The U.S. Justice Department has no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s statement in March that phones in Trump Tower were wiretapped at the order of his predecessor, Barack Obama, before last year’s election, according to a court filing Friday.
The assertion came in a motion filed in a Freedom of Information request from a government transparency watchdog, American Oversight, which sought information about any surveillance involving Trump, his tower in New York City, or his presidential campaign from the FBI and the Justice Department’s national security division.
“Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,” the Justice Department filing said.
Trump had tweeted the claim, which appeared to come from Breitbart, the media outlet now run by then-White House strategist Stephen Bannon, on a weekend he spent at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, in March.
“Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory,’’ Trump wrote on his personal Twitter account. “Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!’’
“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!,” one tweet said. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
The tweets were issued two days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’d recuse himself from any investigations into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Obama, said in March, in response to the tweets, that “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
The Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the case brought by American Oversight on Friday, in which it also said that the agencies “do not confirm or deny the existence” of any other records covered under the group’s request. Disclosure of such records “would cause harm to national security,” the department said.
Some Republicans criticized Trump’s claims at the time, calling on him to retract the accusation in the absence of any supporting evidence. Then-FBI director James Comey told a congressional committee in March that the bureau is probing potential ties between Trump’s associates and Russia during the 2016 campaign but there were no signs that the Obama administration was spying on Trump Tower.
The White House at the time defended the allegations, saying the phrasing “wires tapped” could signify a number of different surveillance techniques.