FBI Director James Comey has reportedly challenged US President Donald Trump’s wiretapping claims against his predecessor Barack Obama, advising the Justice Department to publicly refute the charges.
Comey asked the Trump administration on Saturday to withdraw the claim that Obama had ordered an illegal surveillance of Trump Tower before the presidential election, arguing that such allegations implicate the FBI as well, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Unnamed administration officials confirmed to the media that the exchange had indeed taken place.
The Justice Department had yet to respond to Comey's request to reject Trump's accusation.
Trump claimed Saturday that Obama abused his power and spied on his campaign over allegations that his team was connected to Moscow.
Aside from the issue of hurting the FBI's own credibility, the bureau believes that if Obama had indeed obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to eavesdrop on Trump, it could be indicative of ample evidence tying the former reality TV star to Russia.
Trump’s allegations were largely viewed as an effort by the new Republican president to contain the fallout from his cabinet members’ conversations with Russian officials.
The allegations were renewed last week, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was accused of not disclosing his meetings with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak last year.
Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, was fired last month for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his meetings with the Russian envoy.
Trump said Saturday that the Russian ambassador had “visited the Obama White House 22 times, and 4 times last year alone.”
Obama’s intel chief denies the claim
Meanwhile, James Clapper, who was Director of National Intelligence under Obama, also joined the long bipartisan list of officials who have rejected Trump’s charges.
“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,” Clapper told NBC on Sunday.
Trump’s supporters responded by questioning Clapper’s credibility, accusing him of lying to Congress while testifying under oath that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was not spying on millions of people in the US and abroad.
It was under the Obama administration that NSA’s extensive surveillance program against American and foreign nationals was exposed by security contractor Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asked Congress on Sunday to investigate Obama’s possible “abuse” of his investigative powers.