It just gets worse. Trump continues to inflame his false wiretapping claims against Obama, refusing to back down or apologize despite both GOP and Democratic leaders in both houses of congress rebuking him.
On Friday, Trump provoked a public dispute with America’s closest ally after the White House aired an explosive and unsubstantiated claim that Britain’s spy agency had secretly eavesdropped on him at the behest of President Barack Obama during last year’s campaign.
Livid British officials adamantly denied the allegation and secured promises from senior White House officials never to repeat it. But a defiant Trump refused to back down, making clear that the White House had nothing to retract or apologize for because his spokesman had simply repeated an assertion made by a Fox News commentator. Fox itself later disavowed the report.
The angry response from Britain stemmed from Trump’s persistence in accusing Obama of tapping his phones last year despite the lack of evidence and across-the-board denials. At a briefing on Thursday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, read from a sheaf of news clippings that he suggested bolstered the president’s claim.
Among them was an assertion by Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News commentator, that Obama had used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Trump. In response to Spicer, the agency quickly denied it as “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous,” while British officials contacted American counterparts to complain.
“We said nothing,” Trump told a German reporter who asked about the matter at a news conference. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” He added: “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”
After the news conference, Spicer echoed Trump’s unapologetic tone. “I don’t think we regret anything,” he told reporters. “As the president said, I was just reading off media reports.”
Shortly afterward, Fox backed off Napolitano’s claim. “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary,” the anchor Shepard Smith said on air. “Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop.”
White House officials, who also requested anonymity, said Spicer had offered no regret to the British ambassador. “He didn’t apologize, no way, no how,” a senior West Wing official said.
The furor underscored the continuing troubles for the White House since Trump first accused Mr. Obama of tapping his phones, an allegation refuted by intelligence agencies as well as Republican and Democratic officials. Even as Trump refused to back down, fellow Republicans appeared increasingly irritated by what they see as a distraction from their policy goals.
Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said on Friday that Trump had not proved his case and should apologize to Obama. “Frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling truth, I think President Obama is owed an apology,” Cole told reporters. “If he didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”
Foreign policy analysts expressed astonishment that Trump would so cavalierly endanger that partnership. “It illustrates the extent to which the White House really doesn’t care what damage they do to crucial relationships in order to avoid admitting their dishonesty,” said Kori Schake, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush now at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “America’s allies are having to protect themselves against being tarred with the White House’s mendacity.”