First the UK, now Germany. US President Donald Trump has now dragged two foreign allies into his unsubstantiated allegations of being wire-tapped after he tried to make common cause with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at their joint news conference on Friday.
“As far as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said, referring reports that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel in 2010, during President Barack Obama’s first term.
Trump meant it as a joke, of course, but Merkel showed only the slightest response, unwilling perhaps to be drawn into the unseemly controversy caused by the president’s allegation that he has not backed up with evidence yet.
“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” Trump said in a tweet on Saturday morning, pushing back against criticism of his remarks.
“Nevertheless, Germany owes…,” he said in the same tweet leading into the next, “…vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
The two leaders did talk about NATO — Trump reaffirmed strong support for it and reiterated every member should pay their fair share, and Merkel spoke said Germany agreed to the need for “increasing expenditure” — but it was the wiretap that dominated headlines.
Just hours before the news conference, the White House had apologised to the UK for press secretary Sean Spicer’s allegation that the GCHQ had spied on Trump Tower for Obama, which the British dismissed as “ridiculous”.
When asked about it at the news conference, Trump, instead of taking the opportunity to roll it back, blamed Fox TV news channel for making that allegation, which Spicer had recycled at his daily briefing from the White House.
Trump’s meeting with Merkel was one of the most significant of his young presidency, as the two have seemed to be on opposite ends on many critical issues such as free trade and immigration and the president has been very critical of the chancellor.
The awkwardness showed in their news conference, which in the end made headlines over a made-up issue, with criticism that the president had, as Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state, wrote in a tweet “managed, gratuitously, to sour relations with Germany & UK, two key allies & fellow democracies” in a single day.