Asked about his unsubstantiated claim that President Obama ordered wiretapping at Trump Tower, President Donald Trump said he relied on media reports for the assertion.
In an interview with Trump on Wednesday, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson asked the President how he originally learned the information that led to his charge. Trump tweeted on March 4 that he “just found out” that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped.’”
Trump referenced as evidence a New York Times article six weeks earlier, about Trump campaign affiliates who were reportedly under investigation for communicating with Russian officials. (Everyone mentioned in the story has denied wrongdoing.) He also said that Fox News’ Bret Baier had used the word “wiretapping” the day before his claim.
“I had been reading about things,” he told Carlson. “I read in, I think it was January 20, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term.”
“There were other things,” he continued. “I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous, where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about.’ I’ve been seeing a lot of things. Now, for the most part, I’m not going to discuss it, because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious issue.”
It’s unclear which single committee Trump was referring to, as multiple are looking into his claim. The Republican chair and Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee both said Wednesday that they had so far seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim.
And the Times did not report that Trump Tower or Trump himself were under surveillance. The Times also did not report that President Obama was personally involved at all in the investigation of Trump’s affiliates, as Trump claimed.
On Friday, March 3, Fox’s Baier asked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) if he was concerned “that the Obama administration may have been surveilling members of the Trump campaign in a pretty detailed investigation during the election?”
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Ryan responded.
Baier also referenced a “report,” seemingly from radio host Mark Levin and later amplified by Breitbart, that the Obama administration had twice requested a FISA warrant to monitor “communications involving” Trump, and specifically a server owned by Trump that Breitbart and others reported was located in Trump Tower. In fact, the server is operated by a company in Lititz, Pennsylvania.
“I’ve seen nothing of that. I’ve seen nothing come of that,” Ryan said.
Carlson asked Trump why he hadn’t, as President, simply asked intelligence officials directly for proof that Obama had directed surveillance on him.
“Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency,” he said, before changing topics briefly. “You know, we have enough problems. And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken. That was during the Obama years. That was not during us. That was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job now.”
“But we will be submitting certain things and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week, but it’s right now before the committee and I think I want to leave it there,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in the committee.”
“Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it?” Carlson asked. “Don’t you devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?”
“Because the New York Times wrote about it,” Trump said. “Not that I respect the New York Times. I call it the failing New York Times. But they did write, on January 20, using the word ‘wiretap.’ Other people have come out with – ”
Carlson interrupted: “Right, but you’re the President! You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.”
“I do, I do, but I think that frankly we have a lot right now,” Trump said. “And I think if you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying, and what he was talking about, and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name. He mentioned it. And other people have mentioned it. But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping…”
“And don’t forget, when I say ‘wiretap,’ those words are in quotes,” he continued. “That really covers – because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that’s a very important thing. But ‘wiretap’ covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
In fact, the White House itself has brought up this point in recent days. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during a press briefing Monday that Trump had told him to say as much during a conversation about his wiretapping charge.
“He said they were in quotes, it’s referring to surveillance overall, it was something that had been referred to in other reports,” Spicer said, explaining why Trump had used quotes around “wires tapped” and “wire tapping.” In two tweets, though, Trump omitted the quotes:
I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
This post has been updated.