Congress will investigate whether Obama had Trump’s telephones tapped during the presidential election campaign.
Key members of Congress say they will honor President Donald Trump’s request to investigate his claim that his predecessor, Barack Obama, overstepped his authority as president and had Trump’s telephones tapped during the 2016 election campaign.
Obama’s intelligence director said no such action was ever carried out.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said in a statement that the panel “will follow the evidence where it leads, and we will continue to be guided by the intelligence and facts as we compile our findings.”
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the committee “will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates.”
Trump claimed in a series of tweets Saturday that his predecessor had tried to undermine him by tapping the telephones at Trump Tower, where the Republican candidate had based his campaign and transition operations as well as maintaining a home.
Former Obama Officials Deny Claims
Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who resigned after Trump’s election and ahead of the presidential inauguration, said that nothing matching Trump’s claims had taken place.
“Absolutely, I can deny it,” said Clapper.
Other Obama representatives also denied Trump’s allegation, which the FBI has asked the Justice Department to dispute, a US official told AP on Sunday. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the request by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The department, however, has issued no such statement. DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment Sunday, and an FBI spokesman also did not comment.
The New York Times reported that senior American officials say FBI Director James Comey has argued that the Justice Department must correct the claim because it falsely insinuates that the FBI had broken the law.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump’s instruction to Congress was based on “very troubling” reports “concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election.” He did not elaborate.
Spicer said the White House wants the congressional committees to “exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” He said there will be no further comment until the investigations are completed.
Spicer’s chief deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said she thinks Trump is “going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.”
Josh Earnest, who was Obama’s White House press secretary, said presidents have no authority to unilaterally order the wiretapping of American citizens. FBI investigators and Justice Department officials must seek approval from a federal judge for such a step, he said. Earnest accused Trump of leveling the allegation to distract from the attention being given to his administration’s supposed entanglement with Russia.
Democrats Strike Back
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said they will ask the White House for details about reports of contacts between the White House and the Justice Department concerning the FBI review of whether the Russian government unlawfully influenced the US presidential election.
Trump said in the tweets on Saturday that he had “just found out” about being wiretapped. Unclear was whether he was referring to having learned about it through a briefing, a conversation or a media report. The president has tweeted in the past about unsubstantiated and provocative reports that he reads on blogs and websites.
The tweets stood out, given the gravity of the charge and the sharp personal attack on the former president. Trump spoke as recently as last month about how much he likes Obama and how well they get along, despite their differences.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” he tweeted, misspelling ‘tap.’
Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said a “cardinal rule” of the Obama administration was not to interfere in Justice Department investigations. Lewis said that neither Obama nor any White House official had ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. “Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” Lewis said.