Trump is not backing down from his claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, despite Congressional investigation finding no evidence it happened. But now he’s claiming that it wasn’t American intelligence that spied on him, but British intelligence, at Obama’s behest, solely because a Fox News contributor speculated about it. On Monday (as you can see in the above video), Fox’s legal analyst, Andrew Napolitano, who it should be noted has never worked in intelligence, speculated that Obama had spied on Trump via foreign intelligence agencies.
And during today’s White House press briefing, Sean Spicer more or less repeated the substance of Napolitano’s accusation:
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) March 16, 2017
To be fair, there’s precedent for this behavior: For example, during the Obama administration, the American intelligence community was accused of spying on international political figures such as Angela Merkel and Pope Francis. However, this case is far different for several reasons.
The first is that a sitting President is accusing one of our closest allies of illegal surveillance at the behest of his predecessor. Stop and consider that from a moment: The Trump administration is essentially declaring that his predecessor not only evaded the law, but that he created an international conspiracy and conscripted other nation’s resources to do it. This is the stuff of Hollywood thrillers, not intelligence community behavior or foreign policy.
That might cause severe damage to relations between the US and the UK, especially if Trump maintains the accusation in the absence of any proof, or demands the UK investigate the claims. Secondly, the fact that the White House is demanding that what amounts to unsubstantiated gossip be treated as policy, especially in this situation, is likely to cool relations with other allies. It’s unlikely to sit well with foreign nations that the word of a cable pundit carries more weight with the White House than decades of carefully built diplomacy. We’ll have to wait to see the effects, but there will likely be repercussions the White House hasn’t considered.