White House: Trump ‘stands by’ wiretapping claim

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The White House said Thursday that President Trump stands by his claim that former President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower, even though leaders of congressional intelligence committees say they’ve seen no evidence to support it. 

“He stands by it,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during the daily briefing, referring to the allegations that Trump first made in tweets early this month.

The spokesman argued that Trump was referring to any communications of his associates being swept up by surveillance, not necessarily actions targeted specifically at Trump.

“There’s been a vast amount of reporting, which I just detailed, about activity that was going on during the 2016 election. There’s no question there were surveillance techniques used throughout this,” he said.

“The president has already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wiretapping, he had it in quotes.”

Spicer’s remarks came just a few hours after the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee said that “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.”

The White House pushed back, saying the the Justice Department has yet to provide Congress with additional information to bolster Trump’s claim. 

“They’re not findings,” Spicer said. “The statement clearly says that at this time they don’t believe that. They have yet to go through the information.”

A spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, responded that “the bipartisan leaders of the intelligence committee would not have made the statement they made without having been fully briefed by the appropriate authorities.”

Trump himself has defended his controversial tweets.

“Wiretap covers a lot of different things,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson on Wednesday night. “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”  

The controversy started 12 days ago, when Trump tweeted that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory [on Election Day]. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.”

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Trump added. 

But the Trump administration thus far has not produced any evidence to back up the assertion.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), citing the House and Senate intelligence panels, on Thursday said that “no such wiretap existed.”

Spicer attacked the media’s coverage of the story, questioning why reporters have been so quick to dismiss Trump’s claims despite their reporting on active investigations into the administration’s potential ties to Russia. 

Working through a packet of news clippings, Spicer read from various news reports detailing those investigations, including some that the White House or transition team had previously discredited, to make his point. 

“Where were you coming to the defense of that same committee and those members when they said there was no connection to Russia? You didn’t seem to report it then,” he said. 

He accused reporters of using a double standard when it comes to surveillance issues.

— Updated at 5:12 p.m. Ben Kamisar contributed.
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