FBI chief James Comey 'urges Justice Department to publicly refute Donald Trump's wiretap claim'

President alleges Barack Obama monitored his communications, without providing evidence

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FBI director James Comey has asked the Justice Department to reject publicly Donald Trump’s claim that Barack Obama wiretapped his communications, according to US media reports. 

Senior officials close to Mr Comey said he has privately called on the department to dismiss the false claims, the New York Times reported, because they imply the FBI has acted illegally. 

The President tweeted on Saturday that Mr Obama had ordered FBI agents to monitor communications coming in and out of Trump Tower in October, comparing it to "McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate". 

He gave no evidence to support his claim but a report by alt-right website Breitbart made the same allegation one day earlier – again citing no evidence or official sources. 

On Sunday, the White House asked Congress to include the allegations in its investigation into whether Russia interfered in the election.

The Justice Department has yet to issue a formal statement on the matter. 

Mr Comey privately said he believed there was no evidence to support Mr Trump's claim, US media reported. He will come under pressure from Democrats to come out with a public statement on the matter, as it is the FBI that would have records to show whether Mr Trump’s claims are true. 

The top intelligence official last entered the public fray when he announced a renewed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just days before the presidential election, following the arrest of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner and after it was revealed he shared an email account with his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin. 

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He became the most senior Obama era law enforcement official to retain his position in the Trump administration.

But the most senior politically-appointed official in the Justice Department, who would be in a position to speak out, is the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr Sessions has recused himself from oversight of the election investigation after it was revealed he met with the Russian ambassador twice during the election campaign. 

Mr Sessions is a close ally to Mr Trump and has spent the weekend with him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Mr Obama has denied ever ordering the wiretapping of any US citizen and his spokesman Kevin Lewis said a “cardinal rule” of his administration was that “no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice”.

A former Attorney General under George W Bush, Michael Mukasey, suggested that it was possible Trump Tower had been bugged but it would not have been at Mr Obama’s request.

He said it was quite common for the FBI to wiretap people they suspect of acting as an agent for a foreign country. 

But the former director of national intelligence under Mr Obama, James Clapper, flatly denied the existence of any such order to bug Mr Trump during his tenure. 

He told NBC’s Meet the Press: “For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the President-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.”