Late Monday, a spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (Republican-California) threatened to subpoena the Trump administration to produce evidence of Trump's claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. The White House has declined to produce this evidence publicly, offering various excuses, including the Constitution's separation of powers and - most recently on Monday - arguing that Trump wasn't speaking literally when he made the claim.
The Justice Department missed Nunes's deadline to provide evidence Monday, which drew Nunes's subpoena threat.
“If the committee does not receive a response, the committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said.
Then, on Tuesday, Senator Lindsey O. Graham (Republican-South Carolina) made his own threat. Last week, Graham - who is clearly sceptical of the wiretapping claim and chairs a subcommittee looking into it - asked the Justice Department and the FBI to provide copies of any warrants or court orders related to the alleged wiretapping. Having not received anything, Graham said Tuesday that he would announce his next steps Wednesday and may push for a special committee.
It's clear as day what's going on here.
The White House's reactions to Trump's evidence-free claims - be it this one or the one about millions of illegal votes in 2016 - is to call for investigations. That has the triple benefit of putting the onus on someone else to look into it, to buy some time and hope people forget that the president is making such wild allegations, and, in this case, to give themselves an excuse to clam up. The White House initially said it wouldn't comment on Trump's wiretapping claim while it was being investigated and then it said it couldn't provide evidence because of separation of powers - another claim that strained credulity.
But that also puts Republicans such as Nunes and Graham in the position of having to account for these claims - and calling on Trump and his team to put up or shut up. By pushing the administration to produce evidence - or else - they are effectively putting the ball back in the executive branch's court. The subtext: You can't just make these claims and then ask us to deal with the fallout.
Nunes in particular has faced some very tough questions from reporters, and he must feel as though he's being hung out to dry. Graham's angle is slightly different, in that he clearly doesn't think Trump's claim is accurate and wants to prove it. “If there is no warrant, then we’ll have solved this problem: There was no wiretapping,” he said this week.
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
1/9 Trump and the media
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer takes questions during the daily press briefing
2/9 Trump and the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Union leaders applaud US President Donald Trump for signing an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington DC. Mr Trump issued a presidential memorandum in January announcing that the US would withdraw from the trade deal
3/9 Trump and the Mexico wall
A US Border Patrol vehicle sits waiting for illegal immigrants at a fence opening near the US-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas. The number of incoming immigrants has surged ahead of the upcoming Presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, who has pledged to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. A signature campaign promise, Mr Trump outlined his intention to build a border wall on the US-Mexico border days after taking office
4/9 Trump and abortion
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus looks on in the Oval Office of the White House. Mr Trump reinstated a ban on American financial aide being granted to non-governmental organizations that provide abortion counseling, provide abortion referrals, or advocate for abortion access outside of the United States
5/9 Trump and the Dakota Access pipeline
Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally as they protest US President Donald Trump's executive orders advancing their construction, at Columbus Circle in New York. US President Donald Trump signed executive orders reviving the construction of two controversial oil pipelines, but said the projects would be subject to renegotiation
6/9 Trump and 'Obamacare'
Nancy Pelosi who is the minority leader of the House of Representatives speaks beside House Democrats at an event to protect the Affordable Care Act in Los Angeles, California. US President Donald Trump's effort to make good on his campaign promise to repeal and replace the healthcare law failed when Republicans failed to get enough votes. Mr Trump has promised to revisit the matter
7/9 Donald Trump and 'sanctuary cities'
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January threatening to pull funding for so-called "sanctuary cities" if they do not comply with federal immigration law
8/9 Trump and the travel ban
US President Donald Trump has attempted twice to restrict travel into the United States from several predominantly Muslim countries. The first attempt, in February, was met with swift opposition from protesters who flocked to airports around the country. That travel ban was later blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The second ban was blocked by a federal judge a day before it was scheduled to be implemented in mid-March
SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images
9/9 Trump and climate change
US President Donald Trump sought to dismantle several of his predecessor's actions on climate change in March. His order instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reevaluate the Clean Power Plan, which would cap power plant emissions
Whether this will actually give Trump any pause in the future when making such allegations is an open question. But these members want to make sure he and the people around him at least think twice before saddling them and their GOP colleagues with another evidence-free Trump claim.
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