Fox News anchor Chris Wallace pressed White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Sunday over President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Wallace asked Priebus whether Trump accepted the conclusion from law enforcement and intelligence officials that there was no evidence to support Trump’s accusation.
“Is he ready to apologise?” Wallace asked of Trump.
“No. And I don’t accept it,” Priebus replied.
Priebus echoed the administration’s recent position on Trump’s claims, which somewhat modified the president’s original tweet.
Holding up an enlarged print-out of a New York Times headline, the chief of staff argued that law enforcement or intelligence officials may have collected information on members of the president’s transition team.
“The fact is reports have come out for many, many months now that people on the Trump campaign transition team were surveillanced by, potentially, some intelligence group,” Priebus said. “Whether they were intentionally swept up, whether their names were unmasked — Chris, you don’t know the answer to that question, and I don’t either.”
He added: “But if people on the Trump transition were unknowingly surveillanced … I think it’s a big problem, and I think ultimately President Trump is going to be proven correct.”
When Wallace asked if Trump believed there was a “concerted effort” by the previous White House to leak intelligence information damaging the new administration, the chief of staff answered that the “leaks are apparent.”
“There are leaks out there that are injuring the president,” Priebus said. “It’s wrong and people should be prosecuted.”
He added: “There’s potentially something very wrong here, but I’m not going to go any further than that.”
The Fox News anchor also confronted Priebus about House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes’ decision to brief Trumps’ team about evidence — unsupported publicly by law enforcement and intelligence officials — that Trump transition officials may have been surveilled.
“Does Chairman Nunes coming to the White House and briefing the president before he briefed his own committee — does that undercut his credibility, and does that open the door for an independent investigation?” Wallace asked.
Priebus refused to endorse or condemn Nunes’ brief, saying that the White House doesn’t “calculate the decisions that they make and whether they brief someone or not.”
“I think we let the House committee do its job and see what they come up with,” Priebus said. “And by the way: They’re not going to come up with anything.”
A chaotic week
Priebus’ interview capped a chaotic week in the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, which has been confounded by intelligence leaks and Trump’s ill-supported accusation of wiretapping.
Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, FBI Director James Comey announced that the agency was investigating Trump campaign officials’ relationship with Russia, and said that the FBI found no evidence supporting the president’s wiretap allegations.
After Nunes briefed the White House on Tuesday about potential surveillance of Trump officials, Democrats and some Republicans blasted the chairman for informing Trump’s team before alerting his own committee, leading some to call for Nunes to resign and convene an independent investigation into Russia’s involvement in the election.
The chairman further enraged Democrats when he canceled an open intelligence committee hearing on Russia with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
Former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page have agreed to testify before Congress about their contacts with Russia during the campaign.
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