Call for Congress to investigate explosive phone-tapping allegations against Barack Obama
The White House called yesterday for Congress to follow up on Donald Trump’s explosive and unsubstantiated allegation that Barack Obama tapped his phone during last year’s election campaign. Twenty-four hours after Trump’s incendiary claim, his aides scrambled to limit the political fallout, admitting it was still unproven and calling on Congress to investigate.
Citing still undefined reports of politically motivated investigations, press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump was calling on Congress to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused last year.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders echoed those comments.
“If this happened,” she said, “this would be the greatest abuse of power and overreach that has ever occurred in the executive branch.”
Late yesterday, it was announced that a congressional committee would investigate Trump’s claims.
Obama, via a spokesman, denied the allegation as “simply false”.
US presidents cannot legally order such wiretaps, which require the approval of a federal judge and reasonable grounds for suspicion.
Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said there was no such wiretap activity mounted against Trump as a candidate, or against his campaign.
Trump levelled his charges in a string of tweets early on Saturday, at the end of a week in which his administration was battered by controversy over links between his advisers and Russian officials.
The Republican’s comments appeared to have been based on unverified claims made by the right-wing Breitbart News outlet.
Trump’s claim reflected his fury that good reviews of his maiden speech to Congress on Tuesday were overtaken by a series of revelations about aides’ meetings with Russian officials.
The president was also said to be angry that attorney-general Jeff Sessions recused himself from any campaign or Russia-related investigations.
Sessions’s recusal came after it emerged that he did not disclose two meetings with Moscow’s ambassador in Washington.
Amid this, and several other revelations of Trump aides holding meetings with Russian officials, the White House has denied allegations of collusion.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a campaign to tilt last November’s presidential election in Trump’s favour.
Former CIA director Leon Panetta accused Trump of diversionary tactics.
“They are trying to obfuscate and trying to cover up. They are trying to somehow raise other issues,” he said.
“In the end, it is going to be the truth that will determine what is involved here. Not tweets, but the truth.” Democrats and a growing number of Republicans in Congress have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
With already low approval ratings, Trump could do without another scandal in his young presidency.
Republicans have largely stood behind him, hoping he will enact tax cuts and other policies they favour.
But some Republican politicians appear to be losing patience with the drama of Trump’s presidency.
“We are in the midst of a civilisation-warping crisis of public trust,” Senator Ben Sasse said.
He said Trump’s allegations of wiretapping demanded the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots.