Trump refuses to back down from Obama wiretapping claims

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump refused Friday to back down from claims that President Barack Obama ordered his phones tapped during the closing days of the presidential election even after congressional intelligence committees leaders said they had no evidence the incident happened.

Instead, Trump, standing alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose cellphone had been tapped by the Obama administration, said at a news conference: “As far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps.”

Trump also refused to apologize for the White House’s repetition of an unverified claim that Obama had employed a British spy agency to monitor him during the campaign.

“All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television,” Trump said. “I didn’t make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox, and so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

Immediately after the news conference, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, “I don’t think we regret anything.”

Earlier in the day, the White House announced that British Ambassador Kim Darroch and Mark Lyall Grant, the British prime minister’s national security adviser, had “expressed their concerns” about comments Spicer made Thursday at his daily news briefing.

In defending Trump, Spicer read remarks by Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano that alleged the British spy agency had been involved in the wiretapping.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” Spicer read from the Fox News report. “He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence spying agency.”

Spicer and Trump’s national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, told British officials that Spicer was “simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”

The wiretapping allegations have hung over the White House for two weeks, since Trump first alleged in a series of tweets that Obama had wiretapped his telephones at Trump Tower in New York. Democrats, and even some Republicans, have called on the president to apologize to Obama.

“We have seen no evidence to support his outrageous allegations,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “He really is making a fool of his Cabinet and his people, because they have to defend something that is so indefensible, unsubstantiated and just a stunt to deflect attention from some of the nasty stuff that is going on under his leadership.”

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders announced Thursday that they had no evidence that Obama wiretapped Trump’s phones.

“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the U.S. government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a joint statement.

The House Intelligence Committee had already made a similar assessment.

“I strongly believe that these statements by political leaders should not be a substitute for a public response from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice on this matter,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Spicer said the committees had made their statements without any input from the Justice Department. On Monday, the department asked for more time to submit evidence to the House Intelligence Committee to back up Trump’s claim.

James Clapper, the longtime director of national intelligence under Obama, has said Trump’s home and office were not wiretapped before the presidential election last year. An Obama spokesman, Kevin Lewis, has denied the allegation in a statement as “simply false.”

Merkel, the long-serving German leader, maintained good relations with Obama despite the fact that the Obama administration had monitored her cellphone.

Trump and Merkel met for the first time Friday after the president had engaged in a series of harsh criticisms of her on the campaign trail. They disagree on a variety of policies, including immigration, trade, defense spending and the role of the European Union, but on Friday the two were cordial.

“I’ve always said it’s much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this,” Merkel said in remarks at the pair’s joint news conference, a reference perhaps to Trump’s campaign criticism that Merkel’s open-doors refugee policy had destroyed Germany.

He did not repeat the criticism Friday.