WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump is defending his accusation that his predecessor Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped prior to the 2016 election Day, broadening the definition of the word wiretap.
“Wiretap covers a lot of different things,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News set to air Wednesday night.
“I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” he was quoted by a theHill news daily report as saying.
It’s the first time for the newly inaugurated U.S. president to voice out again on the issue following his tweet storms making the allegation with no offer of evidence earlier this month.
Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican, said that his panel has not received any evidence that Trump was wiretapped during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“As I told you last week about the issue with the president talking about tapping Trump Tower, that evidence still remains the same, that we don’t have any evidence that that took place,” Nunes told reporters.
“In fact, I don’t believe just in the last week of time, the people we’ve talked to, I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” he said.
“Are you going to take the tweets literally? And if you are, then clearly the president was wrong,” Nunes added.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday said Trump’s tweets weren’t meant to be taken literally since the president could have been referring to a broad range of surveillance activity.
“He doesn’t really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally,” Spicer said.
FBI chief James Comey reportedly urged the Justice Department to denounce Trump’s claim because of a lack of evidence, but the department has not done so.
Instead, the Justice Department requested on Monday more time to turn over evidence relating to Trump’s claim to the House Intelligence Committee, which initially set a Monday deadline for that.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday said Trump is “extremely confident” that the Justice Department will produce evidence to back up his assertion, adding that the U.S. president believes the evidence will “vindicate him”.
However, Spicer also suggested one day earlier that Trump means general surveillance when tweeting his Obama wiretapping accusation.
“The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities,” said Spicer.
On March 4, Trump claimed in a tweet storm that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower before his election victory, offering no evidence.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted.
“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!” he added in subsequent tweets.
Hours after Trump tweeted, Obama’s spokesman said Trump’s wiretapping accusation is “simply false”.
“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,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement.
“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” said Lewis.
Since then, the White House has been under mounting pressure from the Capitol requesting evidence that the phones at Trump Tower were tapped during the elections.
“I think the president has one of two choices: either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve, because, if his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here, to say the least,” John McCain, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Sunday.