By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump on Saturday accused predecessor Barack Obama of intervening in him during the latter stages of the 2016 election campaign, but offered no evidence of an accusation that an Obama spokesperson said was “just false”.
Trump made the accusation in a series of morning tweets just weeks after his administration and amid growing scrutiny of his campaign’s ties to Russia.
“How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very holy election process? This is Nixon / Watergate. A bad (or sick) guy!” Trump wrote in a tweet. “I bet a good lawyer could make a great case for the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just before the election!”
The notable feud between the current president and the former president just 45 days after handover is the latest twist in a controversy over ties between Trump’s partners and Russia that has haunted the first days of his presidency.
US intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of an effort to tip the vote in favor of Trump. The Kremlin has denied the accusations.
Trump has accused Obama administration officials of trying to discredit him with questions about contacts with Russia.
Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said it had been a “cardinal rule” of the Obama administration that no White House official interfere in any independent investigation led by the Justice Department.
“Neither President Obama nor any White House official ordered the surveillance of any US citizen. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply false,” Lewis said in a statement.
The statement did not address the possibility that Justice Department officials may have ordered a wiretap of the Trump campaign.
Trump said the alleged wiretaps were carried out at his Trump Tower apartment and office building in New York, but “nothing was found.” The White House did not respond to a request for more details on Trump’s allegations.
AID CAUGHT BY SURPRISE
Trump was spending the weekend at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. He was scheduled to meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly before a dinner with officials who also included aide Steve Bannon and White House attorney Don McGahn, the White House said.
Amid a political storm, Sessions announced Thursday that he would stay out of any investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election after it emerged that he met with Russia’s ambassador last year, though he maintained that He did nothing wrong by not revealing the meeting.
A Trump spokeswoman said the president spent part of Saturday “having meetings, making phone calls and hitting balls” on his golf course in West Palm Beach.
Meanwhile, his supporters organized small demonstrations in at least 28 of the country’s 50 states, most of which were peaceful. But there were clashes in the famous left-leaning city of Berkeley, California, where protesters from both sides hit each other on the head with wooden sticks.
Trump’s tweets caught his advisers by surprise, one of whom said it was unclear what the president was referring to.
Members of Congress said Trump’s allegations require investigation or explanation.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican, described the allegations as serious and said the public deserved more information. He said in a statement that Trump may have been illegally intervened, but if so, the president should explain what kind of tap it was and how he found out.
US Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s claim “a spectacularly reckless indictment.”
“If something bad or unhealthy is happening, it is the will of the nation’s chief executive officer to make the most outrageous and destructive claims without providing a shred of evidence to support them,” Schiff said in a statement.
Former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes flatly denied Trump’s allegations: “No president can order wiretapping. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you,” Rhodes wrote on Twitter.
SANCTIONS OF RUSSIA
The Trump administration has come under pressure from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Congressional investigations into contacts between some members of his campaign team and Russian officials during his campaign.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he was not aware of any wiretapping but was “very concerned” by the suggestion that Obama had acted illegally and would also be concerned “if the Obama administration could in fact obtain a court order on the Trump campaign activity. “
Several other Republicans again urged an investigation into a series of intelligence-related leaks.
Obama imposed sanctions on Russia and ordered Russian diplomats to leave the United States in December over the country’s involvement in hacking political parties in the November 8 US presidential election.
Under US law, a federal court would have to have found probable cause that the surveillance target is an “agent of a foreign power” to pass an order authorizing electronic surveillance of Trump Tower.
Various media outlets and conservative commentators have made allegations in recent days about Trump’s wiretaps during the campaign, offering no evidence.
Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned in February after revelations that he had discussed US sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office.
Flynn had promised Vice President Mike Pence that he had not discussed US sanctions with the Russians, but transcripts of intercepted communications, described by US officials, showed that the issue had come up in conversations between him and the Russian ambassador.