Britain’s communications spy agency GCHQ has issued a rare public denial of “utterly ridiculous” claims it spied on Donald Trump, acknowledging that the vehement tone of its statement was “unusual”.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then-president elect are nonsense,” a GCHQ spokesperson said.
“They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesperson said in a statement late on Thursday.
GCHQ’s press office told AFP on Friday that it was “not unusual” for the agency to make public comment but acknowledged that “perhaps the tone of it was unusual”.
The agency does not normally comment on intelligence matters, though it has stepped up its public relations in recent months, including for recruitment drives and warnings on cyber security.
Britain and the US -- along with Australia, Canada and New Zealand -- are part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing alliance forged from the embers of World War II.
Trump accused former president Barack Obama on March 4 of a “Nixon/Watergate”-like wiretapping plot that would almost certainly break US law.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
President Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer repeated the allegations on Thursday, quoting from the Fox News report in which Napolitano spoke.
Trump had accused former president Barack Obama on March 4 of a “Nixon/Watergate”-like plot that would almost certainly break US law.
In the subsequent Fox report, Napolitano claimed that “three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command” to order the surveillance.
“He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice,” Napolitano said, adding that Obama used the GCHQ.
Members of Congress from both parties who are investigating the claims have found no evidence to support them.
Tim Farron, leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, an opposition party, called Spicer’s repetition of the claims made by Napolitano “shameful”.
“Trump is compromising the vital UK-US security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment,” he said, adding: “This harms our and US security.”