America and Britain’s relationship has been unexpectedly strained this week over unsubstantiated allegations that British spy agency GCHQ helped Obama tap Donald Trump’s phones at Trump Tower.
Now, The Times is reporting that British foreign secretary Boris Johnson is visiting the US this coming week to “patch up ties” with the White House, along with other planned meetings.
In early March, Donald Trump made the claim that Obama tapped his phones, and has refused to back down despite the lack of evidence.
The row intensified last week when White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested that GCHQ was involved, citing claims by a guest on Fox News as evidence.
GCHQ made an extremely rare public denial, calling the claims “utterly ridiculous,” and saying they “should be ignored.”
This was followed up by a report by The Telegraph alleging that the White House had formally apologised to Britain over the remarks. But Spicer subsequently denied that such an apology took place, saying the White House had only been referring to reports “in the public domain” and saying “I don’t think we regret anything.”
It’s a bizarre, unprecedented spat between the US and one of its closest allies, whose intelligence services work extremely closely together as members of the “Five Eyes” group of countries.
Trump also hinted at the unsubstantiated allegation during a press conference with Germany’s Angela Merkel, suggesting both of them had been surveiled by US intelligence services — a reference to reports that US spy agency the NSA had tapped Merkel’s phone.
He refused to apologise when asked by a reporter, saying: “A
ll we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it … You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”
These allegations against Western spy agencies are taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation into whether Trump and his team have any connection to Russia. Russia is believed to have hacked into and leaked the emails of members of Hillary Clinton’s team to help Trump’s election campaign, and members of Trump’s team are now under scrutiny over their communications with Russian officials.
Roger Stone, a long-time adviser to Trump, has been asked by the Senate investigation to retain any relevant documents. Stone has admitted to being in contact with “Guccifer 2.0,” the entity which leaked the DNC emails and is widely believed to be part of Russian intelligence efforts.
Boris Johnson will also meet US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, visit the UN in New York, and attend a summit in Washington on the subject of ISIS, The Times reports.
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