President Donald Trump’s top communications officials vaguely suggested that the president possessed classified information supporting his thus-far unfounded accusation that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretaps of Trump’s phones during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Appearing on “Fox and Friends” on Monday, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked how the president knew about the alleged wiretaps in Trump Tower in Manhattan.
“Let me answer that globally. He’s the president of the United States. He has information and intelligence the rest of us do not. And that’s how it should be for presidents,” Conway replied.
Similarly, in an interview on the “Today” show, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the wiretap tweets were based on a Breitbart roundup of existing media reports which did not offer conclusive evidence of the wiretaps’ existence.
“I haven’t had the chance to have the conversation directly with the president, and he’s at a much higher classification level than I am, so he may have access to documents that I don’t know about, but I do know that we take this very seriously, and we think it should be thoroughly reviewed and investigated,” Sanders replied.
Sanders claim represented a departure from her answer during an interview on Sunday.
When asked by ABC’s Martha Raddatz whether it was appropriate for the president to tweet potentially classified information, the spokeswoman dismissed the claim.
“I don’t think he’s tweeting out classified information. He’s talking about ‘Could this have happened? Did this happen?'” Sanders said.
Though White House officials have pointed to existing media reports that don’t fully support the president’s accusation, Trump has not presented any evidence suggesting the existence of the wiretaps, and a spokesperson for Obama denied that the previous White House intervened in any federal law enforcement investigations.
“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said on Saturday.
If Trump did disclose classified information, he could face legal penalties, though top political and government figures who disclose classified information often experience lighter punishment than some lower-level government employees.
Former CIA chief David Petraeus plead guilty to disclosing classified information to his biographer, and was sentenced to serve two years probation and pay a $US100,000 fine.
The disclosure of classified information became a major topic of the 2016 presidential election after it was revealed that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account during her time as secretary of state. The FBI declined to prosecute Clinton after it did not produce evidence that she knowingly shared classified information.
Trump and his campaign surrogates frequently slammed Clinton’s use of a private email server, with many suggesting that she should be prosecuted for mishandling classified information.
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