By Ayesha Rascoe and Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan statement Thursday rejecting President Donald Trump’s claim that the Obama administration intercepted their phones during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The top Republican in Congress, Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, added his voice to a growing chorus of lawmakers who said there were no signs of wiretapping.
In an irritating briefing with reporters, White House spokesman Sean Spicer vigorously defended the president, citing intelligence-gathering news reports about possible contacts between Trump and Russia partners in the presidential campaign.
“There is no question that surveillance techniques were used throughout all of this,” Spicer said.
The Republican president, without providing evidence, has accused his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, of wiretapping near the end of the campaign. An Obama spokesman said that was “just untrue.”
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indication that Trump Tower was under surveillance by any element of the United States government before or after Election Day 2016,” said Richard Burr, President. Republican Senate Intelligence Committee. and Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman, said in a statement.
Ryan also said there was no surveillance evidence.
“The point is that the intelligence committees in their continuous, extensive and ongoing investigation of everything related to Russia got to the bottom, at least so far, regarding our intelligence community that there was no such wiretapping,” said the Speaker of the House. reporters.
Pressed at the White House briefing on whether Trump would back down on his wiretapping allegations, Spicer said: “He backs it up.”
Spicer also chided the media for focusing so much attention on comments debunking Trump’s assertion about surveillance. He said reporters had not focused enough on comments from officials denying evidence of any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The Russian government has rejected an accusation by US intelligence agencies that it worked to influence the election in favor of Trump by hacking computer systems, among other methods.
Trump has been pursued over allegations that his associates had ties to Russian officials. Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, last month after he did not disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office on January 20.
An official familiar with investigations by Congress and intelligence and law enforcement agencies said investigators had searched the most aggressive and thorough possible for evidence of espionage on Trump or his associates, but found none.
On March 4, six weeks after he replaced Obama, Trump made the allegations of wiretapping in a Twitter post.
“How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very holy election process? This is Nixon / Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Trump wrote.
At least four Congressional committees included the alarming indictment in their investigations of possible Russian meddling in the election campaign and Russia’s ties to Trump and his associates.
On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican and top Democrat Adam Schiff, told reporters they had seen no evidence that Trump Tower was hacked and said they would ask the director of Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey on the matter during a hearing hearing on Monday.
On March 9, Comey briefed Nunes, Schiff, Ryan, Burr, Warner, and three other top congressional officials of the same intelligence.
Trump appeared to back away from his wiretapping accusation in an interview with Fox News Wednesday night.
“But wiretapping covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting elements that are going to come to the fore in the next two weeks,” Trump said.