Leaders of the House Select Committee on Intelligence said Wednesday they have seen no evidence to support President Donald Trump's claims President Barack Obama had wiretapped either he and his associates at Trump Tower.
If no evidence is forthcoming, then Trump should "explain himself."
"I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who chairs the committee, said during a press conference with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the committee's ranking Democrat.
"I remain more concerned about the incidential collection of Americans, as it could have been unlinked, and secondly the unmasking of Americans' names essentially for political purposes."
Schiff agreed, telling reporters "thus far, we have seen no basis for that whatsoever" when it comes to Trump's tweeted accusations.
Their comments came after Nunes announced they are sending letters to FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers asking for the names unmasked over the past six months in connection with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
"I want to join in saying that to date I've seen no evidence that supports the claim that President Trump made that his predecessor had wiretapped he and his associates at Trump Tower," Schiff said. "Thus far we have seen no basis for that whatsoever. We still want the Justice Department to respond to our letter. We've given them until March 20.
"We're both willing to use compulsory process if that's necessary. Neither of us think this will be necessary, certainly, at the open hearing that we have on March 28, we'll be asking the director if he has seen any evidence that substantiates the president's claim."
"I would say I do think it's incumbent if we get to March 20 and we have the testimony I think we all expect from the director – that there was no substance to the accusation that Barack Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower – that the president explain himself," Schiff added. "You can't level an accusation of that type without either retracting it or explaining just why it was done."
Further, Schiff said, if Trump is willing to state things that have no basis, it causes "great concerns" from a national security perspective.
"The country needs to be able to rely on him, particularly if we have a crisis that is an external crisis, as every president does within their term of office," Schiff said. "I think it is a serious matter, and I appreciate the chairman's willingness to have an open hearing on this. I think the testimony will be very important."
Meanwhile, Schiff noted White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he is not aware of an investigation that had been targeting Trump himself, and he is confident the president was speaking accurately when he accused Obama of wiretapping.
"Those two things cannot be true, unless he is suggesting that the FBI was engaged in a rogue operation unsupervised by a court to wiretap Trump Tower," Schiff said. "There is absolutely no evidence of that. And no suggestion of it, of any evidence of that. And I think to even put that forth, it was irresponsible of the president and his spokesman."
Meanwhile, the committee has also been trying to shine light on the Russian government and its activities, Nunes said, especially cyber activities, and while he would not say what the FBI has said or has not, he would hope investigations continue into the Russians and the "ongoing bad activity around the globe."
Schiff continued he is deeply concerned Trump would make such an accusation without basis, and he and Nunes believe "it's in the public's interest that this be addressed very openly by the director and we certainly expect that he will."
Schiff said the three men will all be available and committed to the March 20 deadline, and the following week there will be testimony from them and as much time as necessary for the committee to ask its questions.
"Obviously there's a substantial amount they may not be able to answer in open session," Schiff said. "We want to conduct as much as we can in the open, so the public is informed of the progress that we're making."
Nunes said the committee will continue to follow the facts and will not be making any assumptions.
"For a long time here, I have been very clear about my concern about, number one, the incidental collection on Gen. [Michael] Flynn, how that was put into a product, how it was unmasked, how it was leaked to the public," Nunes said. "Several crimes have been committed here."
Schiff also said the White House has been communicating, since Trump tweeted his accusations, the investigation into potential wiretapping should be rolled into the Intelligence Committee's ongoing probe of Russian involvement in the election.
"We're not sure if there's any there, there," Schiff said. "Then, it was 'Maybe he meant something different,' to 'Well it was the TV or the microwave' to 'We fully believe the president will be vindicated in his claims of wiretapping.'
"So, they've been all over the map. The reality is I don't think they have the foggiest idea what was behind the president's claim, except maybe something he watched on TV, and I think the rest is designed to downplay, minimize, or obfuscate the fact that the president said something that was patently untrue. But that is my interpretation."
Nunes said he thinks it is okay for himself and Schiff to have disagreements, but at the end of the day, "it's all on our interpretation of what people say or don't say, and the court of public opinion ultimately that has the say in all this. We're going to work together. We're probably going to have a lot that we're going to agree on. We may have some things we disagree on."
But as it relates to Trump's claims, Nunes said, "I think you just have to be careful about how literally you take these comments, and you know, but I do remain concerned as I opened with that there could be incidental collection and unmasking of American names that I really do want to get to the bottom of. And if we move forward from this — actually I agree with Mr. Schiff on the point that if the White House or president want to clarify his statements more it would probably be helpful."
"There's no daylight between us on the fact that neither one of us have seen any evidence to support what the president tweeted," Schiff added. "I think that's probably the most important point."
Schiff also discussed the WikiLeaks release of information damaging to the Democrats during the election, and former Trump adviser Roger Stone's connections with both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and with the Guccifer 2.0 leaks.
"Obviously these two platforms were used to publish documents damaging to Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump," Schiff said. "That concerns me a great deal."
Schilff had said, earlier Wednesday morning, the White House wanted to bury the investigation in a committee that usually meets in closed session, but it decided to investigate in public.
"We have to impress up on this White House there are real costs when he makes baseless claims, and probably the best example I could give is, if six months from now, if they say Iran's cheating on the nuclear deal, if he's making it up, it's a big problem," Schiff told MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "If he is telling the truth, it's a bigger problem, and this way I hope we show him there are costs to making these kinds of claims."
Schiff, on the early show, commented Trump's staff has "tried to run and dodge whether the president of the United States mislead the country of something, and he accused his predecessor of being sick."
However, he said he had not seen any evidence to back up Trump's claim, and "there isn't going to be any evidence about this, because, frankly, if there were, I would know it by now."
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