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White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday that President Donald Trump “doesn’t really think” former President Barack Obama “personally” wiretapped Trump Tower, altering Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that Obama directed an illegal wire tap during the presidential election.
Trump made these explosive accusations without offering any evidence in a series of tweets on March 4, in which he called Obama a “bad (or sick) guy” and compared him to former President Richard Nixon.
“He doesn’t really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally,” Spicer told reporters in response to a question concerning the claims from NBC’s Peter Alexander.
Spicer claimed that Trump had accused Obama of general surveillance, rather than a literal wire tap of Trump’s phones, arguing that Trump put quotation marks around “wire tapping” in two of his four tweets, thus indicating the term should not be taken literally. But Trump explicitly accused Obama of “tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election”.
“I think there is no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election. That is a widely-reported activity that occurred back then,” Spicer said. “The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities during that.”
Spicer accused the media of ignoring proof of surveillance allegations that he said had been reported during the election.
“It is interesting how many news outlets reported that this activity was taking place during the 2016 election cycle, and now we’re wondering where the proof is,” Spicer said. “It is many of the same outlets in this room that talked about the activities that were going on back then.”
While intelligence agencies have reportedly intercepted communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials through an investigation into Russian attempts to interfere in the US election, no credible mainstream news outlets have reported that Obama or his administration conducted surveillance on Trump or the campaign.
Spicer and Trump may have been referring to a Breitbart report concerning conservative radio host Mark Levin’s allegations that Obama sought to “undermine” Trump’s campaign in the final days of the presidential election.
Obama and his former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, denied that the allegations were true.
“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,” former White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Jeremy Burke contributed to this report.