Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox commentator who is known for trafficking in right-wing conspiracy theories, floated the scenario today (Mar. 16) after U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI failed to produce evidence to backup Trump’s assertion.
Napolitano claimed he was told by “three intelligence officials,” all anonymous, that the British GCHQ– the UK’s equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA)– spied on Trump during the election at Obama’s request.
Update: Trump Apologizes
The US has made a formal apology to Britain after the White House accused GCHQ of helping Barack Obama spy on Donald Trump in the White House.
Sean Spicer, Mr Trump’s press secretary, repeated a claim on Thursday evening – initially made by an analyst on Fox News – that GCHQ was used by Mr Obama to spy on Trump Tower in the lead-up to last November’s election.
The comments prompted a furious response from GCHQ, which in a break from normal practice issued a public statement: “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.”
Trump has complained loudly about the media’s use of nameless sources, but apparently Napolitano didn’t get that memo.
Right-wing propaganda and fake news sites immediately ran with the story. But in Great Britain, the claim was quickly discredited.
John Schindler, a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer, said no evidence of the claim exists, simply because it didn’t happen.
“While NSA and GCHQ are the closest of spy partners, and have been since the Second World War, under no circumstances do they spy on each other’s nationals to skirt their own countries’ surveillance laws and regulations, Schindler wrote in the New York Observer.
“That is an insidious accusation, for which Napolitano has offered zero evidence.”
Schindler called Trump’s claim, which came over Twitter at 3:45 am, a “Trumpian flight of fancy.”
If any Trump associate turned up on a wiretap it was likely through their calls to Russian officials during the campaign, who are typically monitored by Western spy services.
“My friends still at NSA, where I served as the technical director of the Agency’s biggest operational division, have told me without exception that Trump’s accusation is wholly false, a kooky fantasy,” he wrote.
Ever since, Trump made the accusation a week and a half ago, White House officials have been trying to walk back the claim. Spokesman Sean Spicer tried to say Trump did not mean to say wiretapping literally because he put the word in quotes. Rather, he meant ” surveillance and other activities.”
Trump also tried to dodge through that loophole even though he used the the word, wiretap, in other Tweets without quotes.
“This transparent dodge is troubling for many reasons, not least because wiretapping has a specific legal and intelligence meaning,” Schindler wrote. “The Jersey judge, who frequently makes fact-free anti-NSA comments, seems to have no idea how signals intelligence works.”
Even the conservative, pro-Trump London Daily Mail is skeptical of the claim.
Britain’s GCHQ has issued a rare public statement dismissing White House claims that that the UK Intelligence firm may have helped Obama spy on Trump, the tabloid noted.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” the British agency said.
A British security official told Reuters news service the same thing. The claim is “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd,” the British government rep said.
In Congress, the reaction was much the same.
Sens. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, also rejected the claim.
“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,” they said in a statement.
Trump often cries “McCarthyism” when he’s unhappy about media coverage, but making claims without evidence is the essence of McCarthyism.
The fact that Napolitano would try to cover up by heaping a lie on top of a falsehood is so low, he has to look up to see down.