Washington: President Donald Trump defiantly refused to back down from his explosive claim that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones, and sidestepped any blame for the White House decision to highlight an unverified report that Britain helped carry out the alleged surveillance.
In brushing off the diplomatic row with perhaps America's closest ally, Trump also revived another: The Obama administration's monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's calls. "At least we have something in common, perhaps," Trump quipped during a joint news conference with Merkel.
Merkel, who was making her first visit to the White House since Trump took office, looked surprised by the president's comment, which he appeared primed to deliver. The Obama administration's spying infuriated Germany at the time and risked damaging the US relationship with one of its most important European partners.
Trump's unproven recent allegations against his predecessor have left him increasingly isolated, with fellow Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers saying they've seen nothing from intelligence agencies to support his claim. But Trump, who rarely admits he's wrong, has been unmoved, leaving his advisers in the untenable position of defending the president without any credible evidence.
On Thursday, spokesman Sean Spicer turned to a Fox News analyst's contention that GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence agency, had helped Obama wiretap Trump. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said that the network could not independently verify the reports from Andrew Napolitano, a former judge and commentator who has met with Trump.
The GCHQ vigorously denied the charges in a rare public statement, saying the report was "utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."
According to a Western diplomat, Britain's ambassador to Washington, Kim Darroch, had told the White House Tuesday that Napolitano's assertions were not true. Still, it was among several news reports Spicer referenced in his briefing Thursday as part of an angry defense of the president's claims.
Darroch and other British officials complained directly to White House officials after the episode, Prime Minister Theresa May's office said it had been assured the White House would not repeat the allegations. Spicer was very apologetic when confronted by Darroch at a White House dinner on Thursday, the Western diplomat said.
But Trump himself offered no public apologies and suggested there was nothing wrong with the White House repeating what it had heard. "All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television," Trump said during yesterday's news conference. "You shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox."
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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2017 11:07:44 IST