WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday stood by his
unproven claim that his predecessor wiretapped his phones, suggesting he
was the victim of the same sort of surveillance the Obama
administration was once alleged to have used to monitor German
Chancellor Angela Merkel's calls.
"At least we have something in common, perhaps," Trump said during a joint news conference with Merkel.
who was making her first visit to the White House since Trump took
office, did not weigh in on the 2013 incident, which angered many in
Trump's allegations against President Barack Obama have
sparked a reactions ranging from bafflement to anger in Washington, with
both Democrats and Republican lawmakers saying they have no evidence to
support his claim. But the White House's refusal to back down has
created more problems for the new administration.
spokesman Sean Spicer defended the president's comments by repeating a
Fox News analyst's report that GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence
agency, had helped Obama wiretap Trump. The agency vigorously denied
the charge and Britain's ambassador to Washington, Kim Darroch,
complained directly to White House officials.
Trump tried to distance himself from the report Friday.
we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one
responsible for saying that on television," Trump said, referring to
analyst Andrew Napolitano. "You shouldn't be talking to me, you should
be talking to Fox."
The British government said the White House
has promised it won't repeat the allegation. Spicer, speaking with
reporters following Trump's news conference, said: "I don't think we
According to a Western diplomat, Spicer and
Darroch had spoken by telephone on Tuesday, at which time Darroch
asserted that there was no basis to the report.
A White House
official confirmed that Darroch and the prime minister's national
security adviser, Mark Lyall Grant, expressed concerns to both Spicer
and Trump's national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. Spicer
and McMaster both said that Spicer was simply pointing to public reports
and not endorsing any specific story, the official said.
The diplomat and White House official both spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday that the
British government made it clear to Spicer that the "ridiculous" claims
should be ignored.
"We have a close, special relationship with the
White House and that allows us to raise concerns as and when they arise
as was true in this case," said May spokesman James Slack. "We have
made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and
that they should be ignored and we have received assurances that these
allegations won't be repeated," he told reporters at a regular briefing
Trump tweeted earlier this month that Obama "was
tapping my phones in October" and compared the incident to
"Nixon/Watergate" and "McCarthyism."
The claim is prompting
growing bipartisan agreement that there's no evidence to back up the
claim and mounting pressure to retract the statement. The Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence weighed in Thursday, finding "no indications"
that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance.
Congress also said Trump should retract his claims. Rep. Charlie Dent,
R-Pa., called the accusation against Britain "inexplicable" and the
accusation against Obama unfounded.
"A president only has so much
political capital to expend and so much moral authority as well, and so
any time your credibility takes a hit, I think in many ways it weakens
the officeholder," Dent said.
Slack would not say whether Spicer
or any other American officials apologized, noting, "we have received
assurances that these allegations won't be repeated and this shows the
administration doesn't give the allegations any credence."
the Western diplomat confirmed that Spicer was very apologetic when
confronted by Darroch at a White House dinner on Thursday.
British intelligence agency, which rarely comments on allegations about
intelligence matters, flatly denied the claim, responding with a
statement calling the allegations "nonsense."
"They are utterly
ridiculous and should be ignored," read the statement, which was issued
on condition that it be attributed to an anonymous spokesperson to
protect the identity of agency staff.
Slack pointed out that GCHQ
could not have spied on Trump because the U.K. and the U.S. are both
members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, and under "the
Five Eyes pact, we cannot use each other's capabilities to circumvent