White House press secretary Sean Spicer continued Monday to defend President Trump’s claims that Trump's predecessor ordered surveillance of Trump Tower during the presidential election campaign, even as FBI Director James B. Comey testified to Congress that there is “no information” supporting that claim.
“We are still at the beginning phase of a look as to what kind of surveillance took place and why,” Spicer told reporters at his daily briefing at the White House.
Asked whether Trump is prepared to withdraw his accusation against Obama and apologize, Spicer said he is not because congressional hearings on the issue will continue.
“This is one in a series of hearings that will be happening,” Spicer said, referring to Monday’s public hearing by the House Intelligence Committee.
Spicer argued that Trump critics have focused too narrowly on the president’s use of the term “wiretapping” when he first leveled his explosive charge against former president Barack Obama on Twitter more than two weeks ago.
“I think there’s continuing to be a very, very literal interpretation of his tweet, which is whether or not there was wiretapping,” Spicer said. “The president understands that you don’t literally wiretap people the same way you did in the ’70s and ’80s with wires and things in the top of the phone.”
Asked whether Trump maintains confidence in Comey, Spicer said: “There’s no reason to believe he doesn’t at this time.”
Spicer also sought to downplay testimony by Comey that there is an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and that the probe extends to the nature of any links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government.
Spicer stressed that an ongoing investigation into possible collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign doesn’t mean that there was any. And he said that several people who have been briefed by the FBI have publicly said they’ve seen no evidence of collusion.
“Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things,” Spicer said. “I think it’s fine to look into it, but at the end of the day they’re going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else has had.”
Spicer said that he thought the hearing had raised several important questions related to how the identities of people captured on monitored phone calls, including former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, had been made public.
In the month before Trump took office, Flynn discussed the subject of sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, on a call that was subject to court-approved monitoring of Kislyak. The Post later reported on Flynn’s participation in the call.
“Who was behind that unmasking?” Spicer asked Monday. “Why are certain people being unmasked and having their identities known?”