U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday derided any suggestion that his campaign colluded with Russian interests to help him win the White House, saying it was an excuse “made up” by Democrats for losing the election.
In a string of messages on his Twitter account, Trump said that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama, and others “stated that there is no evidence” that he had joined with Moscow to help his cause. “This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” Trump declared.
Trump, two months into his presidency, said that Democrats “made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign,” adding that the campaign of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was presumed to have a “big advantage” in the country’s Electoral College that determined the outcome and still lost.
Trump offered his latest commentary on his upset win last November just hours before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee was set to hear testimony from two key U.S. officials about the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the election to help him win and whether there is any truth to his explosive, but unsubstantiated claim that Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower headquarters in New York in the weeks before the election.
In his tweets, Trump did not mention his eavesdropping allegation. He said “the real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!” Trump has often complained about leaks of information that have cast a wide shadow on his performance, but did not say specifically what disclosure he was concerned about.
Comey, Rogers testimony
Monday’s witnesses, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey, and National Security Agency chief Admiral Michael Rogers both likely would have known about the eavesdropping if it occurred and also the extent of the Russian interference in the election.
For more than two weeks, Trump has refused to back down on his wiretapping allegation, even as a string of officials, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and the top Republican and Democratic lawmakers on both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, have said there is no evidence to support the president’s March 4 claims he made in a series of Twitter comments.
On Sunday, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House panel, told Fox News that new information lawmakers received Friday from the Justice Department about the possibility of a wiretap has not changed his conclusion.
“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was, and the information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction.” Nunes said.
Neither Rogers nor Comey has spoken publicly about the president’s allegation. But Comey, as the FBI chief, sought to get the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, to disavow Trump’s claim shortly after the president made it, but the agency has not released any statement.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who oversees the Justice Department and was a staunch Trump supporter during the presidential campaign, said last week he never gave the president any reason to believe he was wiretapped in the weeks before the November election.
British wiretapping allegation
Trump’s White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, last week suggested that the wiretapping was carried out by British agents, citing a statement on Fox News by a legal analyst, Andrew Napolitano. The British electronic intelligence agency, the GCHQ, said the report was “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” but when asked about it Friday at a White House news conference, Trump deflected any blame for linking the British to his wiretapping allegation.
“All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television,” Trump said of the claim that Obama had enlisted the British to eavesdrop on him. “You shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
A short time later, a Fox News anchor said, “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind, that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way.”
Last week, the leaders of of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner, said in a joint statement, “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government, either before or after Election Day 2016.”
The wiretapping allegation is part of broader investigations by the FBI and lawmakers into the conclusion by the country’s intelligence community that Russia meddled in the election to help Trump defeat Clinton.
U.S. investigators say Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking into the computers at the Democratic National Committee. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks subsequently released thousands of emails from the files of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta in the month before the election, showing embarrassing, behind-the-scenes efforts of Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the party’s presidential nomination.
But the Trump administration has rebuffed any contention that its campaign aides colluded with Russian officials in that cyberattack. Nunes, the House Intelligence panel chairman, also said he has not seen signs of collusion.