By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two senior senators on Wednesday asked the FBI and the Justice Department for any information they have on President Donald Trump‘s unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor Barack Obama overheard him during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
In a letter to James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana Boente, Republican Lindsey Graham, and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse wrote:
“We request that the Department of Justice provide us with copies of any court order requests and court orders … related to the wiretapping of President Trump, the Trump campaign or Trump Tower.”
Under US law, presidents cannot direct wiretapping. Instead, the federal government can ask a court to authorize the action, but it must provide justification.
When asked in a briefing on Wednesday if Trump was the subject of an investigation, White House spokesman Sean Spicer responded: “There is no reason we should think that the president is the target of any investigation. “.
Trump’s critics in Congress have accused him of issuing the charge of wiretapping to try to divert attention from investigations into his administration’s possible ties to Russia. Some have likened it to Trump’s claim that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore did not legitimately hold the office of president, an accusation he did not withdraw until 2016.
Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic member of the Senate judicial and intelligence committees, told CNN that she had not seen any evidence that Obama had tapped Trump’s phone.
“It is quite shocking to me that a sitting president makes these kinds of accusations about a former president without any proof,” he said. “I think it is obviously false.”
Graham later told CNN that if the Justice Department does not cooperate with the senators’ request, subpoenas will be issued.
“I hope they will make it known if a court order was obtained or sought,” Graham said. He chairs a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism, and Whitehouse is the highest-ranking Democrat on the panel.
On Saturday, Trump accused Obama of telephone surveillance, amid a series of questions about possible links between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin. US intelligence agencies have discovered that Russia tried to influence the elections.
An Obama spokesman said Saturday that neither Obama nor any White House official had ordered the surveillance of any US citizen. The spokesperson’s statement did not address the possibility that the Justice Department may have sought a wiretap from the Trump campaign.
In their letter, Graham and Whitehouse wrote: “We would take any abuse by the wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously.”
The senators added: “We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump campaign or Trump Tower.”
On Tuesday, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, told reporters that his panel would consider issuing subpoenas if no information was sought about Russia’s possible role in the elections.
The committee has scheduled a hearing for March 20 and the allegation of Trump’s wiretapping is part of that investigation.
Democrats, questioning the commitment of the Republican-controlled Congress, have called for an external investigation, which has so far been rejected.