U.S. President Donald Trump accused his predecessor Barack Obama on Saturday of wiretapping his phones a month before the November election, without citing any evidence to back up the claim.
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"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" the president tweeted.
A spokesman for Obama denied Trump's claims. "Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false," Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement.
Under U.S. law, a federal court would have to have found probable cause that the target of the surveillance is an "agent of a foreign power" in order to approve a warrant authorizing electronic surveillance of Trump Tower.
Obama's foreign policy adviser, Ben Rhodes, dismissed the accusations, in a tweet that said: "No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you."
The Guardian, which also reported about Trump's latest tweets, wrote that "there was no additional information provided to substantiate the president’s claims" nor any details on what he was basing his allegations.
The White House did not respond to a request to elaborate on Trump's accusations. Trump is "having meetings, making phone calls and hitting balls" at his golf course in West Palm Beach, according to a Trump spokeswoman.
Though Trump didn't back his allegations, they follow similar accusations made on a show on Thursday by Conservative radio host Mark Levin who charged Obama's administration of measures to try and undermine Trump's campaign.
Breitbart News followed up with an article alleging that: “The Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorisation to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found."
Breitbart referred to claims that the FBI had sought a warrant last year to monitor members of the Trump team suspected of being in contact with Russian officials.
No one has confirmed a FISA investigation, or wiretaps in Trump Tower, but several news outlets have reported the existence of such a probe, the WIRED website said. It cites a BBC report in January that the U.S. Justice Department had sought a FISA warrant in June to intercept communications from two Russian banks suspected of facilitating donations to the Trump campaign. The warrant was rejected but a new judge granted a narrower one in mid-October, the BBC said.
A FISA warrant would not necessarily mean that Trump Tower is being tapped, WIRED adds. Even the existence of a wiretap does not necessarily mean Trump is a target. Nearly half the tower's 58 floors house commercial and office space whose occupants could be the target of an investigation, rather than Trump, WIRED reports.
The Associated Press reported that Trump's tweets could be in response to Democrats' outcry following revelations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions - in his confirmation hearings - didn't disclose his contacts with Russia's American ambassador during the campaign. Following the uproar, Sessions said that he would recuse himself of any probe into Russia and the U.S. elections in 2016.
Sessions - a senator at that time - was Trump's earliest Senate supporter.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he had no knowledge about any wiretapping but is "very worried that our president is suggesting that the former president has done something illegally. I would (also) be very worried if in fact the Obama administration was able to obtain a warrant lawfully about Trump campaign activity."
Graham said it was his job "to get to the bottom of this. I promise I will."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi ridiculed Trump's assertions. "The Deflector-in-Chief is at it again. An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer," she wrote on Twitter Saturday.
Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News that Trump "is not credible when it comes to talking about Russia," Reuters reported.
"I think this is just the president up early doing his routine tweeting, he said. "Presidents don't wiretap anyone. These are pursued by the Department of Justice in accordance with the FBI and signed off by a judge."
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia influenced the election to help Trump win. Several Republicans on Saturday again urged an investigation into a series of intelligence-related leaks.
Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned in February after revelations that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office. The contacts came to light after it was revealed that U.S. intelligence services intercepted the communications, as part of routine intelligence gathering on foreign diplomats.
Last February, the New York Times reported that American law enforcement and intelligence services have intercepted calls and obtained phone records showing contacts between senior Russian intelligence officials and members of Trump's presidential campaign team and other of his associates in the year before the election.
According to the report, which cites four current and former American officials, the communications were intercepted around the same time evidence was discovered that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee in attempt to interfere with the elections.
The American intelligence agencies then investigated whether the Trump campaign and the Russians were coordinating these efforts, but the officials interviewed by the Times said no such evidence was discovered.
The contacts included members of Trump's campaign team and other of his associates, including Paul Manafort, who served as the campaign chairman for several months and had business ties in Russia and Ukraine, the New York Times reported. On the Russian side, both intelligence and government officials were involved.