(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department faces a Monday deadline to provide lawmakers some evidence of President Donald Trump’s unproven assertion that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper, a claim that has left Trump increasingly isolated within his own administration.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer tried to soften Trump’s assertions on Monday, saying the president “doesn’t really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally.” He also said the president wasn’t using the term wiretapping literally in his provocative March 4 tweets and was instead broadly referring to surveillance.
Trump’s accusations against Barack Obama came amid a swirling political controversy surrounding his associates’ possible ties to Russia. The FBI is investigating Trump associates’ contacts with Russia during the election, as are House and Senate intelligence committees.
The White House has asked those committees to also investigate Trump’s allegations against Obama. The House committee has turned the matter back on the Trump administration, setting a Monday deadline for the Justice Department to provide evidence.
Spicer said he expected the Justice Department to comply with that request, but added that Trump did not order the department to do so.
Trump’s critics have slammed the president for making the explosive wiretapping claim on his Twitter account without evidence. Wiretapping a U.S. citizen would require special permission from a court, and Trump as president would have the ability to declassify that information.
Sen. John McCain, an influential Republican, said Sunday: “I think the president has one of two choices: either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve.”
“If his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here, to say the least,” McCain said.
The White House has thus far provided no information to back to Trump’s assertion, leaving his aides in the awkward position of trying to defend their boss’ unproven claims.
“The answer is I don’t have any evidence and I’m very happy that the House intelligence committee (is) investigating,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She later tweeted that the administration is “pleased” with the ongoing congressional investigation and “will comment after.”
Conway, when asked about Trump’s assertions, appeared to point toward the recent WikiLeaks release of nearly 8,000 documents that purportedly reveal secrets about the CIA’s tools for breaking into targeted computers, cellphones and even smart TVs.
“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately,” including “microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera,” Conway told New Jersey’s The Record newspaper in an interview Sunday. “So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.”
Conway told “Good Morning America” that “I wasn’t making a suggestion about Trump Tower.” She said she was answering a question about surveillance “generally,” and without specific reference to the current controversy.
FBI Director James Comey has privately urged the Justice Department to dispute Trump’s claim but has not come forward to do so himself. James Clapper, who was Obama’s director of national intelligence, has said that nothing matching Trump’s claims had taken place.