U.S. President Donald Trump "doesn't really think" that Barack Obama personally tapped his phone, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday, appearing to walk back the president's unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor ordered the phones in his Trump Tower wiretapped.
Spicer said that when Trump tweeted that Obama wiretapped his phones, he didn't actually refer to "wiretapping."
"I think there's no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election," Spicer said. "The president used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities."
Trump's critics have slammed the president for making the explosive wiretapping claim on his Twitter account without evidence. Wiretapping a U.S. citizen would require special permission from a court, and Trump as president would have the ability to declassify that information.
James Clapper, who was Obama's director of national intelligence, has said that nothing matching Trump's claims had taken place.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
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
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The House intelligence committee has asked the administration to provide evidence of the allegation by Monday.
Also on Monday, Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said she doesn't have any evidence to support Trump's claim that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower phone lines during the election. Instead, Conway pointed to recent revelations about other government surveillance to suggest it was possible Obama used a different technique.
"What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately," including "microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera," Conway told The Bergen Record in an interview Sunday. "So we know that that is just a fact of modern life."
Conway told "Good Morning America" that "I wasn't making a suggestion about Trump Tower." She said she was answering a question about surveillance "generally," and without specific reference to the current controversy.
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