By REMA RAHMAN and JOHN T. BENNETT CQ Roll Call
The White House on Thursday blasted the House and Senate Intelligence committees that deduced there was no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim that he had been wiretapped by the prior administration at Trump Tower during the election.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer instead lashed out at reporters, accusing them of refusing to cover comments made by those same members when they have said it is “possible” Trump was monitored by intelligence or intelligence entities.
Spicer’s response came shortly after the top two bipartisan lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee said there were “no indications” to back Trump’s assertion that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
“They’re not findings,” Spicer said, adding that he remains confident that Trump’s revised claim that he was surveilled in some fashion would be vindicated within a few weeks. He also noted the president wants to ask the committees to conduct an investigation into wiretapping but has so far rejected what they have found.
Spicer has attempted to redefine what Trump was referring to in tweets earlier this month that alleged Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
Spicer said that because Trump put wiretapping in quotes, he was including any U.S. surveillance that might have swept up any of the then-candidates communications.
Experts say the kind of surveillance Trump appears to be claiming would require a FISA or other warrant, which would have been requested by law enforcement or intelligence agencies — not a president.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said in a joint statement there was no evidence to back up Trump’s claim.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element to the United States government either before or after Election Day,” the senators wrote.
The statement came the day after the leading Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee said they believed there was no proof Trump was wiretapped during Obama’s administration.
Spicer parsed the answer House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes gave when the California Republican said it was “possible” Trump himself could have been part of intelligence gathering to apply to the wiretapping of Trump Tower.
But the press secretary refused to acknowledge Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team, had also said there was no proof of wiretapping.
“The evidence remains the same,” Nunes said Wednesday. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”
Vice President Mike Pence and new Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to answer the Senate Intelligence finding after Coats’ swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill Thursday.
“I’m not going to answer any questions today,” Coats said. “It’s a special day for us.”
Since Trump’s surveillance tweets, the White House has attempted to backtrack on the claims, even though the president asked the House and Senate Intelligence committees to determine if Obama ordered the bugging.
That investigation is part of an ongoing inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election, any ties Trump and his associates had with Russia during the campaign, as well as intelligence leaks.
The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearing to discuss the investigation on Monday.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.