"In Quotes:" Sean Spicer Seeks to Clarify Trump's Wiretapping Comments
White House spokesman claims punctuation in tweet means Trump was using ‘wiretap’ to mean surveillance more broadly
The White House sought to clarify on Monday President Donald Trump's wiretapping allegations against former President Barack Obama — an attempt at course correction that comes roughly after a week of media headlines about the claims.
"He doesn't really think that president went up and tapped his phones personally," White House press Sean Spicer told reporters during the daily press briefing. Spicer then said quotation marks justify Trump's unverified wiretapping claims:
“The president used the word ‘wiretapped’ in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities during that," Spicer conceded. "It is interesting how many news outlets reported that this activity was taking place during the 2016 election cycle and now are wondering where the proof is. It is many of the same outlets in this room that talked about the activities that were going on back then.”
One of Trump’s tweets on 4 March did indeed use quotation marks when it said: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
But another tweet less than half an hour later did not use quotation marks: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
Obama has strongly denied the claim, as has his director of national intelligence.
During Monday’s press briefing at the White House, Spicer had though time in order to "convince" the press over the veracity of Trump’s claims regarding wiretapping, unemployment numbers and health insurance statistics. Asked if, when the president says something, it can be trusted to be real, Spicer replied: “If he’s not joking, of course.” This prompted some laughter from the assembled press, as reported in The Guardian.
Monday was the deadline for the Department of Justice to provide members of Congress with some evidence of Trump’s assertion about Obama's wiretapping the phones in the Trump Tower.
One of the oddities in Donald Trump’s wiretapping claims is how antiquated is his view of how the security services work in the digital age.
“How low has President gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy! ” Trump said in one of his tweets, suggesting he is stuck in a cold-war time warp, with spies still using the kind of techniques found in John le Carré novels rather than 21st-century surveillance, suggested Ewen MacAskill in The Guardian.
The US security agencies – whether the FBI, CIA or one of a dozen others – no longer have to engage in wiretapping of the kind that Trump hints at. They can access just about anyone’s computer or laptop, again even those that are turned off. The same for cameras on computers and laptops, which can also be switched on remotely.