The White House entered a twilight zone world Monday as it tried to explain why Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of having him wiretapped.

Trump’s deputy press secretary endured a mauling by ABC News’ George Stephanopolous as he pointed out that the reports she claimed backed up the allegation in fact did not.

Then later in the day Press Secretary Sean Spicer held his regular briefing off camera where he was hit with question after question on the wire-tapping claims – but said:  ‘I’m not gonna go into anything further, as the president noted, until this is resolved.’

In fact the president’s only public statements have been his Saturday morning tweets which aired the explosive claims about wiretapping.

Spicer – who has now avoided cameras at his briefings since last Monday, said he was not going to say any more and added: ‘If we start down the rabbit hole of discussing some of this stuff, I think that we end up in a very difficult place.’

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Donald Trump was at his desk in the Oval Office Monday, signing a new exectuive order on his travel ban, amid the growing controversy surrounding his tweets accusing Obama of tapping his phones prior to the election. He has a day full of meetings that are closed off to press

Donald Trump was at his desk in the Oval Office Monday, signing a new exectuive order on his travel ban, amid the growing controversy surrounding his tweets accusing Obama of tapping his phones prior to the election. He has a day full of meetings that are closed off to press

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday morning that Trump 'firmly believes' that the wiretapping allegations that they say have been 'reported pretty widely' should be looked at by Congress

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday morning that Trump ‘firmly believes’ that the wiretapping allegations that they say have been ‘reported pretty widely’ should be looked at by Congress

Kellyanne Conway challenged FBI director James Comey on Sunday night to reveal what he knows about Trump's allegations that Obama wiretapped his phones prior to the election

FBI director James Comey

Kellyanne Conway challenged FBI director James Comey on Sunday night to reveal what he knows about Trump’s allegations that Obama wiretapped his phones prior to the election

Then he found time to air a fresh claim – that spying could have taken place behind the back of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who explicitly denied that it happened.

And seperately, the White House released some of the news articles it claims show that Obama ordered a wiretap – but it quickly became apparent that none of them do.

The torrid day came after mounting pressure prompted by Trump’s explosive allegation that he was wiretapped.

‘SARAH, I HAVE TO STOP YOU AGAIN’: TRUMP MOUTHPIECE MAULED BY GEORGE 

 George Stephanopolous:

We now know that the FBI director has told the Justice Department that President Trump’s explosive claims are inaccurate. Does President Trump accept the FBI director’s denial?

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: 

You know, I don’t think he does, George. I think he firmly believes that this is a storyline that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets. The wiretapping has been discussed in The New York Times, BBC, Fox News and we believe that it should be looked at by the House Intelligence Committee.

Stephanpolous: 

Sarah, I have to stop you. Sarah, I have got to stop you right there. Every single article you just mentioned does not back up the president’s claim that President Obama had him wiretapped. Not a single one of those articles backs that up. So, what is the president’s evidence?

Sanders: 

It does back up the fact that the administration was wiretapping American citizens. There was wide reporting suggesting that his administration, whether it was directly ordered by this president specifically, his administration could have done this.

Stephanopoulos:

Sarah, I have got to stop you again. No, Sarah, I have gpt to stop you again because that is simply not true. All the articles you just mentioned, not one of them says that President Trump ordered a wiretap. One of them was based on —

Sanders:

President Obama.

Stephanopoulos:

President Obama. One of them, based on anonymous sources, says there might have been a court ordered FISA wiretap. That has been denied by the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Sanders:

Look, I love how anonymous sources don’t matter anymore. We’ve been dealing with anonymous sources and having to fight back against that for the last six months. It’s funny how the media now starts to 

Stephanopoulos: 

But Sarah, hold on a second. Sarah, even if that one is true, even if that one is true, that is saying there was a court-ordered wiretap, not an illegal wiretap ordered by President Obama.

Sanders: 

Look, it would have been under this administration, George. You don’t get to just wash your hands of something whether it’s the Justice Department under which you control, which would have fallen under this administration and under this past president. I think the bigger question here is let’s let the House Intelligence Committee do its job, George.

Stephanopoulos: 

Sarah, that is simply – that is not true.

Sanders: 

They committed over the weekend –

Stephanopoulos: 

Sarah, hold on a second. Hold on a second. That is not true. There is a world of difference between an illegal wiretap ordered by a president and court-ordered wiretap approved by a federal judge. There is a world of difference between those two things.  

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, went on ABC’s GMA to try to justify position, but instead offered no coherent explanation for the president’s tweets. 

She claimed he was basing what he said on reports already in the public domain as Stephanopolous asked if Trump accepted the denial made through officials by the FBI Director, James Comey, of the existence of a wire tap.

‘You know, I don’t think he does, George,’ she said. 

‘I think he firmly believes that this is a storyline that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets. The wiretapping has been discussed in BBC, Fox News and we believe that it should be looked at by the House Intelligence Committee.’

That prompted Stephanopolous to intervene sand say: ‘Every single article you just mentioned does not back up the president’s claim that President Obama had him wiretapped. Not a single one of those articles backs that up.’

But she responded: ‘It does back up the fact that the administration was wiretapping American citizens. 

‘There was wide reporting suggesting that his administration, whether it was directly ordered by this president specifically, his administration could have done this.’

The move by Sanders means that the White House has now shifted from Trump’s original tweet to saying that it is possible that a wiretap was taking place without Obama’s knowledge. 

The White House provided a list to the Washington Post of some of the stories which it claims back up its case- including a New York Times report from January about the FBI investigating ‘broad links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump’, based on ‘intercepted communications’.

It offers nothing which would approach the president’s claims, and instead says: ‘It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself.’

It also highlighted a Fox News interview of Paul Ryan, in which anchor Bret Baier said to him: ‘Right, but there is a report in June 2016, a FISA request to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several other campaign officials. They got turned down, and in October, they renew it and they do start a wiretap at Trump [Tower].’

Ryan did not answer the question directly. It is unclear what Baier’s source for the question was. Trump was in Mar-a-Lago at the time of the show and it is possible, although not confirmed, that he was watching.

That interview was on Friday night, 12 hours before the Trump tweet – but it only suggested a report existed, not that the wiretap actually happened.

The BBC report which the Trump campaign cited also avoided the term wire tap and spoke about warrants.

Its report, however, was more focused on the dirty dossier and in it, the BBC’s Paul Wood claimed a second dossier existed.

Wood had come under fire for his report and the BBC itself has been dismissed by Trump as ‘another beauty’ – making it surprising that the White House is now relying on it as a source.  

However, aside from the list it provided, it was also said by White House aides –  the Washington Post reported – that a Brietbart article was key to Trump’s thinking.

It was published before the Fox News broadcast, and used the term ‘wiretap’, in reference to what it said was a warrant being issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the Fisa Court, in October.

Breitbart’s source for that appeared to be an article in Heat Street but its author, former British MP Louise Mensch, spoke on Twitter to point out that she had specifically not used the term ‘wiretap’.

Instead she had reported the existence of a Fisa Court warrant, not of a wiretap, and called Breitbart and Trump ‘unreliable sources’. 

The Alice in the Looking Glass nature of the claims being made by the White House came as the Democratic leadership scented blood.

The Hill reported that Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, on Monday wrote to Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, demanding that he investigate whether Trump had interfered with an active investigation.

‘The American people deserve to know if the investigation into Russia’s interference with our election and the administration’s contact with Russian officials has been compromised by political interference,’ Schumer wrote to Horowitz.

‘I … urge you to begin an immediate investigation into whether there has been any political interference with an ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation.’

A spokesman for Obama (pictured  in Washington on Sunday) denied Trump's allegation as 'simply false' on Saturday afternoon

A spokesman for Obama (pictured in Washington on Sunday) denied Trump’s allegation as ‘simply false’ on Saturday afternoon

Schumer had said at the weekend that Trump’s tweet was bad news ‘either way’.

If it was trued there had been a wiretap, it meant that the Fisa Court accepted there was probably cause that Trump or someone close to him was engaging with an agent of a foreign state.

LATEST TRUMP SPOKESPERSON IN TROUBLE

Sarah Huckabee Saunders is deputy to Sean Spicer – the man lampooned by Saturday Night Live.

She has yet to endure that treatment but has become an increasingly prominent face for the White House.

Huckabee Saunders, 34, is the daughter of ex-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who twice ran unsuccessfully for president.

Born and educated in Arkansas, she started working in politics there while her father was governor, worked for President George W Bush’s  re-election campaign in 2004, and both her father’s failed bids for the Republican nomination.

When his 2016 effort failed, she joined the Trump campaign and was named deputy press secretary after the election. 

If it was not true, Trump ‘falsely spread this kind of misinformation’, Schumer said, which he called: ‘So wrong.’

The DoJ and particularly FBI Director Comey is now at the center of the firestorm. 

After the shocking allegation of wiretapping that Trump compared to the Watergate scandal on Saturday, presidential aide Kellyanne Conway challenged Comey to reveal what he knows about the president’s claims. 

Conway demanded that Comey speak on the record if he wants to discredit the charges, although she could not confirm in the interview, on Fox News, that Trump knew for sure that the allegation is true.

Comey has made no public statement but the New York Times reported Comey has said that Trump’s claim is false and it should be corrected.

Sanders had already had a torrid time in a Sunday morning interview on ABC News. This Week host Martha Raddatz challenged her to back up the president’s previous claim that the wiretapping definitely happened. 

She defended the president’s tweet by suggesting it was raising a potential wiretap – when it baldly stated it as fact. 

‘You keep saying, if, if, if. The president of the United States said it was a fact,’ said Raddatz.  

‘If Mr Comey has something he’d like to say I’m sure we’re all willing to hear it,’ Conway told Fox News Channel’s Jeanine Pirro on Sunday night. 

‘All I saw was a published news report, I didn’t see a statement from him so I don’t know what Mr. Comey knows,’ the president’s counselor said. ‘If he knows, of course he can issue a statement… we know he’s not shy.’ 

Appearing on ABC on Monday, Sanders said of the president, ‘I don’t know that he has gotten a firm denial from the FBI.’

Asked if the president accepts reporting that says Comey did deny it, Sanders said, ‘The president wants the truth to come out to the American people and he is asking that it be done through the House Intelligence Committee and that that be the process that we go through.’

Stephanopoulos had asked her point blank at the beginning of the interview if Trump believes Comey, assuming with his question that the information in the New York Times article revealing the FBI director’s position was based on facts.

‘You know, I don’t think he does, George,’ Sanders said. ‘I think he firmly believes that this is a story line that has been reported pretty widely, by quite a few outlets…and we believe that it should be looked at by the House Intelligence committee.’

The Justice Department has not issued a statement that refutes Trump’s assertion. The FBI also declined to comment. 

According to the Times, Comey wants the Trump claim rejected publicly because it insinuates falsely that the FBI broke the law.

Conway was on Sunday asked by Pirro if Trump definitely knew he had been wiretapped. She only responded, ‘He may’. 

Trump launched a Twitter tirade early Saturday accusing Obama of tapping his phones at Trump Tower prior to the election

Trump launched a Twitter tirade early Saturday accusing Obama of tapping his phones at Trump Tower prior to the election

Trump has not provided any evidence to support his claims 

Trump has not provided any evidence to support his claims 

Christopher Ruddy (above) - CEO of Newsmax - revealed he spoke to Trump on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago estate  over the weekend, saying he had never seen him so furious

Christopher Ruddy (above) – CEO of Newsmax – revealed he spoke to Trump on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago estate over the weekend, saying he had never seen him so furious

Monday on ABC, Stephanopoulos told Sanders ‘it is not a fact that this has been done. You do not know that it is a fact that this has been done.’

He confronted her with denials from Comey, Obama, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Is the president calling all three liars, he wanted to know.

‘Not at all. He’s asking that we allow the House Intelligence Committee to do its job.’

TRUMP’S EXPLOSIVE WEEKEND:  

Friday: Trump had a heated meeting with Steve Bannon in Oval Office in the afternoon before leaving for Mar-a-Lago.

Saturday – 6.30am: Trump fired off a series of tweets accusing Obama of spying on him during election campaign.

Saturday afternoon: Obama’s spokesman denied claims he ordered wiretapping of Trump Tower.

FBI Director James Comey reportedly asked Justice Department to publicly refute Trump’s claims.

Sunday morning:  White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump Trump had called on Congress to investigate.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders would not say where Trump got his information during ABC interview.

Former intelligence director James Clapper told NBC he ‘absolutely denies’ Trump’s claim of wiretapping.

Sunday afternoon: Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes issued statement saying they will probe allegations.

Sunday night: Trump arrived back at the White House following his weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

Kellyanne Conway called on FBI director to issue a statement on what he knows about Trump’s claims  during an interview with Fox’s Jeanine Pirro.

Continuing, Sanders said, ‘It’s very interesting, George, how when this past president says its false, everybody’s like, “Oh, well, obviously it is.” But when we’ve been saying it for the past 6 months, nobody believes it.

‘Frankly, George, I think if the president walked across the Potomac the media would report that he can’t swim.’

Obama has also strongly denied the Trump claims.

But one of Trump’s friends, Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of conservative news site Newsmax, indicated in a column that Trump doesn’t believe Obama.

Ruddy says he spoke to Trump on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida over the weekend and had never seen him so furious.

‘I spoke with the president twice yesterday [Saturday] about the wiretap story. I haven’t seen him this p***ed off in a long time,’ Trump’s friend wrote in a Newsmax column publish Sunday.

‘When I mentioned Obama “denials” about the wiretaps, he shot back: “This will be investigated, it will all come out. I will be proven right,”‘ Ruddy said.

Both the Senate and the House intelligence committees now look set to broaden the scope of their inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 election to include the President’s claims about Obama.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, said in a statement that the panel ‘will follow the evidence where it leads, and we will continue to be guided by the intelligence and facts as we compile our findings’. 

Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the committee ‘will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates’. 

Trump, who returned to Washington on Sunday from a weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, has not personally commented in public on the allegations since he launched a Twitter tirade early Saturday.

The president has no open access events on Monday, which means journalists won’t have an opportunity to press him directly for answers. His press secretary will take questions from the press – but will hold the daily briefing off-camera, as he has for the past week.

The factual background to the row remains muddy.

In June last year, the Obama administration filed a request with the Fisa Court to monitor communications involving Trump and several advisers but the request was denied, according to multiple reports at the time.

Some media outlets say a follow-up request, narrower in scope was made in October, approved and led to an investigation, however this has not been verified. 

According to those claims, the new FISA request was focused on a Trump computer server alleging possible links with Russian banks. Some claim the server was based in Trump Tower.  

James Clapper, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, denied that this was the case over the weekend. Asked if there was a FISA court order to monitor Trump Tower he said: ‘Not to my knowledge’. 

U.S. presidents cannot legally order such wiretaps because they require the approval of a federal judge and reasonable grounds for suspicion. 

Sanders argued on Monday that the origin of a request – if there was one – doesn’t matter. Obama should be held responsible for the actions of his entire administration.

‘Look, it would have been under this administration, George. You don’t get to just wash your hands of something,’ she claimed, ‘whether it’s the Justice Department, under which you control, which would have fallen under this administration, and under this past president.’ 

Clapper told NBC’s Chuck Todd he ‘absolutely denies’ Trump’s claim that wiretapping occurred in the first place.

‘For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as director of national intelligence, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,’ he said.     

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