Pressure builds on Trump to back off wiretap accusations


Reuters

UPDATE 3-Pressure builds on Trump to back off wiretap accusations


(Adds Nunes comments about DOJ documents)
    By Emily Stephenson and Caren BohanWASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers from both
parties said on Sunday they had seen no proof to support the
claim by Republican President Donald Trump that his predecessor
Barack Obama had wiretapped him last year, adding pressure on
Trump to explain or back off his repeated assertion.
    Several Republicans last week urged Trump to apologize for
the allegations he made in a series of tweets on March 4. The
maelstrom also caused tension with key U.S. allies and threatens
to distract Republicans from campaign promises on health care
and taxes.
    "I don't know the basis for President Trump's assertion,"
U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, said on NBC's "Meet
the Press." "I do believe he owes us that explanation."
    Collins said she supported Trump as president, but she
wouldn't side with him if he "misstated what the facts are."
    FBI Director James Comey is expected to be asked about
Trump's claims when he testifies at a rare public hearing on
Monday about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential
election. Russia has denied the assertion it was involved in
hacked emails and other attempts to influence the race.
    Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House
Intelligence Committee holding the hearing, called Trump's
claims "patently false" and said he expected Comey to say as
much on Monday.
    The Justice Department on Friday delivered documents to
congressional committees to help clear up whether the Obama
administration spied on Trump.
    Republican Representative Devin Nunes, who leads the House
intelligence panel, said after receiving the material, he saw no
evidence of wiretapping.
    But Nunes, who served on Trump's transition team, joined the
White House in seeking to shift attention away from the
controversies by calling for investigations of leaks to the news
media.
    Nunes said on "Fox News Sunday" that leaks to reporters
about former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn were
criminal and that his panel was probing whether other names were
leaked.
    Trump has been dogged by allegations that his associates had
ties to Russian officials. He fired Flynn last month after
reports he had discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador
before Trump took office, without telling other White House
officials.
    "The one crime we know that's been committed is that one:
the leaking of someone's name," Nunes said. "Were there any
other names that were ... leaked out?"
    Nunes also said ahead of Monday's hearing he had seen "no
evidence" of collusion between Russia and Trump's team. But
Schiff, the panel's top Democrat, said there was enough
"circumstantial evidence" that he still had questions.

    NOT BACKING DOWN
    Meanwhile, the White House has not backed down on Trump's
surveillance claims.
    The administration was forced to reassure key ally Britain
after White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated a Fox
News analyst's claim that a British intelligence agency helped
Obama wiretap Trump. The British government strongly denied it.
    The issue led to an awkward moment on Friday at a joint
press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel
when Trump was asked about the wiretap claims by a German
reporter.
    Trump said he and Merkel had "something in common,"
apparently referring to reports during the Obama administration
that Merkel's phone was bugged. The quip left the German leader
looking bewildered.
    Senior Republican Representative Tom Cole told reporters on
Friday that Trump owed Obama an apology. Representatives Charlie
Dent and Will Hurd, also Republicans, made similar comments.
    "I see no indication that that's true," Cole said of the
wiretapping charge.
    Unless Trump produces convincing proof, Cole added,
"President Obama is owed an apology."

 (Reporting By Emily Stephenson and Caren Bohan; Editing by Phil
Berlowitz and Jeffrey Benkoe)
 ((caren.bohan@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: Follow me
on Twitter: @carenbohan))

Keywords: USA TRUMP/RUSSIA (UPDATE 3)



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