Close aides to Barack Obama have dismissed accusations by Donald Trump that the then-president tapped his soon-to-be successor’s phone during the late stages of the election campaign.
The unsubstantiated claims made in a series of presidential tweets are being seen as an attempt to divert attention from questions over the Trump team’s ties to Russia.
Former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes, in his own series of tweets, said no president could order a wiretap and called on the White House to explain “these repeated blatant lies”.
Barack Obama’s spokesman Kevin Lewis also rejected the claim out of hand, saying the former administration had a cardinal rule not to interfere with any Justice Department investigation, and no-one in Obama’s team ordered any surveillance. “Any suggestion otherwise is unequivocally false,” he tweeted.
What is Trump’s evidence?
The White House has offered no evidence for Trump’s early morning Twitter tirade, despite being pestered all day to come up with some. Critics have suggested the ball is in the president’s court to substantiate his claims. NBC News quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying that Trump failed to consult others in the government beforehand, and that the claims are baseless.
The president said he had “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory”. Calling his predecessor a “bad (or sick) guy”, he labelled it “McCarthyism” and “Nixon/Watergate” – a reference to major US political scandals in the second half of the 20th century.
It’s thought that Trump may have been inspired by right-wing media reports claiming that Obama’s team obtained authorisation to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign.
One commentator has suggested that Obama’s “police state“actions should be investigated, rather than the Trump campaign’s Russian ties. A series of apparently unconnected events are linked to create a supposition that the former president had conducted a “silent coup”.
A diversion from Russia?
The timing of Donald Trump’s latest outburst has led Democrats to accuse him of trying to divert attention from his administration’s difficulties over Russia.
One senior figure – former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – resigned, while another – Attorney General Jeff Sessions – is under scrutiny, over what they said about meetings with the Russian ambassador.
Intelligence accusations of Russian interference in the election have also embarrassed the Trump team.
The episode has revived long-standing hostility between Trump and Obama and has renewed criticism of the president’s style, after a week in which his speech to Congress had been positively received.
On Saturday supporters of the president held “Spirit of America” rallies in more than half of the country’s 50 states.