President Trump walked back his claim that former President Obama wiretapped his phones during the presidential campaign in an interview Wednesday, while again offering no evidence to back up the extraordinary allegation.
The president made the claim that then-President Obama secretly ordered the tapping of his phones at Trump Tower in a startling early-morning tweet on March 4.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!,” he wrote.
On Wednesday night, however, he told Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson that he used quotation marks in his tweet alleging wiretapping because “that really covers surveillance and many other things.”
“When I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes,” he said. “That really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that's a very important thing.”
However, the president did not use the punctuation in all of his tweets on the subject, and has specifically referenced phone surveillance in the allegations.
Instead, Trump cited, and in the same breath attacked, The New York Times which he said wrote about the issue months ago using the word “wiretap.”
“Not that I respect the New York Times, I call it 'The Failing New York Times,'” Trump said. “But they did write on January 20 using the word wiretap.”
Trump, who as president has the US intelligence and spy agencies at his disposal, also cited Fox News Channel host Bret Baier for his claims, alleging that Baier in the days prior “was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping.”
“I said, 'Wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about,'” Trump told Carlson. “I've been seeing a lot of things.”
While Trump hinted at submitting some sort of evidence to a congressional committee looking into the matter, he offered no indication of what that information was or whether it was obtained by any of the US intelligence agencies.
The New York Times article cited by Trump reported on intercepted communications being part of an investigation looking into Russian links to close advisers to Trump during the presidential campaign, including Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone.
Intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic National committee and that it did so in hopes of tipping the election in Trump's favor.
However, the Times article makes no mention of Trump's phone lines being wiretapped by investigators, and also notes that the counterintelligence agencies examined connections between Americans and foreign governments.
In Wednesday night's interview, Carlson pressed Trump to explain why he hasn't as president ordered the release of information proving his assertion.
“Let's see whether or not I proved it,” Trump said. “You looked at some proof. I mean, let's see whether or not I prove it. I just don't choose to do it right now.”
Trump said he had trust in the congressional committee looking into the matter and that, “maybe I'll do it before the committee. Maybe I'll do it before I see the result of the committee. But I think we have some very good stuff. And we're in the process of putting it together.”
Just hours before the interview aired, however, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said there is no evidence to support the president's claim that he was wiretapped by the previous administration.
“I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Rep. Devin Nunes, a Trump supporter, told reporters.
Asked whether there is anyone in his administration that might look over his tweets before they are published to his millions of followers, Trump defended his use of social media, telling Carlson it was a direct line to his supporters.
“I think maybe i wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Twitter,” Trump said. “I have my own form of media.”