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The White House is trying to clean up its mess after UK intel slaps down wiretapping allegations

The White House is trying to clean up its mess after UK intel slaps down wiretapping allegations

The White House has apologized to British intelligence officials after alleging that the U.K. security agency wiretapped Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. According to the Telegraph, National security adviser H.R. McMaster spoke to his British counterpart in a private phone call Thursday, clarifying comments made by U.S. Press Secretary Sean Spicer, which McMaster said were “unintentional.”

The apology came after British intelligence officials took the rare step of issuing a public statement to deny the White House claim that the U.K. wiretapped Donald Trump, calling the accusation “utterly ridiculous.”

The statement from GCHQ, the U.K. government’s intelligence and security organization, came after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated the sensational claim – initially made by a Fox News analyst – in an attempt Thursday to support Trump’s statements that former president Barack Obama tapped his phones.

The allegation originated from Fox News’ judicial analyst and former judge Andrew Napolitano, who said Tuesday that three intelligence sources had confirmed to him that Obama used British intelligence to spy on Trump to ensure there were “no American fingerprints.”

The highly secretive GCHQ – Britain’s equivalent of the NSA – seldom makes public statements, but it didn’t hold back this time. “Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

The leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said earlier Thursday that there were “no indications that Trump Tower had been subjected to surveillance” by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.” The bipartisan statement echoed the earlier findings of their counterparts in the House.

Despite this, during Thursday’s press briefing Sean Spicer insisted that Trump “stands by” his statements that he was under surveillance. Trump first made the allegations in a series of tweets earlier this month, in which he accused Obama (“Bad (or sick) guy!”) of tapping his phones (“A NEW LOW!”), but has so far failed to produce any evidence to support the claim.

U.S. and British intelligence are close partners, forming the heart of the world’s most powerful surveillance network, Five Eyes, along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. British MP Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats party, said it was “shameful” that Trump was prepared to potentially jeopardize the relationship in a bid to stand up his wiretap theory.

“Trump is compromising the vital UK-US security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment. This harms our and U.S. security.”

UPDATED (10:55 EST) to reflect the White House apology to U.K. intelligence officials.

 

Cover: Daniel Bockwoldt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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