Trump stands by Obama wiretap charge,
shrugs off row with Britain
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[March 18, 2017]
By Jeff Mason and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President
Donald Trump stood by unproven claims on Friday that the Obama
administration tapped his phones during the 2016 White House race and
shrugged off a dispute with Britain over the notion their spy agency had
a hand in it.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman earlier in the day
dismissed the charge against Britain's GCHQ spy agency as "ridiculous"
and said the White House had promised not to repeat it.
But at a news conference Trump brushed aside a question about whether it
was a mistake to accuse British intelligence of eavesdropping.
"We said nothing. 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," Trump said.
He was referring to Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano who on Tuesday
accused Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
intelligence agency of having helped Obama, a Democrat, wiretap Trump, a
White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Thursday quoted Napolitano's
comments about GCHQ during a testy briefing with reporters.
But speaking at the White House news conference, with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel, at his side, Trump distanced himself.
"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. OK?" Trump
said while standing by his initial charge that the previous U.S.
administration eavesdropped on him.
"As far as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we
have something in common, perhaps," he said to Merkel.
U.S. ties with Germany were frayed by news reports in 2013 citing leaked
intelligence documents that Washington had bugged Merkel's mobile phone.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said British
officials had voiced concern to senior Trump aides but the official
declined to explicitly apologize for Spicer's citation of the Fox News
The Republican Trump, president since Jan. 20, tweeted this month that
his Democratic predecessor had wiretapped him during the late stages of
the 2016 campaign. Trump offered no evidence, and an Obama spokesman has
said the claim is "simply false".
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Satellite dishes are seen at GCHQ's outpost at Bude, close to where
trans-Atlantic fibre-optic cables come ashore in Cornwall, southwest
England June 23, 2013. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty/File Photo
Leaders of both major parties in Congress have joined a growing
chorus disputing it.
On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department said it had responded to a
request by committees in Congress for documents that could shed
light on Trump's claim.
A government source, who requested anonymity when discussing
sensitive information, said an initial examination indicated it
contained no evidence to support Trump's charge.
On the "Fox & Friends" program, Napolitano, a political commentator
and former New Jersey judge, said that rather than ordering U.S.
agencies to spy on Trump, Obama had obtained transcripts of Trump's
conversations from GCHQ so there were "no American fingerprints" on
Late on Friday, Fox News anchor Shepard 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.”
Dominic Grieve, chairman of the British Parliament's Intelligence
and Security Committee, said a U.S. president cannot task the GCHQ
to intercept an individual's communications.
In a rare public statement, the GCHQ, Britain's equivalent of the
U.S. National Security Agency which monitors overseas electronic
communications, said the claims should be ignored.
Reuters reported earlier this week that an unidentified British
security official had denied the allegations about Trump.
GCHQ, based in western England, is one of three main British spy
agencies alongside the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service and the MI5
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Michael Holden and Guy
Faulconbridge in London; Writing by Howard Goller; Editing by Mary
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