An ever-defiant President Donald Trump on Friday doubled down on his claim that Barack Obama’s administration tapped his phones, telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel the duo might both be victims of Obama-led spying.
“As far as wiretapping, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump quipped in the ornate East Room. The U.S. and German journalists, staff members and dignitaries responded with laughter — and some gasps.
The Obama administration reportedly listened in on her mobile phone calls at one time, drawing the ire of the key U.S. ally. Merkel tilted her head and looked both confused and bemused after the former reality television star dropped the quip near the end of their joint press conference.
Trump’s renewed — but veiled — claim came one day after top spokesman aggressively rejected the notion that the House and Senate Intelligence committees had concluded Trump’s allegations against the former president lacked any factual basis.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said in a joint statement on Thursday 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. That followed a similar finding from the House Intelligence Committee’s top Republican and Democrat. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later Thursday said the Intel leaders’ views on the matter are “not findings.”
The president also fielded several questions about his and House Republican leaders’ so-far bumpy ride in getting House GOP members to back a measure that would repeal and replace the Obama administration’s 2010 health law.
Trump told reporters that more and more GOP members are voicing their support for the measure, saying efforts to secure majority support are going “beautifully.
“We have a great plan,” he said. His comments came a few hours after the president huddled with members of the Republican Study Committee, whose leaders signed off on the measure, which heads to the House floor next week. GOP leaders have set up a Thursday vote that will decide if it will go to the Senate just weeks after it was unveiled.
The RSC leaders told reporters outside the West Wing that they have moved from opposed to the American Health Care Act to a “positive yes” after the president signed off on Medicaid language on block grants for states and to change work requirements.
And on immigration, an issue on which the duo had criticized one another’s policies, Trump called the right to immigrate to the United States a “right not a privilege.” Trump’s grandfather Frederick immigrated from Germany.
Merkel made a pitch for the Trump administration to revive talks with European Union officials about a U.S.-EU trade pact called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP.
Trump merely smiled and nodded.
Her pitch came after Trump earlier had declared the two countries “must work together toward fair — but reciprocal — trade policies that benefit both our peoples.” The U.S. president denied being an isolationist on trade, calling himself a “fair trader.”
At several points during the press conference, Trump contended that America has long been treated “unfairly” by other countries on matters of trade.
“Me must work together towards fair and reciprocal trade policies that benefit both of our peoples,” Trump said during his opening remarks. “Millions of hard-working U.S. citizens have been left behind by international commerce, and together, we can shape a future where all of our citizens have a path to financial security.”
The leaders’ body language during an earlier Oval Office photo op was chilly, and that continued after they ascended a stage in the East Room. But on trade pacts that benefit both parties, they appeared in lockstep.
“Trade has to be rendered fairer,” Merkel said during her prepared opening remarks. “There has to be a win-win situation.”