House in­tel­li­gence chair rejects Trump’s claim

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Adam Gold­man and Em­marie Huet­te­man

In a strik­ing re­pu­di­a­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee said on Wed­nes­day that he had seen no in­di­ca­tion of Trump’s claim on Twit­ter that for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama wire­tapped his phones in Trump Tower dur­ing the 2016 presidential cam­paign.

“We don’t have any ev­i­dence that that took place,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said at a news con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill. “In fact, I don’t be­lieve — in the last week of time, peo­ple we’ve talked to, I don’t think there was an ac­tual tap of Trump Tower.”

If Trump’s Twit­ter claim is to be taken lit­er­ally, Nunes said, “then clearly the pres­i­dent is wrong.”

Even a mem­ber of Trump’s Cab­i­net, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, raised ques­tions about the claim. In Rich­mond, Va., he told re­porters that he had never given Trump any rea­son to be­lieve he had been wire­tapped.

Other top Repub­li­cans were threat­en­ing to block Trump’s nom­i­nee for deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral if the FBI did not pro­vide ev­i­dence re­lated to the pos­si­ble wire­tap­ping.

Nunes and Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Demo­crat, said FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey will tes­tify Mon­day at the com­mit­tee’s first pub­lic hear­ing on its Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Comey could pre­sum­ably re­solve the ques­tion about the wire­tap.

Schiff also chal­lenged the state­ments of White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer, who had said that while he was not aware of any in­ves­ti­ga­tion tar­get­ing Trump, the pres­i­dent spoke ac­cu­rately when he said he had been wire­tapped by Obama.

“Those two things can­not both be true un­less he is sug­gest­ing that the FBI was en­gaged in a rogue op­er­a­tion un­su­per­vised by a court to wire­tap Trump Tower,” Schiff said. “There is ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence of that and no sug­ges­tion of any ev­i­dence of that.”

In an­other sign of pres­sure, Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said he would block the nom­i­na­tion of Rod Rosen­stein to be deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral un­less the FBI an­swered his ques­tions. Rosen­stein has been ex­pected to eas­ily win Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. The Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee has pri­mary over­sight of the FBI.

The FBI is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion. As part of that case, agents are look­ing at whether any of Trump’s as­so­ci­ates col­luded with the Rus­sian govern­ment.

Af­ter Trump made the claim on March 4 in a Twit­ter mes­sage that Obama had tapped his tele­phone, Comey asked the Jus­tice Depart­ment to make a state­ment dis­put­ing Trump’s as­ser­tion.

So far, the Jus­tice Depart­ment has re­fused to say pub­licly whether it went to a judge to get a se­cret war­rant to eaves­drop on Trump, putting the depart­ment in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. Si­lence from the Jus­tice Depart­ment has frus­trated Comey.

If the Jus­tice Depart­ment says there was no wire­tap, it will un­der­cut the pres­i­dent’s ac­cu­sa­tion. If there was a wire­tap, it sug­gests that FBI agents and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors had prob­a­ble cause to be­lieve that Trump the can­di­date was op­er­at­ing as an agent of a for­eign power.

It is not clear why Trump thought he was wire­tapped or what led him to make the claim, which was flatly re­jected by James Clap­per, a for­mer di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, and by a spokesman for Obama.

Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., and Shel­don White­house, D-R.I., asked the FBI last week for copies of any war­rant ap­pli­ca­tions and court or­ders “re­lated to wire­taps of Pres­i­dent Trump, the Trump Cam­paign, or Trump Tower.”

On Wed­nes­day, Gra­ham said dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on CNN that he would also sub­poena the FBI to get the in­for­ma­tion if nec­es­sary.

“I want to get to the bot­tom of it,” Gra­ham said. “The FBI would know if a war­rant was is­sued. They would know if a war­rant was ap­plied for. I want to an­swer that ques­tion.”

A de­lay on Rosen­stein’s ap­point­ment would cre­ate a num­ber of prob­lems for the Jus­tice Depart­ment. In par­tic­u­lar, he was ex­pected to over­see any depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s med­dling in the presidential elec­tion af­ter Ses­sions, who was an ad­viser to the Trump presidential cam­paign, re­cused him­self fol­low­ing ques­tions about why he did not dis­close dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he’d had con­tact with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador.

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