President Donald Trump’s closest political allies have flatly denied his baseless claims that President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. Now, a leading spy agency from Washington’s closest foreign ally is angrily dismissing the allegations as well.
In an unusually sharp public shot at the new president, Britain’s top electronic surveillance agency, the GCHQ, dismissed Trump’s new charge that it helped Obama spy on Trump as “nonsense.”
“They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
Spy agencies around the world, including the General Communications Headquarters, better known as the GCHQ, rarely issue such blanket public denials. Rarer still is for them to so explicitly attack the words of the leader of their country’s closest ally. It’s another sign of the firestorm set off by Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about Obama — one denied by the Republican heads of both the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Trump, to the likely consternation of his top staffers and the visible unease of his congressional allies, continues to stand by the claim first made by White House spokesman Sean Spicer. During a press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said the White House wouldn’t apologize for the unfounded allegation and instead said any blame rested with the Fox News commentator, Andrew Napolitano, who first raised it.
“We said nothing,” Trump said in response to a question from a German reporter. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.”
“You shouldn’t be talking to me,” Trump added. “You should be talking to Fox.”
Fox News, which has become markedly pro-Trump in its coverage, quickly broke with the president and said it had “no evidence of any kind” that he’d been wiretapped.
“Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of any evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way,” one of its anchors, Shepard Smith, said. “Full stop.”
The comments from the GCHQ came early Friday morning, less than a day after a surreal press conference in which Spicer said Trump “stands by” the wiretapping claim even though no White House has been able to provide even a shred of evidence to substantiate it.
This paragraph from the New York Times gives a good sense of the flavor of Spicer’s rambling defense of Trump’s explosive, and false, claim.
Indeed, the White House even added a new assertion on Thursday during a fiercely combative and sometimes surreal briefing by the press secretary, Sean Spicer, who berated reporters and read from news accounts that either did not back up the president’s claims or had been refuted by intelligence officials.
The sharp denial from the GHCQ — an organization which has helped the American NSA work to intercept email and phone communications between terror suspects around the globe — also comes just a day after the heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee flatly said Trump’s wiretapping claims were bogus.
“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," the panel’s chair, Republican Sen. Richard Burr, and ranking member, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, said in a joint statement.
Trump had already been largely alone in trying to defend the allegation, which had been angrily denied by Obama and former aides like James Clapper, who was the nation’s top spy during the previous administration.
On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes — a devoted Trump ally and defender — flatly said that “clearly the president was wrong” if you take his tweets about Obama’s wiretapping “literally.”
“I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes said.
There is one person, and so far only one person, who still adamant that those taps took place: Trump himself.
The president won’t back down, no matter how many people say he’s lying
The new president has a decades-long record of refusing to back down in public battles or acknowledge that he had uttered falsehoods or outright lies. He’s sticking with that practice now despite the fact that it has caused him weeks of bad press and distracted from his ambitious efforts to slash the federal budget or pass an unpopular health care reform plan.
Pressed to substantiate the claim during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the president said this:
Well, I've been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, “Wait a minute; there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about.” I've been seeing a lot of things.
Trump also told Carlson he had secret evidence, evidently not seen by the lawmakers charged with overseeing the nation’s spy agencies, that would somehow back up an allegation now denied by all Republicans of any stature and, privately, FBI Director James Comey.
In the interview, the president said he would “be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet” and that “you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
Trump has made promises like that before — think back to his baseless claim years ago, during the height of Trump’s birther lie, to have investigators in Hawaii looking for dirt on Obama — only to quietly back away and try to let the charges disappear.
That worked when he a reality-show star. That largely worked during the campaign. But he’s now the president, and it’s not at all clear that it will work. This may be one lie that Trump has to own.