The White House has said Donald Trump is “very confident” that his claim Barack Obama wiretapped him before the election will be vindicated.
The president startled the country when he claimed earlier this month his predecessor had ordered electronic surveillance of Trump Tower during the 2016 election. Two congressional committees have agreed to look into the claim, which Mr Trump made without providing any evidence and which Mr Obama has strongly refuted.
The congressional committees have asked the Department of Justice to provide any evidence to support the allegation by March 20, and threatened to seek court orders if it does not do so.
Mr Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer was asked on Tuesday how confident the president was that evidence would be found to support his claim.
“I think he’s extremely confident. I will let the committees do their jobs, but there is significant reporting about surveillance techniques during the 2016 election,” he said.
“I will leave it up to the [congressional committees] to issue their reports. But he feels very confident that ultimately [he will be] vindicated.”
The intelligence committees of the US house and senate have said they will include Mr Trump’s claim as part of their ongoing probes into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election. They had asked that the White House provide any information it had to support the claim by Monday.
The Department of Justice asked for extra time, and was told the information should be collected and handed over by March 20.
Asked whether the White House would ensure such evidence was made available, Mr Spicer sought to dodge the question. When reporters continued to press him, he said “I feel very confident” that such information would be made available.
Mr Spicer’s comments came a day after he appeared to somewhat walk away from Mr Trump’s wiretap claim, suggesting the president had not been speaking literally when he talked of a wiretap. He said the president was referring “broadly” to a range of surveillance and monitoring techniques that were reportedly taking place during the election.
The White House has said Mr Trump based his claim on media reports - apparently one in the right wing Breitbart News site, once managed by his special advisor Steve Bannon.
Yet in his tweet, Mr Trump spoke specifically of a wiretap. He also referred to an “earlier” court decision that had turned down such a wiretap request.
Observers pointed out that any surveillance could only have been undertaken by the FBI after obtaining a warrant from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court - implying that a judge must have believed there was sufficient suspicion of wrongdoing to grant such approval.
Intelligence officials told US media they were not aware of any such operation being carried out.
Mr Obama’s spokesman said “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false”.
Mr Spicer told reporters on Monday: “He does not think Obama went out there and wiretapped him personally. There are are a whole host of techniques to or surveil someone.”
He added: “The president was very clear in his tweet that it was wiretapping - that spans a whole host of surveillance types of options. The house and the senate intelligence committees will now look into that and provide a report back.”