The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, on Wednesday said the committee had not found any evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama had Trump Tower phones “tapped” before the 2016 election.
“We don’t have any evidence that took place,” Nunes said. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”
The announcement came a week and a half after Trump tweeted, without presenting evidence, that Obama had Trump Tower’s “wires tapped” during the presidential campaign.
The White House released a statement shortly afterward “requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”
“Are you going to take the tweets literally? If you are, clearly the president is wrong,” said Nunes, a Republican. He added, however, that he thought it was “very possible” that Trump or someone else in the White House may have been swept up in surveillance targeting foreign nationals on US soil.
The president does not have the unilateral authority to order a wiretap on suspected foreign spies operating inside the US, experts say. Doing so would be a federal crime that would implicate career civil servants and necessitate a huge cover-up. Rather, law enforcement and intelligence agencies wishing to monitor signal intelligence they deem relevant to an investigation — in this case, suspected Russian interference in the 2016 election — must obtain what is known as a FISA warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that he had “seen no evidence of illegality of any electronic surveillance” and that “there was no substance to the accusation that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.”
Nunes said FBI Director James Comey had still not told the committee directly whether the bureau had sought and obtained a FISA warrant to surveil anyone who might have communicated with Trump associates during the campaign. Nunes said Comey had agreed to testify at a public House Intelligence Committee hearing next week about the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s suspected meddling in the 2016 election.
The FBI will also brief the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon, according to CNN.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism, told the FBI on Tuesday that it would “screw up big time” if it failed to respond to his subcommittee’s letter asking for “copies of any warrant applications and court orders” related to any wiretaps of President Donald Trump.
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