Trump Digs In on Wiretap, No Matter Who Says Differently

By Sarah Morris - March 17, 2017

The former president denied it. So did the former national intelligence director. The F.B.I. director has said privately that it is false. The speaker of the House and the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — all three Republican — see no indications that it happened.

But President Trump insists he is right. No matter how many officials, even in his own party, dismiss his unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama secretly tapped his phones last year, the White House made clear on Thursday that it would stand by the assertion.

Ultimately, it insisted, the president will be proved correct.

Nearly two weeks after Mr. Trump first accused his predecessor in a series of Saturday morning Twitter posts, the standoff between the president and the available record has come to shadow the White House even as it tries to overhaul the nation’s health care system and drastically rewrite the federal budget.

Much like his longstanding assertion that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States, Mr. Trump dismisses contrary information with undiminished surety.

Indeed, the White House even added a new assertion on Thursday during a fiercely combative and sometimes surreal briefing by the press secretary, Sean Spicer, who berated reporters and read from news accounts that either did not back up the president’s claims or had been refuted by intelligence officials.

One report that Mr. Spicer read contended that Mr. Obama used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump. In effect, the White House was embracing a claim that the United States’ closest ally collaborated with a president against a presidential candidate.

“There’s widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election, there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people,” Mr. Spicer said. Asked if the president stood by his original allegation, Mr. Spicer said, “He stands by it.”

The White House defiance came shortly after the top two senators overseeing the intelligence community joined the chorus of lawmakers debunking the claim.

“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,” Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, said in a statement.

The blunt conclusion by the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee means that all four congressional leaders who oversee intelligence-based surveillance by the government have rejected Mr. Trump’s claim. On Wednesday, their counterparts on the House Intelligence Committee, Representatives Devin Nunes, a Republican, and Adam B. Schiff, a Democrat, both from California, made similar statements.

For the president’s staff, the continuing furor over his claim has produced mixed responses. Some advisers privately recognize that there is no evidence to support it and are increasingly frustrated that it continues to dominate the conversation in Washington and wish Mr. Trump would find a way to let it go.

At the same time, they feel besieged by what they see as a hostile Washington establishment and resent the carping. In some cases, as Mr. Spicer did at his briefing, they argue that the news media has cherry-picked information to make the president look bad.

But they assume that Mr. Trump will stick by his assertion no matter what comes out of an emerging congressional investigation. After all, he refused to back off his “birther” allegation — and then only grudgingly — until five years after Mr. Obama produced a birth certificate showing that he had been born in Hawaii.

In this case, Mr. Trump sees the surveillance allegation as a way to push back against what he considers the unfair insinuation that he somehow colluded with the Russians during last year’s election — another assertion for which intelligence committee leaders have said they so far have found no evidence.