The Department of Justice declined to comment on Thursday when asked about the White House’s recent claim that there was “no reason to believe” that President Donald Trump was the target of a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s influence on the US election.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Wednesday that “there is no reason to believe there is any type of investigation” targeting Trump “with respect to the Department of Justice.”
Spicer changed his answer slightly on Thursday, saying he was “not aware” of such an investigation.
But a Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, “said that there was no indication that anyone at the Justice Department had given the White House that assurance,” according to the New York Times.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to request for comment by Business Insider.
An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak on the matter, told Business Insider that the White House was “quite comfortable, based on what we know to be true, to make that kind of statement.”
“We don’t need to get the DOJ’s permission to feel comfortable saying that, and we didn’t predicate that statement on anything the DOJ had or hadn’t told us,” the official said. “The president knows what he knows. There’s a confidence there.”
The back-and-forth comes nearly one week after Trump tweeted, without evidence, that former president Barack Obama ordered a wiretapping on Trump Tower prior to the election — a claim that, if true and done legally, would mean Trump was the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation.
The president does not have the authority to unilaterally order a US citizen to be wiretapped, but the FBI can seek a
warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor people in the US that it believes are acting as foreign spies. If Trump associates ever spoke with anyone who was being surveil led under a FISC warrant, then their communications would be picked up, too.
It has not been confirmed, however, that such a warrant was ever granted, or if it specifically targeted Trump Tower. Th
e BBC and McClatchy have reported that the FBI sought the warrant in order to monitor Russian banks suspected of funelling money into the Trump campaign, not to monitor Trump’s associates directly.
FBI Director James Comey was reportedly so “incredulous” over Trump’s explosive accusation on Saturday that he asked the DOJ to release a public statement rebuking Trump’s claim. The DOJ has yet to do so.
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