WASHINGTON — Recycling an incendiary and unsubstantiated charge, President Trump on Friday joked that he and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have one thing in common: being spied on by Barack Obama’s administration.
“As far as wiretapping, I guess, by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common perhaps,” Trump said at a joint press conference with the German leader. His remark drew laughter from some in the audience, a mix of reporters and aides to the president and the chancellor.
Merkel gave her host a quizzical look.
He appeared to be referring to revelations in 2013 that the Obama administration had listened to Merkel’s cellphone conversations. The disclosure inflamed U.S-Germany relations, and angered Merkel, who was born in what was then East Germany and experienced life under its feared secret police, the Stasi.
Trump had been asked by a German reporter about his March 4 claim that Obama personally ordered spying on him and Trump Tower. The reporter also asked whether Trump thought it was a mistake for White House press secretary Sean Spicer to cite a Fox News analyst’s claim that Obama used British intelligence to do surveillance on the future president.
“We said nothing,” Trump said. “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. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
Earlier, Spicer and Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, sought to soothe British anger at the press secretary putting the White House’s credibility behind the allegation.
In a contentious Thursday briefing for reporters, Spicer had tried to defend the president’s March 4 charge that Obama personally ordered spying on Trump at Trump Tower last year. At one point, Spicer quoted Fox News media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano, who claimed on the air that three intelligence sources had told him Obama used Britain’s GCHQ — its equivalent to the National Security Agency — to spy on Trump so that “there’s no American fingerprints on this.”
After Spicer put the weight of White House behind the claim, Britain issued furious denials. The dispute arose as the Trump administration refused to say whether it possessed evidence to back up the president’s charge and top lawmakers disputed the allegation.
McMaster spoke to his British counterpart, while Spicer spoke to Britain’s ambassador to Washington.
“The calls were very cordial,” a senior U.S. administration official said. “They explained that Sean was simply reading news stories; he was not endorsing anything.” The official, who requested anonymity to describe private conversations, declined to describe the calls as apologies. The Telegraph, citing intelligence sources, had reported earlier that both Spicer and McMaster offered formal apologies.
In a brief question and answer session with reporters after the press conference, Spicer defiantly denied doing anything wrong.
“I don’t think we regret anything,” he said. “We literally listed a litany of media reports that are in the public domain.”
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