By Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Friday distanced itself from a news report it adopted a day before Britain’s secret eavesdropping agency monitored Trump Tower at the urging of former US President Barack Obama.
The White House had cited a Fox News analyst’s report as it sought to defend President Donald Trump’s accusation that the Obama administration intercepted him during the 2016 election. For the past two weeks, Trump and his aides have insisted on the claim in many ways, including suggestions that Trump may have been monitored via microwaves and televisions.
The White House has provided no evidence to back up Trump’s impeachment, and the heads of the US Senate and House intelligence panels, including Trump’s Republican Party, have rejected it.
Here is a timeline of the management’s claims:
MARCH 4: In a series of morning tweets, Trump accuses Obama of having his cables intercepted and calls him a “bad (or sick) guy.” Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, says the White House‘s top attorney was examining options to pursue the claim.
MARCH 5: The White House cites reports of potentially politically motivated investigations and says Trump wanted congressional intelligence committees to examine whether the executive branch’s investigative powers were abused in 2016.
MARCH 6: Spicer suggests the monitoring may have been more extensive than wiretapping, could have been conducted under a secret foreign intelligence spy order, and that “there are substantial reports from individuals and sources” that such surveillance occurred.
MARCH 7: Spicer says that while there is no new evidence for Trump’s impeachment, the president has absolutely no regrets for his tweets and that he “did not back down or regret it.”
MARCH 12: Senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway suggests in an interview with the Bergen County Record newspaper that the monitoring may have been done through televisions or “microwaves that turn into cameras.”
MARCH 13: Conway says his comments the day before were misinterpreted, but continues to broadcast the indictment about the president and the wiretaps at Trump Tower. Spicer says Trump’s charges were based on reports from various news organizations, including Fox, the BBC and the New York Times. Trump’s use of the word “wiretapping … encompasses a myriad of types of surveillance options,” Spicer says.
MARCH 14: Spicer says Trump is extremely confident that the Justice Department will find evidence to prove his accusation.
MARCH 15: Republican and Democratic leaders on the House Intelligence Committee say they have seen no evidence of wiretapping. The White House defends Trump’s impeachment, and Trump says in an interview with Fox News that “very soon we will present things to the committee that have not yet been presented. But it is a potentially very serious situation.”
MARCH 16: Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, say separately that there is no evidence of Trump’s impeachment.
Spicer says there is no question that surveillance techniques were used. He cites a litany of news reports to substantiate the accusation. They include a claim by a Fox News analyst, former New Jersey Judge Andrew Napolitano, that unidentified intelligence officials had told him that Obama obtained transcripts of Trump’s conversations from the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, the British agency that monitors communications abroad.
MARCH 17: The administration backs away from the Fox News report after the British government said the White House assured it it would not repeat Napolitano’s accusation, called “nonsense” by a GCHQ spokesman.
“Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story,” said a White House official.