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Trump stands by Obama wiretap charge, shrugs off spy agency spat with Britain

Pool photo / Reuters

People sit at computers in the 24-hour Operations Room inside GCHQ in Cheltenham, England, on Nov. 17, 2015.

Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. President Donald Trump stood by unproven claims on Friday that the Obama administration tapped his phones during the 2016 White House race and shrugged off a dispute with Britain over the notion their spy agency had a hand in it.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman earlier in the day dismissed the charge against Britain’s GCHQ spy agency as “ridiculous” and said the White House had promised not to repeat it.

But at a news conference Trump brushed aside a question about whether it was a mistake to accuse British intelligence of eavesdropping.

“We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it,” Trump said.

He was referring to Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano who on Tuesday accused Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency of having helped Obama, a Democrat, wiretap Trump, a Republican.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Thursday quoted Napolitano’s comments about GCHQ during a testy briefing with reporters.

But speaking at the White House news conference, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at his side, Trump distanced himself.

“That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox, and so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox. OK?” Trump said while standing by his initial charge that the previous U.S. administration eavesdropped on him.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said British officials had voiced concern to senior Trump aides but the official declined to explicitly apologize for Spicer’s citation of the Fox News allegations.

On the “Fox & Friends” program, Napolitano, a political commentator and former New Jersey judge, said that rather than ordering U.S. agencies to spy on Trump, Obama had obtained transcripts of Trump’s conversations from GCHQ so there were “no American fingerprints” on it.

Late on Friday, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said: “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.”

Dominic Grieve, chairman of the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, said a U.S. president cannot task the GCHQ to intercept an individual’s communications.Speech

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