Even after a string of rebuttals, President Donald Trump on Friday seemed to stick by his claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him ahead of the 2016 election.
Trump held a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting between the two leaders at the White House. The National Security Agency allegedly monitored phone calls involving Merkel and her aides, straining relations with Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Trump accused Obama of ordering his phones tapped before the election, but bipartisan top officials on the Senate and House intelligence committees said this week they had seen no evidence yet to back the claim. Asked about his accusation again while standing next to Merkel on Friday, Trump appeared reluctant to back away from it.
“On wiretapping by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said to Merkel.
As Trump made that comment, the Department of Justice said it turned over information the intelligence committees sought on possible surveillance during the election. It is not clear yet what that information shows.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump “stands by” his explosive claim even after the statements from congressional leaders. Key senators said Thursday they did not have evidence to support Trump’s accusation.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” the statement by Republican Chairman Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman, said.
The top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they did not have evidence to support the wiretapping accusation. GOP Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes said he did not “think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.” However, he said, that only applies if Trump literally meant he was wiretapped.
The White House and its allies in recent days have attempted to change the interpretation of Trump’s explosive tweets from earlier this month. In four separate statements on Twitter, Trump said he was the target of a wiretap.
In two of those, Trump put quotes around the term, which Spicer said means he may not have meant it literally. Still, in one of those tweets, Trump called it a “fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October.”
Spicer argued Thursday that Trump referred to “broad surveillance,” not a physical wiretap. He contended that reporters have focused too much on the president’s accusation, which he made without citing evidence, and not statements denying that Trump campaign officials had ties with Russian officials.
FBI Director James Comey may give a more definitive answer about Trump’s accusations when he testifies at a public House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday. The hearing is related to the committee’s ongoing investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.