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President Donald Trump has called for congressional intelligence committees to investigate the unsupported allegations he made that former President Barack Obama set up wiretaps on his phone before the election. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tweeted Sunday that Trump’s allegations were “very concerning” and concluded that “neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.”
On Saturday, Trump claimed that Obama had tapped his phone at Trump Tower “during the very sacred election process,” a claim many observers concluded he may have picked up from far-right, factually unreliable outlets such as Breitbart.
(1/4) Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling.— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 5, 2017
(2/4) President Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 5, 2017
(3/4) exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 5, 2017
(4/4) Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 5, 2017
Spicer’s final tweet, stating that neither the administration nor Trump would address this again until a investigation had been conducted, would probably be a relief to members of the White House staff. Twitter denizens didn’t let the press secretary off without some jibes, however—given the tumultuous and no-win nature of cleaning up the president’s inflammatory series of claims, Spicer once again paid the price for his front-and-center, public-facing role.
@PressSec Let me help you: 1) Collect evidence, THEN 2) make accusation. You have the order wrong.— Medium Happy (@jdubs88) March 5, 2017
@PressSec Thread your tweets, comms man.— Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) March 5, 2017
@PressSec Your boss isn't going to tweet about it anymore?— Jordan Uhl (@JordanUhl) March 5, 2017
Thanks for update, @PressSec. I've tweeted you several times about when you'll be holding WH briefings, but no replies. Last one was 2/27.— Jeffrey Guterman (@JeffreyGuterman) March 5, 2017
Trump’s initial allegations about wiretaps were threadbare and evidence-free to an extent that makes it hard to know what precisely he was alleging—whether he’s claiming that Obama personally ordered an illegal wiretap or whether he’s simply saying that the Justice Department successfully secured a FISA warrant in order to conduct surveillance. The latter would mean a judge agreed that such surveillance was appropriate due to probable cause that a crime had been committed.
A spokesperson for former president Obama has stated unequivocally that no such wiretap was ordered from the White House, although the language of the denial leaves open the possibility that Trump could have been wiretapped through proper legal channels. Said Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis:
A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.
Trump has seemingly parroted questionable or false claims from Breitbart and conspiracy theory website Infowars, such as when he claimed millions of people voted illegally in 2016, costing him the popular vote. Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars and perhaps America’s most well-known conspiracy theorist, has also boasted of having phone conversations with Trump, while former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon currently serves as Trump’s chief strategist.
That’s not to say there isn’t any evidence for Trump’s latest claim. But no major U.S. media outlets have been able to confirm the existence of a FISA warrant, and until actual evidence is provided, it’s impossible to know and potentially harmful to speculate.
Chris Tognotti is a frequent contributor for the Daily Dot. He’s a news and current events writer based out of Berkeley, California, and a co-host of the podcast Now We Know. While he specializes in domestic politics and opinion writing, he’s also savvy on sports, video games, and film.