President Trump, in a Saturday morning tweetstorm, responded to the mounting questions over his ties to Russia by accusing then-President Obama of wiretapping him at Trump Tower just before the November election — an accusation an Obama spokesman rejected as "simply false."
The unsubstantiated outburst follows several days of stories raising questions about meetings between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials, particularly two previously undisclosed meetings between now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
"How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process," he writes. "This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"
Kevin Lewis, Obama's spokesman, said in a statement: "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 U.S. citizen," he said. "Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
In making the charges, Trump did not elaborate on any evidence backing up the explosive accusation.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies were known to have been examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and Trump associates, The New York Times reported in January.
The investigation was being led by the FBI, aided by the National Security Agency, the CIA and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit, the Times said.
Electronic surveillance under such an investigation would require a warrant approved by a FISA court judge. Presidents do not have the authority to order such wiretaps and would not as a routine matter even be aware of them.
If Trump were privy to information that his phone was indeed wire tapped, it would suggest that a FISA court had found probable cause to issue such a warrant.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told MSBNC this week that he believes the FBI is in possession of transcripts which might detail communication between top Trump campaign members and Russian officials. The transcripts, which Coons said he has not seen, could reveal if the Kremlin and Trump’s team colluded to influence the 2016 election.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's foreign policy adviser, responded to Trump in a series of tweets, first stating that "No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said during a Clemson town hall meeting this morning that it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate if it’s true that Obama either wiretapped Trump’s phones, illegally — or was able to obtain a warrant to lawfully monitor Trump’s campaign activity with foreign governments. Either scenario is worrisome, he said.
“It’s my job as a United States senator to get to the bottom of this,” he said to applause. “I promise you I will.”
The tweet blasts began at 6:26 a.m. from the Winter White House at Mar-a-Lago in Florida when Trump raised the Sessions issue by noting the first meeting between the senator from Alabama and the Russian ambassador was set up by the Obama administration as part of an education program.
Eight minutes later, he raised the charge of illegal surveillance by the Obama administration: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"
Then: "Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!"
And: "I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!"
To that, Rhodes responded: "No. They couldn't. Only a liar could do that."
No. They couldn't. Only a liar could do that. https://t.co/G5v8q2Fm5k— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) March 4, 2017
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California accused Trump of trying to deflect from the Russia controversy.
"The Deflector-in-Chief is at it again," she tweeted. "An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer."
The Deflector-in-Chief is at it again. An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer.— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) March 4, 2017
Sessions recused himself from any Trump-Russia investigation after the Justice Department acknowledged he spoke twice with the Russian ambassador last year and failed to disclose the contacts during his Senate confirmation process.
Sessions said he did not tried to mislead anyone but could have been more careful in his answers. He planned to file amended testimony Monday, a Justice Department spokesman said.
The president responded to the Sessions issue obliquely Friday by taking a swing at Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, noting the New York senator previously met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a tweet, Trump posted a photo of Schumer with Putin during the Russian leader's visit to New York in 2003. He demanded an investigation of "close ties" between Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Russia and "lying about it."
He called Schumer, who has demanded Sessions' resignation, a "total hypocrite."
Trump's Saturday morning tweets come less than a day after radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh accused Obama of executing a "silent coup" to unseat Trump and render him "effectively immaterial" as president.
"The real Russian scandal is the collusion between Barack Obama and his administration and the Russians," Limbaugh said. "Obama’s team used the pretext of Russian interference in the election to justify wiretaps and illegal leaks of the Trump team, including a U.S. senator and now attorney general."
By late morning, Trump had — at least temporarily — moved on, saying Arnold Schwarzenegger, his replacement on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" did not voluntarily leave the show but "was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me." He called it a "Sad end to a great show."
The movie star and former California governor announced Friday he was leaving the show after one season. He told Empire magazine that he would decline to return, even if asked. Trump, who has remained executive producer of the show, has mocked the show's sagging ratings.
“With Trump being involved in the show, people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show," Schwarzenegger said. "It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division."