Remaining Defenders Of Trump Wiretap Claim Find Themselves Out On Limb

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At this point, the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the U.S. attorney general, and the speaker of the House have all said they’ve seen no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim that his predecessor wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election. The FBI director even reportedly asked the Justice Department to refute that accusation earlier this month.

Trump himself now allows that former President Barack Obama may not have personally ordered a tap on the phones at Trump’s Manhattan campaign headquarters, though he continues to allege that someone, somewhere was surveilling him.

Determining a culprit is an increasingly lonely effort. Initially, a number of Republican lawmakers went out on a limb to defend Trump, saying his wiretapping allegations may well have merit. But after congressional intelligence committees investigating the matter came up empty-handed, Trump’s allies went silent or walked their remarks back, leaving senior White House staffers and diehard pro-Trump pundits hanging.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent much of his Thursday briefing filibustering reporters who tried to get him to reconcile Trump’s wild allegations with congressional leaders’ insistence that they’d seen no evidence to support them. For about seven minutes, Spicer read directly from media reports that he said supported the President’s claims, concluding that “putting the published accounts and common sense together, this leads to a lot.”

Both Spicer and Trump insist that the President will be “vindicated” in the next two weeks as presumably classified, previously unreleased information proving him right trickles out.

Below is a list of Trump allies, lawmakers and pundits who’ve defended the increasingly untenable wiretapping allegations, in descending order of intensity.

Conservative radio host Mark Levin and Breitbart News

Levin’s radio show was ground zero for Trump’s allegation. In a March 2 episode, he tied together a number of anonymously sourced reports from British news outlets and the conservative online publication Heat Street to allege that the Obama administration filed several requests with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications between Trump and key campaign aides.

Breitbart News picked up Levin’s report, which then circulated around the Trump White House.

Both Levin, who accused Obama of using “police state” tactics, and Breitbart have stood by their connecting-the-dots reports.

Sean Spicer

As the voice of the Trump administration, Spicer has had the trickiest time trying to defend what exactly the President meant when he said Obama “tapped” his “wires.” Initially, Spicer put out a call to Congress to investigate “whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016” and saying he would have no further comment until those probes concluded.

In subsequent days, he spent multiple press briefings arguing that Trump didn’t mean Obama ordered a literal wiretap when he went on his early-morning tweetstorm. He also said he was “very confident” that the Justice Department would eventually produce evidence of his claims of surveillance.

Fox News host Sean Hannity

Trump’s top fanboy at Fox News has devoted substantial airtime to Trump’s claims, which play into his theory that a “deep state” loyal to Obama is working to systematically delegitimize Trump’s administration.

“There are countless reports of various federal agencies under President Obama looking into activities of or intercepting communications with people associated with the Trump campaign,” Hannity said during his March 7 show.

Kellyanne Conway

The White House counselor offered a barrage of defenses for Trump’s allegations over the past two weeks. They included: The President has “information and intelligence” that rest of the country doesn’t; the wiretapping order could have come from “somewhere else” beside the intelligence agencies; and microwaves and television sets could, hypothetically, have been used to spy on the Trump campaign (The Trump team later said the microwave comment was a joke).

Rep. Steve King (R-IA)

The Iowa congressman told the Sioux City Journal that a “rogue intel operation” could have listened in on Trump staffers’ phone lines, and that Trump’s tweet implicating his predecessor by name should be interpreted as “the Obama administration.”

“There is a string of evidence that supports it,” King said of Trump’s wiretap claim.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey

Mukasey, attorney general under George W. Bush, told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz that the President was wrong in saying that Obama personally ordered the tap, but said “I think he’s right in that there was surveillance and that it was conducted at the behest of the attorney—of the Justice Department through the FISA court.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)

Though the House Oversight Committee chairman admitted right off the bat that he had “not seen anything directly” to support Trump’s claims, he agreed to go into an investigation with “eyes wide open.”

“I got to believe, I think, he might have something there, but if not, we’re going to find out,” he told CBS on March 6. “I think it’s premature to say there’s no backing evidence.”

He also cited his own experience with “Secret Service agents illegally tap into my records and dive into my background” to argue that the Obama administration was capable of the kind of surveillance Trump alleged he’d been subject to.

“We’ve had experience that the Obama administration’s been notorious on this type of stuff,” he said in an appearance on Fox News, referencing one of that network’s reporters who’d been investigated in connection with a probe of leaked classified information in the Obama era.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT)

The Utah congressman told the Deseret News on March 6 that he’d heard nothing about Trump’s allegation from his perch on the House Intelligence Committee, but argued that “it didn’t come completely from left field.”

“It’s not made out of thin air,” he insisted.

On Tuesday, just one day before House Intelligence Committee leaders agreed there was no evidence to support the claim, Stewart said, “we just don’t know yet.”

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

The House Intelligence Committee Chair initially agreed to “make inquiries” into the allegation, and accused reporters of taking Trump’s tweets “too literally.”

Then on Wednesday, Nunes announced that there wasn’t “any evidence” that Trump Tower had been wiretapped, but said he remained concerned that Trump staffers’ personal information had been collected and potentially leaked by intelligence officials.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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