The White House on Monday refused to back off Donald Trump’s extraordinary and unfounded claim that Barack Obama wiretapped the phones in
A visibly agitated White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the investigation into Trump’s wiretapping accusation was only in its “first chapter” and there was “interesting news” yet to come. He also said Trump would not apologize to his predecessor.
By contrast, Spicer denounced reports of possible collusion between individuals with the Trump campaign and Russia in an effort to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election as “a bit of a stretch” and “ridiculous”.
On Monday, FBI director James Comey, speaking at a public hearing before the House intelligence committee, confirmed for the first time that the bureau is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to influence the 2016 election.
During the briefing, Spicer sought to distance the Trump campaign from aides who have come under scrutiny for their contacts with Russia after they were the subject of a line of questioning during the House committee hearing. He dismissed Carter Page, an informal foreign policy adviser to Trump, and Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, as “hangers on”.
“To look at some individual that was there for a short period of time or separately individuals who really didn’t play any role in the campaign and to suggest that those are the basis for anything is a bit ridiculous,” he added.
But Spicer’s claim that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manger, had only played a “limited role for a very limited amount of time” drew immediate skepticism from the press corp. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in before being promoted to campaign manager, and resigned amid scrutiny of his business dealings to pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine.
Spicer also called former national security adviser Michael Flynn a “volunteer of the campaign”. Flynn was an adviser to the Trump campaign and spoke on the first night of the 2016 Republican national convention before being appointed national security adviser once Trump won the election. He was forced to resign last month after misrepresenting his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington.
The White House has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia over its meddling in the 2016 election. Spicer on Monday said he was unaware of any White House officials currently being under investigation by the FBI.
The press secretary said there was a “big difference” between the investigations into Trump’s wiretapping claim and the one into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
“When the people who have been briefed by the FBI about collusion between individuals [within the Trump campaign and Russia] the answer continues to be ‘no’ and at some point take ‘no’ for an answer,” Spicer said, appearing to suggest that those briefed on the collusion allegations felt there was no substance to them.
He added: “So you can continue to look for something – but [you’re] continuing to look for something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t matter.”
He took a different attitude towards Trump’s wiretapping claims, which the White House has refused to back away from despite bipartisan statements from the Senate and House intelligence committees, and now the FBI, National Security Agency and Department of Justice, that there is no evidence to support the accusation that Obama spied on Trump during last year’s campaign.
During the Monday briefing, Spicer also clarified his conversation with British officials after he repeated an unsubstantiated report from a Fox News pundit that the country’s spy agency had helped Obama eavesdrop on Trump during the presidential campaign last year.
“There was merely an explanation of what we did and why we did it,” Spicer said. Last week, he quoted from a Fox News report that suggested the Obama administration had asked the UK to conduct surveillance on Trump.
In a rare move, GCHQ called the accusation “nonsense”, “ utterly ridiculous ” and an assertion that ought to be “ignored”.
During the House intelligence committee hearing on Monday, the NSA director, Michael Rogers, said that it would have been violation of US law to ask the British to conduct such an operation. Asked whether he, or anyone else, had asked GCHQ to spy on Trump or his allies, Rogers replied: “No, sir, nor would I.”
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