The director of the United State’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, James Comey has rejected President Donald Trump’s claim that his predecessor, Barack Obama, ordered a wiretap of his phone before he was elected US president.
Comey reportedly asked the US Department of Justice, DOJ, to publicly reject Saturday’s allegation.
He is said to have asked for this because the allegation falsely insinuated that the FBI broke the law. The DOJ has not commented.
From an FBI director this is a startling rebuke of a sitting president and Comey will be under pressure from Democrats to voice it publicly.
Trump, who faces intense scrutiny over alleged Russian interference in support of his presidential bid, made the claims in a series of tweets.
He offered no evidence to support his allegation that phones at Trump Tower were tapped last year.
His tweets followed allegations made by conservative radio host Mark Levin, including that the Obama administration “sought, and eventually obtained, authorisation to eavesdrop” on the Trump campaign last year.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer went on to say there had been “very troubling” reports “concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election”.
But did former President Obama actually tapped Trump’s phone lines? No. Or, certainly, all the evidence indicates the answer is no. A spokesman for Obama said Trump’s allegation charge was “simply false”.
A warrant, if it existed, would most likely have been ordered by the Department of Justice independently of the White House.
The only way Obama could have ordered surveillance without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, court is if there was no US citizens involved.
In this case, considering the target is allegedly Trump Tower in New York – which would definitely have involved American citizens – this would have been hard to argue.
James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under Obama, has categorically denied that a FISA court order existed.
Meanwhile, the White House has called on Congress to investigate whether the Obama administration had abused its powers.
Both Congress and the FBI are currently investigating contacts between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials, after US intelligence agencies assessed that Russia had interfered with the election to help Trump win against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that his committee would “make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates”.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, also a Republican, said in a statement that the inquiry would “follow the evidence where it leads, and we will continue to be guided by the intelligence and facts as we compile our findings”.
Trump, who spent the weekend at his Florida resort, called the alleged tapping “Nixon/Watergate”, referring to the notorious political scandal of 1972, which led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
He asked on Twitter whether it was legal for a “sitting president to be wire-tapping” and referred to the allegation as “a new low”.
Earlier, Ben Rhodes, who was Obama’s foreign policy adviser and speechwriter, wrote in a tweet: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”