Key members of Congress say they will honor President Donald Trump’s request to investigate his unsubstantiated claim that Barack Obama overstepped his authority as president and had Trump’s telephones tapped during the election campaign.
Trump made his startling claim of presidential abuse of power in a series of tweets early Saturday. They capped a week in which the positive reaction to his address to Congress quickly evaporated amid the swirl of allegations and revelations about contacts between Trump aides and a Russian official, both during and after the presidential election that Russia is believed to have meddled in.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The House and Senate intelligence committees, and the FBI, are investigating contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, as well as whether Moscow tried to influence the 2016 election. On Sunday, Trump demanded that they broaden the scope of their inquiries to include Obama’s potential abuse of his executive powers.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., 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.”
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said Trump was following “a deeply disturbing pattern of distraction, distortion and downright fabrication.”
The New York Times reported that senior American officials say FBI Director James Comey has argued that the claim must be corrected by the Justice Department because it falsely insinuates that the FBI broke the law. No such statement has been issued. Obama’s intelligence director also said no such action was taken.
On Monday morning, White House advisers weren’t backing away from President Donald Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped his campaign.
They insisted that Trump believes the explosive allegations he made over the weekend, for which he provided no evidence. The allegations were swiftly denied by an Obama spokesman and by Obama’s intelligence chief.
Kellyanne Conway told “Fox & Friends” Monday that “credible news sources” suggested there was politically motivated activity during the campaign. She added that as president, Trump “has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not.”
Likewise, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary, told NBC’s “Today” show that the president “firmly believes that the Obama administration may have tapped into the phones at Trump Tower.”
When asked whether Trump’s assertions were based on media reports or U.S. intelligence, Sanders said “he may have access to documents that I don’t know about.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin is distancing the Kremlin from Trump’s claim. The claim comes amid the swirl of revelations about contacts between Trump aides and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., both during and after a presidential election Russia is believed to have meddled in.
When asked about the allegation, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that the Kremlin “should not be in any way linked to U.S. domestic issues” and “doesn’t have the slightest inclination or intention to be associated with these affairs.”
Trump is said to be frustrated by his senior advisers’ inability to tamp down allegations about contacts between his campaign aides and the Russian government. Disclosures about his aides’ contacts with the Russian ambassador cost Michael Flynn his job as national security adviser. Compounding the situation was the revelation last week that former U.S. senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early Trump campaign supporter, had met twice with the Russian ambassador but didn’t disclose that to lawmakers when he was asked about it during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Separately, an Indiana newspaper reported that Vice President Mike Pence used personal email to conduct state business when he was governor of Indiana. The revelation recalled the use of personal email by Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state. The issue dogged Clinton for most of the presidential campaign.