The chief of staff for former President Barack Obama says President Trump’s claim that Obama ordered wiretapping at Trump Tower ahead of the 2016 the election is just plain wrong.
“The president cannot order a wiretap,” Denis McDonough, who served as Obama’s chief of staff throughout his second term, said on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday. “The president does not order a wiretap. The president did not order a wiretap.”
McDonough pointed to Obama’s official response to Trump’s charge.
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 16, 2017
“A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement. “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
At his weekly press briefing Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked if he believes Trump’s assertion that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
“We’ve seen no evidence of that,” Ryan replied.
On Wednesday, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Trump’s explosive allegation, said he has yet to see any evidence, either.
“That evidence still remains the same,” Nunes said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “We don’t have any evidence that that took place.”
Trump leveled the claim against his predecessor on Twitter earlier this month.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump declared.
“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” he added.
Trump refused to provide proof when given the chance on Wednesday, telling Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that he has “some very good stuff,” that the White House is “in the process of putting it together,” and that “it’s going to be very demonstrative.”
“Let’s see whether or not I prove it,” Trump said. “I just don’t choose to do it right now.”
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Trump said he first learned about the alleged wiretapping through media reports, including a New York Times article that mentioned “wiretapped communications” between Russian officials and “at least three Trump campaign advisers,” as well as a Fox News report the day before he leveled his explosive charge.
“I’ve been reading about things,” Trump told Carlson. “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.”
“Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it?” Carlson asked Trump. “Don’t you devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?”
“Well, because the New York Times wrote about it,” Trump replied. “Not that I respect the New York Times. I call it ‘the failing New York Times.'”
But the Times did not report that Trump or his aides were the target of the surveillance, nor did it say that the communications were intercepted at Trump Tower.
Trump also repeated White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s argument that the president wasn’t specifically referring to wiretapping when he tweeted it.
“Don’t forget, when I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes,” Trump said. “That really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that’s a very important thing. But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
Nunes also said that whether Trump is telling the truth depends on how literally his tweets are taken.
“I think the challenge here is, President Obama wouldn’t physically go over and wiretap Trump Tower,” he said. “So now you have to decide, Are you going to take the tweets literally? And if you are, then clearly the president is wrong.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Trump owes Obama and the American people an apology.
“I don’t know why President Trump makes these outlandish statements,” Leahy said on CNN Thursday. “He knows they’re not true. He knows he’s not telling the truth. He ought to apologize.”
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