President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to dismiss any dispute with Britain over the accusation that the latter's intelligence snooped on him at the behest of his predecessor Barack Obama ahead of 2016 presidential election. The spying claims were made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who cited a Fox News commentator.
On Thursday, Spicer supported the president’s wiretapping claims by reading from several news clippings — among them was a claim by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, who said three intelligence sources told him the Obama administration used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to eavesdrop on Trump.
“We said nothing,” Trump told a reporter Friday. “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. You should be talking to Fox.”
Spicer reiterated the president’s response, saying: “I don’t think we regret anything. As the president said, I was just reading off media reports.”
Spicer’s allegation triggered a quick response from the GCHQ, who called the original claim by Napolitano as “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” The British government also denied the claim.
“I don’t want to get into private conversations, but we’ve made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored,” a Downing Street spokesman said. “We’ve received assurances these allegations won’t be repeated. We have a close relationship which allows us to raise concerns when they arise, as was true in this case. This shows the administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman James Slack reportedly said Friday the White House has promised not to repeat the unsubstantiated claim.
On Friday, Fox News also clarified its stance on the original claim by Napolitano. On the morning show “Fox & Friends,” the network’s anchor Shephard Smith said: “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now President of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way, full stop,” Smith said.
The White House also said U.S. officials spoke with British authorities to explain Spicer’s claims.
"[British] Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster. Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story," the White House said Friday.
Earlier this month, Trump claimed in a series of tweets that Obama spied on him before the November 2016 election without any substantial proof. However, Obama’s spokesman denied the allegations. The president also insisted he would investigate the matter.