Former President Barack Obama’s White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, shot down President Donald Trump’s largely unfounded allegation that Obama ordered wiretapping of Trump Tower phones.
In an interview on “This Week” on Sunday, the former press secretary said there are rules in place prohibiting a president from personally interfering in a Department of Justice investigation, and emphasized that Obama was “not giving marching orders to the FBI about how to conduct their investigations.”
“This may come as a surprise to the current occupant of the Oval Office, but the president of the United States does not have the authority to unilaterally order the wiretapping of an American citizen,” Earnest said.
He continued: “If the FBI decided to use their wiretapping authority in the context of the counterintelligence or criminal investigation, it would require FBI investigators, officials at the Department of Justice going to a federal judge, and making a case, and demonstrating probable cause to use that authority to conduct the investigation. That is a fact.”
Earnest also argued that the tweet was likely a distraction from revelations that many top Trump campaign figures met with Russian government officials during the campaign despite previous contradicting claims.
“We know exactly why President Trump tweeted what he tweeted. Because there is one page in the Trump White House crisis management playbook. And that is simply to tweet or say something outrageous to distract from a scandal,” Earnest said.
But while Earnest denied Obama’s personal involvement into the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the former White House press secretary said he did not know whether there were any court-ordered wiretaps of the Trump campaign.
“I don’t know. And it’s not because I’m no longer in government. The fact is, even when I was in government, I was not in a position of being regularly briefed on an FBI criminal or counterintelligence investigation,” Earnest said.
He added: “No one at the White House, including the president of the United States, should be in a position in which they’re trying to influence or dictate how that investigation is being conducted.”
Earnest was one of several former Obama administration officials who dismissed Trump’s allegation on Saturday.
Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis on Saturday denied the previous White House interfered in the investigation into the 2016 election.
“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,” Lewis said.
Though the allegations have bewildered many congressional Democrats and Republicans, Trump White House officials have doubled down on the claims.
Early on Sunday, Trump called for a congressional investigation into whether Obama overstepped his authority investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.
Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued on “This Week” that outlets like the BBC previously found federal investigators sought warrants to monitor Russian banks suspected of potentially steering money to the Trump campaign – though the report did not include Trump’s wiretapping allegation.
“The bigger thing is – let’s find out. Let’s have an investigation. If they’re going to investigate Russia ties, let’s include this as part of it. And so that’s what we’re asking,” Sanders said on Sunday.