WASHINGTON — The White House has contritely reached out to Britain after infuriating that close ally by recycling a Fox News commentator’s charge that the U.K. spied on President Trump in 2016 at Barack Obama’s request, officials in Washington and London said Friday.
Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, assured his counterpart by telephone that the White House had not meant to endorse the claim. White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who touched off the unusual diplomatic controversy on Thursday, did the same in a conversation with Britain’s ambassador to Washington.
“We have made clear these allegations are utterly ridiculous, and have received reassurances that they will not be repeated,” said a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May.
“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 contentious Thursday briefing for reporters, Spicer had tried to defend the president’s unsubstantiated 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 credibility behind the claim, Britain issued angry 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.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.
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