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Trump again defends wiretap claim, jokes about it with Merkel

President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 17, 2017. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump repeated his unproven claim Friday that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him by reminding German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the United States tapped her phone calls, quipping, “At least we have something in common, perhaps.”

At a White House news conference with the visiting German leader, Trump also defended White House spokesman Sean Spicer for citing a Fox News analyst’s accusation that British intelligence helped Obama spy on him — a claim the British government strongly denied.

“We said nothing. 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,” Trump said.

“You shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox,” said Trump, referring to Spicer’s citing of the allegation by Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano to reporters in a contentious briefing Thursday to back up Trump’s unsubstantiated claim of the wiretap.

Spicer’s highlighting of that charge led the British electronic intelligence agency, GCHQ, to make a rare public statement to call Napolitano’s allegation “utterly ridiculous.”

Fox News’ chief news anchor Shepard Smith said the network “cannot confirm” Napolitano’s commentary, adding that Fox News has no evidence Obama wiretapped Trump.

British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch and Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman Mark Grant also expressed their concerns about the allegation to Spicer and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, according to the White House.

But the White House denied it had apologized to the British officials. The White House said McMaster and Spicer responded to those concerns by saying Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.

After the White House news conference, Spicer said he had no second thoughts about the news sites he cited to back Trump’s belief.

“I don’t think we regret anything,” Spicer said. “We literally listed a litany of media reports that are in the public domain.”

Questions about Trump’s wiretapping claim were raised by German reporters who came to cover Merkel’s first visit with the new U.S. president. One of the reporters asked Trump if he ever regretted his tweets.

“Very seldom,” said Trump, who credited his tweets with helping him win the election.

Spicer said Thursday Trump “stands by” his wiretap claim, even though Obama has denied it and the leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees in the House and Senate said they have seen no evidence to back it up.

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to appear before an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, where he will be asked about Trump’s accusation and the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced Friday it will hold a two-part hearing March 30 in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

At the news conference, Trump and Merkel also talked about their attempts to find common ground within their two very different outlooks, Trump pushing an inward-looking “America First” and Merkel embracing the European Union and globalization.

A key difference between the two leaders is the European Union: Trump favored Great Britain’s vote to leave it in a move called Brexit, and Merkel stood by the unified continent.

In response to a German reporter’s question that suggested Trump was an isolationist, Trump said, “I don’t believe in an isolationist policy. I am not isolationist. I’m a free trader but I’m also a fair trader.”

But Merkel said the “success of Germans has always been one where the German success is one side of the coin and the other side of the coin has been European unity and European integration. That’s something of which I’m deeply convinced.”

With AP

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