WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey has asked the Justice Department to publicly reject President Donald Trump’s explosive and unsubstantiated accusation that Barack Obama tapped his phones prior to the election, a claim Comey maintains is false and must be corrected, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The Justice Department has made no statement on the issue
Comey made the request on Saturday because “there is no evidence to support it and it insinuates that the FBI broke the law,” the paper reported the senior US officials as saying.
Trump made his claim in a tweet on Saturday, providing no evidence to back up the claim. Trump said the wiretapping happened in October at Trump Tower, the New York skyscraper where he ran his campaign and transition.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process,” he wrote. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
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
Obama denied the allegation via a spokesman as “simply false.” Lawmakers in both parties have asked for proof.
The White House on Sunday demanded that Congress, which is already investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, also examine whether Obama abused his executive powers in connection with that campaign.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced the request in a statement Sunday that referred to “very troubling” reports “concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election.” He did not respond to inquiries about those reports.
“President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016,” Spicer said.
The Republican chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Devin Nunes, said his panel would also look into Trump’s claim.
Josh Earnest, who was Obama’s press secretary, said presidents do not have authority to unilaterally order the wiretapping of American citizens, as Trump has alleged was done to him. FBI investigators and Justice Department officials must seek a federal judge’s approval to investigate by demonstrating that probable cause exists.
Earnest accused Trump of leveling the allegations to distract from the attention being given to campaign-season contacts by his aides with a Russian official, including campaign adviser Jeff Sessions before he resigned from the Senate to become attorney general. The FBI is investigating those contacts, as is Congress.
Earlier Sunday, James Clapper, director of national intelligence under Obama, said that no such wiretap activity was carried out against Trump as a candidate or against his campaign.
“Absolutely, I can deny it,” said Clapper, who left the White House when Trump took office Jan. 20.
Trump said in the tweets that he had “just found out” the information, though it was unclear whether he was referring to a briefing, a conversation or a media report. The president in the past has tweeted about unsubstantiated and provocative reports he reads on blogs or conservative websites.
The tweets stand out, given the gravity of the charge and the strikingly personal attack on the former president. Trump spoke as recently as last month about how much he likes Obama and how much they get along, despite their differences.
Trump’s allegations may be related to anonymously sourced reports in British media and blogs, and on conservative-leaning US websites, including Breitbart News. Those reports claimed that U.S. officials had obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to review contacts between computers at a Russian bank and Trump’s New York headquarters.
The Associated Press has not confirmed these contacts or an investigation into them. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is a former executive chairman of Breitbart News.
Trump has been trailed for months by questions about his campaign’s ties to Russia. Compounding the situation is the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered with the election to help Trump triumph over Hillary Clinton, along with disclosures about his aides’ contacts with a Russian official.
Those disclosures cost retired Gen. Michael Flynn his job as national security adviser.