WASHINGTON — The leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday flatly refuted President Trump's claims that his New York offices were wiretapped by the Obama administration in advance of the November election.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016," Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a joint statement.
The rebuke comes a day after the House Intelligence Committee offered a similar assessment, leaving the White House virtually alone in asserting the surveillance claim.
The unusually strong, bipartisan statement left little room for the White House to continue its defense of Trump's extraordinary allegations that implied that former president Barack Obama engaged in a possible criminal act.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House panel, and California Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee's ranking Democrat, issued an equally strong repudiation of the wiretap claim.
"We don't have any evidence that that took place,'' Nunes said. "I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.''
The definitive statements from two of the most powerful congressional committees also come just days before FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, where he is expected to be asked about Trump's claims and the ongoing federal investigation into communications between Trump associates and Russian government officials.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also threw cold water on Trump's theory, telling reporters Thursday: "We've cleared that up; we've seen no evidence of that."
In recent days, Trump and his aides have attempted to redefine the president's claims, saying that his use of the wiretapping term covers a variety of surveillance techniques.
"Wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff," Trump told Fox News' Tucker Carlson in an interview Wednesday, echoing comments his aides have made in recent days. "But that really covers surveillance and many other things."
Obama's spokesman has denied wiretapping, noting that presidents are prohibited by law from wiretapping and that such surveillance would have to be approved by a special court.
Trump's accusation, first made in a March 4 series of tweets, comes amid an investigation into whether the president or his associates had contacts with Russians involved in the effort to hack Democratic Party officials during last year's election. Trump has said he had nothing to do with Russia and described the probes as witch-hunts.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
In his Fox News interview, Trump said, "We will be submitting certain things and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week. But it's right now before the committee ... I have a lot of confidence in the committee."
Trump told Carlson he based his accusations on various news reports (as opposed to intelligence agencies).
In defending his expanded definition of the term wiretapping, Trump said he put term "in quotes" during his March 4 tweet-storm, and "that's a very important thing."