The Justice Department on Monday asked for more time to respond to a request from the House Intelligence Committee to turn over any wiretapping applications, orders or warrants related to President Trump and his associates.
In a one-paragraph statement, spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said the Justice Department had called the top Democrats and Republicans on the committee “to ask for additional time to review the request in compliance with the governing legal authorities and to determine what if any responsive documents may exist.” The committee had set a deadline of Monday to turn over the information.
President Trump earlier this month asserted that President Barack Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” just before Trump’s victory in the presidential election. He has not provided any evidence to support his claim. Obama and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. have denied that such wiretapping took place, and U.S. officials told The Washington Post that FBI Director James B. Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement refuting it.
Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee nonetheless said they will investigate Trump’s claim, and last week they asked the Justice Department for copies of any applications submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, any orders that court released, and any copies of warrants issued by federal judges or magistrates regarding Trump or his campaign surrogates, business associates, employees, family and friends — “if they exist.” The heads of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism made a similar request.
Jack Langer, a spokesman for the Intelligence Committee, said Monday that the legislators now want a response by March 20, when a hearing is scheduled, and “may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered.”
The White House, meanwhile, has offered evolving explanations for why the president said what he did. The White House initially asked Congress to investigate the claim as part of a larger inquiry into Russian interference in the election, and press secretary Sean Spicer said he would let the president’s tweet “speak for itself.” But on Monday, Spicer seemed to hint that Trump was using “wiretapping” to encompass conduct broader than wiretapping.
“If you look at the president’s tweet, he said very clearly, quote, ‘wire tapping’ — in quotes,” Spicer said, gesturing with his fingers to symbolize quotes. “There’s been substantial discussion in several reports. . . . There’s been reports in the New York Times and the BBC and other outlets about other aspects of surveillance that have occurred. The president was very clear in his tweet that it was, you know, ‘wiretapping’ — that spans a whole host of surveillance types of options.”
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.