A spokesman for former President Barack Obama strongly denied President Donald Trump's tweeted accusation that his predecessor had his Trump Tower offices wiretapped, while another former Obama official cautioned to be careful while considering the official statement.
"A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice," Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement reported on Saturday. "As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
However, the defense from the former president's camp appears to be mixed. Former speechwriter Jon Favreau warned on Twitter against accepting Lewis' statement as read:
The conflicting responses, even within the Obama camp, have continued to swirl through the day on Saturday, eclipsing for the time being the controversy over Attorney General Jeff Sessions' discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Trump himself did not offer any proof to back up his claims, but the tweets came after right-wing news site Breitbart ran an article Friday claiming that the former president's administration had gotten authorization to eavesdrop on Trump's campaign. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is a former executive chairman for Breitbart.
Obama's former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who still serves as a foreign-adviser, also pushed against Trump's allegations with several tweets of his own.
Meanwhile, South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said he's "very worried" about Trump's accusation that Obama did something illegal.
“I’m very worried that our president is suggesting the former president has done something illegal,” Graham said at a town hall in Clemson, S.C., reports The Hill.
“I’d be very worried if in fact the Obama administration was able to obtain a warrant lawfully about Trump campaign activity with foreign governments," said Graham. "It’s my job as United States senator to get to the bottom of this."
And if Obama had been able to legally obtain a warrant for the wiretaps, "it would be the biggest scandal since Watergate," said Graham.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Saturday Trump had leveled a "spectacularly reckless allegation" against his predecessor, and pushed back at Trump's description of Obama as a "bad (or sick) guy."
"If there is something bad or sick going on, it is the willingness of the nation's chief executive to make the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them," Schiff said in a statement.
As the afternoon went on, reports surfaced that even Trump's top White House aides were surprised by the tweets. Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they had expected Saturday to be a "down day," reports The Washington Post, and that there had been no efforts to coordinate the response to the tweets.
Trump sent the messages from Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate, reports The Post.
According to CNN, a White House source reported that Trump tweeted after seeing the Breitbart story, and also that the message had caught staffers by surprise.
NPR's Ron Elving also pointed out on "Weekend Edition Saturday" that Trump said in one tweet he "just found out," and repeated that Trump's response appeared to be connected with the Breitbrt article.
"There, you will find a narrative about how the Obama administration was so intent on thwarting Donald Trump last fall that they had much of the intelligence community doing everything it could to gather skullduggery and information about Donald Trump," said Elving. "That that would have included, according to Donald Trump, wiretapping his phones. But there does not seem to be any direct evidence of that."
"That is an extraordinary thing to hear from a sitting president about his predecessor," NPR's Mary Louise Kelly said. "Tapping his phones would require a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance court."
Wiretapping expert Malcolm Nance, appearing on MSNBC's "AM Joy," said Trump's actions remind him of someone who fears being caught doing something wrong.
"I’ve been involved in a lot of very advanced collection of operations in my world," said Nance. "I have no idea what Donald Trump is talking about with wiretapping. We do not even do that the way he probably thinks from "The Sopranos," where we’re actually running a wire and putting bugs into his office."
If there are questions coming from the White House about wiretapping, Nance continued, "it means they're preparing for a cover-up, because they want to know how they’re actually getting this information. This is what happens when a target starts getting buggy because he knows that he’s caught.”
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