U.S. President Donald Trump is demanding intelligence oversight panels investigate whether former President Barack Obama’s administration abused its investigative powers before last November’s presidential election, as part of a probe into Russian meddling in the vote.
Without any evidence, Trump accused Obama on Saturday of tapping his phones at his Trump Tower headquarters in New York in the month before the election, an allegation an aide to the former president rebuffed as “simply false.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate or against his campaign.”
Clapper said there were no court orders allowing any wiretapping targeting Trump before or after the election.
“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
U.S. lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, assailed Trump’s contention that he was wiretapped or questioned what evidence he had.
“The president is in trouble,” said Senator Charles Schumer, the leader of the minority Senate Democrats. “If he falsely spread this kind of misinformation, that is so wrong. It’s beneath the dignity of the presidency … it shows this president doesn’t know how to conduct himself.”
Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation, “To make that type of claim without any evidence is, I think, very reckless.”
Senator Marco Rubio, who last year lost the Republican presidential nomination to Trump, told the NBC show that the president “will have to answer as to what exactly” he was referring to in making the claim that his phones were tapped.
Republican Congressman Devin Nunes said the House Intelligence Committee he chairs would consider the Trump allegations as part of the panel’s investigation into Russian interference.
The new Republican president started his Sunday with more Twitter insults aimed at opposition Democrats and Obama.
Trump tweeted to ask whether “it is true” that the Democratic National Committee did not allow the country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation “access to check server or other equipment after learning it was hacked? Can that be possible?”
He was referring to the wide, ongoing investigation looking at details of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election in an effort to help Trump defeat his Democratic opponent, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
After weeks of disparaging the finding, Trump reluctantly accepted it before his January inauguration. But the FBI and several congressional committees are now in the midst of probes about alleged Russian interference in the election and looking at multiple contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials before and after the voting.
To Trump’s reported irritation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week removed himself from oversight of the FBI’s investigation after Sessions told his Senate confirmation hearing that he had not met with any Russian officials during the campaign, when it turned out he had two meetings with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. One of the meetings was at the Republican presidential nominating convention in July and another in September at his Capitol Hill office.
The U.S. concluded that Russia hacked into the computer of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, with the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks then releasing thousands of his emails in the weeks before the election, showing embarrassing, behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the party’s presidential nomination.
Trump’s White House aides are facing new questions about their contacts with Russian officials before and after the November 8 election. Trump ousted his first national security adviser, retired Army General Michael Flynn, after just 24 days on the job when he misled Vice President Mike Pence and White House officials about his meetings with Kislyak.
In another Twitter comment Sunday, Trump recalled a 2012 remark Obama made to then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with such controversial issues as missile defense after his 2012 re-election.
“Who was it that secretly said to Russian President, “Tell Vladimir that after the election I’ll have more flexibility?” Trump tweeted, referring to current Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama made the comment to Medvedev in an exchange in Seoul that was picked by up microphones without their immediately realizing it at the time.
As he announced Trump’s demand for congressional investigators to widen their investigation, Spicer said neither the White House nor Trump would comment further until the probes are completed.