White House officials on Sunday called for a congressional investigation into President Donald Trump’s explosive weekend allegation that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower, and House and Senate intelligence committee members said the charges would be included in probes underway about Russian interference in the presidential election.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer early Sunday called on Congress to look into whether “executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” Spicer, like Trump in his tweets on Saturday, offered no evidence for the wiretap claims.
Meanwhile, The New York Times and other news outlets reported Sunday evening that FBI Director James B. Comey asked the Justice Department to reject Trump’s assertion publicly. The FBI has not released a statement on the issue. Comey was working to counter Trump’s claim because there is no supporting evidence and it insinuates that the FBI broke the law, officials told the Times.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said his panel would “make inquiries” into government surveillance of either party’s campaign. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was “sure” Trump’s allegation would be included in his committee’s investigation.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence in Obama’s administration, denied there was wiretapping of Trump.
“For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign,” Clapper said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” He added, “I can deny it.”
A day after Trump asserted in a flurry of tweets that Obama — whom he criticized as a “bad (or sick) guy” — wiretapped him during the campaign, White House aides had not substantiated the claim and suggested instead that Congress should find evidence.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the country deserves to know whether such surveillance took place.
“Let’s look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal,” Sanders said on ABC News’ “This Week,” adding it potentially could be “the largest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen.”
Spicer in a statement said congressional investigations into Russian tampering in last year’s election should be expanded to include the wiretap claim.
“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” Spicer wrote. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”
Nunes said in a statement that the House Intelligence Committee “will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates, and we will continue to investigate this issue if the evidence warrants it.”
Cotton said on “Fox News Sunday” he has seen nothing to back up Trump’s allegations, but the claim would be reviewed.
“We’ve already begun an inquiry on the intelligence committee into Russia’s efforts to undermine confidence in our political system,” Cotton said. “We’re going to follow the facts wherever they lead us. And I’m sure that this matter will be a part of that inquiry.”
A president cannot legally order a wiretap, but a 1978 law allows the FBI to do so if a secret special court accepts its request showing probable cause that someone is committing a crime or colluding with a foreign intelligence service.
Comey’s request for the Justice Department rebuke of the wiretap assertion means the country’s top law enforcement official would be questioning the president’s truthfulness, the Times reported. Additionally, senior FBI officials are reported to be worried that the idea of a court-approved wiretap would lead people to think authorities have evidence implicating the Trump campaign in colluding with Russia.
Several members of Trump’s inner circle have been criticized for their communications with the Kremlin during the campaign.
Clapper said on NBC that reports by his former office and other intelligence agencies indicated “no evidence of such collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Clapper also said he would have known about any court order to wiretap.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a House Intelligence Committee member, said the investigation into the communications with Russian officials would cover Trump’s allegation of wiretapping. “We should first of all investigate whether or not there was a . . . court order to wiretap Trump Tower,” King said in an interview.
Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) did not say whether he believed his panel would or should look at Trump’s latest allegation, but he expressed confidence that the investigation into Russia’s role in the election would be thorough and bipartisan. “We are going to get to the bottom of this,” Warner said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Senate Intelligence Committee member, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he was unaware of evidence to back up Trump’s allegation. “I’m not sure what he’s talking about. Maybe he has information not available to the public,” Rubio said while adding that he believes there was a “hysteria” over Russia-linked charges.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a Manhattan news conference called Trump’s charge “beneath the dignity of the office” of the president.
He added on NBC that if the wiretapping allegations are true, then Trump is “in trouble” because it means that a federal judge found Trump or his staff “had probable cause to have broken the law or to have interacted with a foreign agent.”
Marc Brumer, a spokesman for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said Trump should produce evidence to support his charge or “apologize and recant his claims.” Brumer added, “His tweets seem to show he doesn’t have a basic understanding to how surveillance works.”
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said in a statement that Trump was either “lying to the American people or seeking to interfere in an ongoing FBI investigation — possibly both.”
She said Trump should support an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the election.
Eric Amidon, chief of staff to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), said in a statement: “If there is evidence, then Congress has an obligation to look into this further.”
Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) declined to comment.
With Laura Figueroa