Justice Department asks for more time on Trump's wiretapping evidence

US President Donald Trump alleged that former President Obama wiretapped him earlier this month. The House Intelligence Committee said it wants a response ahead of a planned hearing on March 20.

Photo by: AFP Archive
Photo by: AFP Archive

A doorman stands in front of an entrance to Trump Tower, March 7, 2017 in New York City.

The US Department of Justice said on Monday it had asked for more time to respond to a request from lawmakers for evidence about President Donald Trump's allegation that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 election campaign.

Earlier this month, without offering evidence, the Republican president accused his Democratic predecessor of wiretapping him, a charge that Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said was "simply false."

In response, the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting proof for the allegation by Monday.

The committee said it would give the Justice Department until March 20 to comply with the evidence request. That's the date of the committee's first open hearing on the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

The Trump administration is now under mounting pressure to provide proof to shore up the president's unsubstantiated allegation.

US President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama walk out of the East front prior to Obama's departure from the 2017 Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USç January 20, 2017. (Archive)

Both Obama, through a spokesman, and his director of national intelligence James Clapper have denied ordering any wiretapping operation targeted at Trump.

But Trump's White House is standing by its demand for a congressional investigation into the allegations.

Did Trump mean what he said?

Trump's claims have put his administration in a bind. Current and former administration officials have been unable to provide any evidence of the Obama administration wiretapping Trump Tower, yet the president's aides have been reluctant to publicly contradict their boss.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 13, 2017. (AP Archive)

White House spokesman Sean Spicer tried to clarify Trump's comments on Monday, saying the president wasn't using the word wiretapping literally and noting that Trump had put the term in quotation marks.

"The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities," Spicer said. He also suggested Trump wasn't accusing former President Barack Obama specifically, but instead referring to the actions of the Obama administration.

Trump declined to comment on the issue when asked by reporters on Monday.

Trump criticised

​Top Republican lawmaker and frequent Trump critic Senator John McCain on Sunday challenged Trump to prove the wiretapping claim -- or else retract it.

Trump's critics have slammed the president for making the wiretapping claim on his Twitter account without evidence. Wiretapping a US citizen would require special permission from a court, and Trump as president would have the ability to declassify that information.

"I think the president has one of two choices: either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve," McCain said on Sunday.

"If his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here, to say the least," he added.

FBI Director James Comey has privately urged the Justice Department to dispute Trump's claim but has not come forward to do so himself. James Clapper, who was Obama's director of national intelligence, has said that nothing matching Trump's claims had taken place.

White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway sidestepped questions about the lack of proof on Monday, saying she was "not in the job of having evidence."

"That's what investigations are for," Conway told CNN's New Day. "The president is pleased that the House and Senate intelligence committees have agreed that this should be part of the investigation that already exists about Russia and the campaign, an investigation that apparently has gone nowhere so far."

TRTWorld and agencies