included communication with an American. That's how former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn's communications with the Russian ambassador were intercepted; Nunes told a CNN reporter today that he wasn't aware of any other incidents of incidental collection surrounding Trump officials other than Flynn.
Spicer focused on this method of collection and Nunes' use of the word "possible" in his lengthy arguments at today's press briefing, along with reports that FISA warrants were granted last year to monitor individuals connected to two Russian banks. He read parts of stories from various sources including The New York Times, Fox News, Heat Street and Sean Hannity.
Spicer said Trump stands by his wiretapping allegation, and accused reporters of "mischaracterizing" Burr and Warner's statement.
"The bottom line is that the president said last night that he would be providing -- that there would be additional information coming forward. He's -- there's a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on during the 2016 election," he said.
Spicer reiterated the White House message this week that by putting "wires tapped" in quotes Trump meant "broad surveillance."
"When you take it literally in wire tapping, the president's already been very clear that he didn't mean specifically wire tapping, he had it in quotes," he added. "So I think to fall back on that is a false -- is a false premise, that's not what he said."
One of the reports Spicer cited was Andrew Napolitano on Fox alleging that Obama used British intelligence to circumvent domestic intelligence agencies.
"All we're doing is literally reading off what other stations and people have reported. And I think that cast a concern of some of the activities that may have occurred during the '16 election," Spicer said. "We're not casting judgment on that. I think the idea is to say that if these organizations, if these individuals came to these conclusions, they merit looking into."
That prompted the Brits to issue a rare public statement this evening: "Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."
Spicer was asked if Trump will apologize if no evidence is found that Obama put the Trump campaign under surveillance.
"I've had this like three times this week and I think the answer is, we're not going to prejudge where the -- where this -- where the outcome of this is. We've got to let the process work its will and then when there's a report that comes out conclusive from there, then we'll be able to comment," he replied. "But to jump ahead of this process at this point would be inappropriate."