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WiretappingU.K. intel agency dismisses claim it helped wiretap Trump as “utterly ridiculous”

Published 17 March 2017

High-level British intelligence officials have angrily rejected an allegation that the U.K. intelligence service helped former president Barack Obama “wiretap” Donald Trump during the 2016 election. White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated the claim in his Thursday press briefing. A spokesperson for the U.K. intelligence service dismissed Spicer’s claim as “utterly ridiculous.” A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday: “We’ve made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored.”

High-level British intelligence officials have angrily rejected an allegation that the U.K. intelligence service helped former president Barack Obama “wiretap” Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated the false claim in his Thursday press briefing.

A GCHQ spokesperson dismissed Spicer’s claim as “utterly ridiculous.”

The U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is a British intelligence and security organization responsible for providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) and information assurance to the British government and armed forces.

The GCHQ spokesperson added in a statement: “Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

The BBC reports that earlier this week, in a Fox News interview, Napolitano, who is a Fox News judicial analyst, claimed that three intelligence sources confirmed to him that the Obama administration used GCHQ to spy on Trump so that there would be “no American fingerprints on this.”

Spicer quoted Napolitano’s allegation in an effort to validate Trump’s baseless claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower last year.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that the White House had retreated from allegation. It is not clear whether the White House had apologized for Spicer’s airing the false claim.

“We’ve made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesman said on condition of anonymity in keeping with British protocol. “We’ve received assurances these allegations won’t be repeated. We have a close relationship which allows us to raise concerns when they arise, as was true in this case. This shows the administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”

Britain and the United States — together with Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – are members of the Five Eyes group. The intelligence services of the five countries cooperate closely.

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats – the junior partner in the last British coalition government – told the Guardian that Trump was “compromising the vital U.K.-U.S. security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment.”

“It’s complete garbage, it’s rubbish,” Malcolm Rifkind, a former chairman of Parliament’s intelligence committee, told BBC News.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of both the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees said this week that Trump’s assertions that Trump Tower was wiretapped on Obama’s orders were groundless. Devin Nunes (R-California), the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, commenting on Trump’s assertion that Obama authorized tapping of Trump Tower, said: “clearly the president was wrong.”

Earlier in the week, FBI director James Comey privately told other officials that Trump’s claims were false.

On Thursday, however, Spicer said Trump “stands by it,” and emphasized that the president used the term “wiretapping” to refer to a range of surveillance-related activities. In a Wednesday night interview on Fox News, Trump told interview host Tucker Carlson that the word wiretap “covers surveillance and many other things.”

He added that the administration would submit evidence of his claim to the House intelligence panel “very soon,” saying: “You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

In the interview with Carlson, Trump falsely claimed the a January New York Times report contained information about Obama’s ordering the wiretapping of Trump Tower. The Times report, however, contained not such information. The January report, and subsequent Times reporting on the issue, have never reported that Obama authorized the surveillance, nor that Trump himself was monitored. The January report, and following reports, referred to U.S. intelligence’s intercepts of communications of Russian government and intelligence officials – intercepts which revealed the ongoing contacts between several Trump campaign officials and Russian government and intelligence entities.