WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Saturday accused Barack Obama of tapping his phones during last year’s White House campaign, charges that his predecessor denied as “simply false.”
“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Trump wrote on Twitter, without providing evidence of the explosive charge.
“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!” he wrote in another tweet, referring to the political scandal that toppled president Richard Nixon in 1974.
An Obama spokesman called Trump’s accusations “simply false.”
“A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement issued several hours later.
“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
Trump leveled the charges in a flurry of tweets shortly after dawn, as his administration remains mired in controversy over communications between Russian officials and some of his senior aides including Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump and Obama frequently traded barbs on the campaign trail, and the Republican real estate magnate was a driving force behind the so-called “birther” movement that questioned whether Obama was born on US soil and eligible to be president.
The two men initially adopted a cordial tone as Trump took office, though the president has stepped up accusations against Obama in recent weeks, blaming his predecessor for being behind damaging leaks to journalists.
Since US intelligence took the unprecedented step of publicly accusing Russia of trying to swing the November election in Trump’s favor, questions have swirled about whether some in his campaign colluded with Moscow.
The president’s associates, including Sessions and disgraced former national security advisor Michael Flynn, met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before taking office.
Trump, who has accused his political foes of conducting “a total witch hunt,” on Saturday directed his Twitter tirade at his Democratic predecessor.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found,” Trump wrote a day after departing Washington for a weekend getaway at his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort for the fourth time in five weeks.
The president compared the alleged action to Senator Joe McCarthy’s campaign in the 1950s to root out supposed Communists and sympathizers, which was marked by innuendo and abusive investigations.
“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” Trump said, again providing no proof of Obama’s supposed efforts to seek a court order to spy on the then-candidate.
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod said a court would have approved such a wiretap only if there were a cause.
“If there were the wiretap @realDonaldTrump loudly alleges, such an extraordinary warrant would only have been OKed by a court for a reason,” he said, referring to the president by his Twitter handle.
Republicans were mostly silent on Trump’s Twitter tirade.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican hosting a town hall in his native South Carolina, told the event that “if it is true, it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate.”
Responding to Trump’s allegation that Obama was a “Bad (or sick) guy!,” Adam Schiff, a Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee said the president had gone too far.
“If there is something bad or sick going on, it is the willingness of the nation’s chief executive to make the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them,” Schiff said.
Trump delivered a well-received address to Congress late Wednesday, but the White House was plunged back into turmoil the following morning after it confirmed a news report that Sessions failed to disclose two meetings with ambassador Kislyak during last year’s election campaign.
Trump has repeatedly denied having any personal ties to the Kremlin, and his aides have denied or downplayed contacts with Russian officials.
But the accusations have continued amid almost daily leaks revealing new details about connections between Moscow and senior Trump officials.
One such revelation in The Washington Post about a meeting between Sessions and Kislyak prompted the Republican former US senator to recuse himself from any investigations into the presidential election campaign.
Sessions told a Senate committee under oath that he “did not have communications with the Russians,” but reporters found that he had actually met the Russian ambassador twice in the months before taking up his post as attorney general, the top US law enforcement officer.