March 17 (UPI) — The White House apologized for suggesting a British intelligence agency was involved in spying on President Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, a U.S. official said Friday.
The official said national security adviser H.R. McMaster spoke with his British counterpart after a comment by press secretary Sean Spicer during a press briefing Thursday. Citing a Fox News report, Spicer said Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, its primary intelligence-gathering agency, was involved in wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, at former President Barack Obama‘s request.
James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, said senior British officials were upset by the suggestion.
“We’ve made clear to the U.S. administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored. We’ve received assurances that these allegations won’t be repeated,” Slack said. He later commented, “This shows the [May] administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”
May’s office later said it received assurances from McMaster that the allegations would not be repeated. CNN reported British intelligence officials were particularly upset by the suggestion GCHQ was brought in to keep U.S. intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency and the FBI, from involvement. At the Thursday press briefing, Spicer read a statement he said was made on Fox News on Tuesday by Fox legal analyst and former Judge Andrew Napolitano on Tuesday.
“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command [to spy on Trump]. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice, he used GCHQ,” the statement said.
GCHQ rarely comments on security matters, but used strong language to rebut the suggestion.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then-president-elect are nonsense,” GCHQ said in a statement. British politicians condemned Spicer’s reading of the Fox News comment. Tim Farron, leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat Party, called the suggestion “shameful,” adding, “Trump is compromising the vital U.K.-U.S. security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment.”
The matter came on the day the Senate Intelligence Committee reported it found no evidence Trump Tower was under surveillance in 2016 by the Obama administration.
Trump made the accusation on Twitter earlier this month, saying Obama ordered his phones tapped during the election.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump wrote on Twitter on March 4 in the first of a series of three tweets on the subject.
A spokesman for the former president and his director of national intelligence have denied it.
Multiple media organizations, including The Washington Post, reported over the last few months that the FBI asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for warrants in June and October of 2016 in connection with an investigation of two Russian banks and Trump’s campaign.
The FISC denied the first request, which named Trump, in June, but the second request in October, which was more narrowly defined, was granted. The request included evidence of a server possibly related to the Trump campaign and it’s possible links to two Russian banks: SVB and Russia’s Alfa Bank.
On Jan. 19, The New York Times reported that conversations between associates of Trump had been “intercepted” as part of a “broad investigation” looking at links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
The headquarters of Trump’s presidential campaign was in Trump Tower at 725 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where Trump also lived prior to his inauguration and where the Trump organization is also headquartered.