Senator John McCain wants Donald Trump to put up or shut up about his unsubstantiated claims of wiretapping during the presidential election.
The veteran Senate Republican issued his call Sunday, one day before top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee expect the Justice Department to provide any evidence that could back up the president's claims that President Obama was behind supposed surveillance of Trump properties during the campaign.
Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican, and ranking Democrat Adam Schiff made the request for evidence in a letter last week to the acting deputy attorney general, and a copy of the letter was sent to FBI Chief James Comey, NBC reports. The Trump administration has been fairly quiet this week about the president's explosive and unsupported allegation that President Obama wiretapped his properties during the election season, but that hasn't stopped critics from assailing Trump.
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Schiff said Sunday in an appearance on ABC's "This Week" that he doesn't expect Justice will have any evidence to turn over, and laid out a stark choice between two narratives. "There are one of two possibilities here. Either the president quite deliberately, for some reason, made up this charge. Or perhaps, more disturbing, the president really believes this," Schiff said.
Trump's penchant for embracing conspiracy theories has real-world consequences and affects his credibility, Schiff said. For example, "if six months from now the president should say that Iran is cheating on the nuclear agreement, if he's making that up, it's a real problem. If he's not making it up and it's true, it's an even bigger problem. Because the question is, would people believe him? Would American people believe him?"
The president accused Obama of being a "bad (or sick) guy" in a series of tweets the morning of March 4 that claimed, "President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!" Trump appeared to get the charge from reports in the alt-right media and has not offered any proof. Obama's spokesperson flatly denied it, his former intelligence director said it wasn't true, and Comey reportedly asked Justice to issue a statement refuting Trump's claims. Amid the political firestorm, administration officials have tried to walk back the claim as one that was merely suggestive. Regardless, Nunes agreed to take up the White House's call for an investigation into the allegation, which is being handled as part of the committee's inquiry into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
McCain, in an appearance Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," said, "I think the president has one of two choices, either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve.
"I have no reason to believe that the charge is true. But I also believe that the president of the United States could clear this up in a minute. All he has to do is pick up the phone, call the director of the CIA, director of national intelligence, and say, OK, what happened? Because they certainly should know whether the former president of the United States was wiretapping Trump Tower."
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, July 25, 2016. Reuters
McCain also said Trump's claim needs backing or should be withdrawn because simply levying the accusation damages confidence in the government. "I do believe that...accusing a former president of the United States of doing something which is not only illegal, but just unheard of, then that requires corroboration. If true, or the allegation is left out there, it undermines the confidence the American people have in the entire way that the government does business," he said.
The wiretapping allegation has remained in the spotlight while House Republican leadership and the White House try to sell the public, plus skeptical Democrats and more than a few Republicans, on the merits of its Obamacare replacement bill, the American Health Care Act. House Speaker Paul Ryan, in an appearance Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," acknowledged that Trump's "unconventional presidency" has overshadowed GOP messaging. Trump's wiretapping tweets "weren't really part of the healthcare marketing campaign," he joked. The speaker issued a flat "no" when asked if he had seen any evidence that suggests Trump's claim could be true. Try Newsweek: Subscription offers