As President Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first foreign tour, US media reports have kept the focus on his White House and relations to Russia. Senators say fired FBI head Comey will testify in Congress.
The New York Times has reported that President Trump told Russian officials that his firing of former FBI Director James Comey had eased “great pressure” Trump faced.
The newspaper cited a document detailing the White House meeting Trump held with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said on May 10, according to the paper. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The New York Times cited an unnamed US official as its source for receiving the comments, which had been taken down in notes summarizing the meeting.
Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr
Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, although a date has not yet been set, according to the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard Burr.
Burr said on Friday the former FBI director would testify in an open setting before the committee which wanted to know from Comey about his role in the assessment Russia interfered in last year’s election and his response to questions that have arisen since his dismissal.
White House response
In response to the latest reports on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer again rejected the allegations and said, “A thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”
Spicer said of the former FBI director: “by grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”
President Trump with former FBI Director James Comey in January
A person of interest
In a separate news report on Friday, the Washington Post claimed that a senior White House adviser was a person of significant interest in the investigation into possible ties between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.
The Post said the source of its information would not further identify the official, who was described as being a person close to Trump. The report claimed the investigation appeared to be entering a more open and active phase, with investigators conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas.
The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials.
House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in response to the reports “every day the president gives us more reason to believe that he does not respect the office that he holds.” She expressed optimism ahead of 2018 midterm elections, which could return Democrats back to control of the House.
Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the panel should request White House documents related to the May 10 meeting and subpoena them if necessary. Cummings called Trump’s reported comment “astonishing and extremely troubling.”
Trump himself left Washington on Friday for his first international trip, beginning in Saudi Arabia. Air Force One took off with the president, first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as senior advisers and journalists. The group will then travel to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.
TRUMP’S MIDDLE EAST VISIT – AWAITED WITH SKEPTICISM AND HOPE
Nayef al-Hayzan in Saudi Arabia: ‘Will have positive impact’
US President Trump visits two bastions of relative calm in the war-battered Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Israel. In a café in Riyadh, Nayef al-Hayzan explained why he is confident about the US president’s trip: “I expect that Trump’s visit will have a positive impact on the Saudi economy, and discussions are expected to tackle the problems in Syria.”
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NOW PLAYINGAll senators invited to WH briefing on North Korea
The entire U.S. Senate has been invited to the White House for a briefing Wednesday on the North Korea situation, amid escalating tensions over the country’s missile tests and bellicose rhetoric.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the upcoming briefing, for all 100 senators, on Monday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats plan to provide the update to lawmakers.
It is rare for the entire Senate to be invited to such a briefing.
Spicer clarified that while the event will take place on the White House campus, it is technically a Senate briefing and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is the one who convened it.
The briefing, first reported by Reuters, was confirmed after President Trump earlier spoke to the leaders of both China and Japan.
Xi told Trump that China strongly opposed North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and hoped “all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation,” according to Chinese broadcaster CCTV. Trump hopes China could increase pressure on its isolated ally instead of using military options or trying to overthrow Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Trump and Abe agreed to urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions.
Meanwhile, U.S. commercial satellite images indicated increased activity around North Korea’s nuclear test site, while Kim has said that the country’s preparation for an ICBM launch is in its “final stage.”
South Korea’s Defense Ministry has said the North appears ready to conduct such “strategic provocations” at any time. South Korean Acting Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has instructed his military to strengthen its “immediate response posture” in case North Korea does something significant on the April 25 anniversary of its military. North Korea often marks significant dates by displaying military capability.
On Monday, Trump also had lunch with ambassadors of countries on the U.N. Security Council. Ahead of the meeting, Trump called for “big reforms” at the U.N. and criticizing its handling of recent events in Syria and North Korea – but said it has “tremendous potential.”
“You just don’t see the United Nations, like, solving conflicts. I think that’s going to start happening now,” he said.
Fox News’ Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday that he told members of the Detroit area’s Arab-American and Latino communities that he is committed to keeping the country safe without targeting anyone based on a person’s ethnicity or religious affiliation.
“Generally speaking, I think they were most interested in hearing from someone who has this job and makes no distinction between race, color, politics. It’s all about protecting America,” the retired Marine general said of the meetings that took place earlier Monday in Detroit’s suburbs.
Kelly spoke with reporters following an afternoon tour of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Detroit just across the river from Canada. The secretary was joined by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat and member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The White House wants to boost border security, but mostly has focused its attention on the southern border, where President Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall to stem illegal immigration.
The Trump administration also wants to restrict immigration from six majority-Muslim countries, but the president’s revised executive order on the topic has been blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland.
Kelly stressed during Monday’s media availability that Trump’s order is not based on a person’s religion, but rather is an attempt to keep the U.S. safe from the “real threat” of terrorism.
Messages left with some people who attended the meeting were not immediately returned.
Joaquin Castro defends questioning James Comey on Russian dossier
Joaquin Castro defends questioning James Comey on Russian dossier
Yahoo News Video
WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sean Spicer, reacting to news from the first day of House Intelligence Committee hearings into the 2016 election, tried to steer reporters away from questions about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials — and onto the administration’s preferred topic, news media leaks about intercepted conversations involving fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Spicer’s customary daily press briefing took place in the afternoon as FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers were still testifying. Earlier in the day, Comey said he had “no information” to support Trump’s claim that his predecessor, President Obama, wiretapped his campaign — a widely anticipated statement that did not lead to a retraction by the White House.
Trump’s press secretary minimized reports of contact between Russian officials and Trump campaign figures, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was described by Spicer as having played “a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
“Following this testimony, it’s clear that nothing has changed. Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion,” Spicer said.
Spicer added that there was “new information that came from the hearing that we believe is newsworthy,” referring to “the unmasking of Americans identified in intelligence reports and the illegal leak of such unmasked individuals.” He described this as a “federal crime.”
American surveillance of foreign officials such as Kislyak is routine, but the identities of U.S. citizens who are monitored as part of those efforts are supposed to remain classified, or “masked.” Spicer noted that Comey said “certain political appointees in the Obama administration had access to the names of unmasked U.S. citizens.”
“Before President Obama left office, Michael Flynn was unmasked, and then, illegally, his identity was leaked to media outlets,” Spicer said.
The Trump administration has repeatedly suggested that officials from the Obama administration may be attempting to undermine Trump. The issue of the leaks, however, is unrelated to Trump’s allegation that Obama wiretapped offices in Trump Tower.
The first question Spicer faced came from ABC’s Jon Karl, who turned the focus back to the president’s unsupported wiretapping claim. Karl pointed out that Comey said there he had no information that backed up that accusation, and he asked Spicer whether Trump is prepared to “withdraw that allegation and apologize” to Obama.
“No,” Spicer said flatly.
Spicer went on to note that the hearings are still “ongoing” and suggested further information might emerge. Trump has also claimed that additional revelations will support his allegation.
Karl continued by pointing out that Comey said the FBI is investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“I don’t think that’s what he said,” Spicer declared.
Comey did, indeed, say the FBI is probing whether there was “cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Spicer noted that “investigating it and having proof of it are two different things.” He cited numerous officials who have said they have seen no evidence that such collusion occurred.
“There’s a point at which you continue to search for something that everybody who’s been briefed hasn’t seen or found — I think it’s fine to look into it, but at the end of the day, they’re going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else has had,” said Spicer. “So, you can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn’t exist doesn’t matter.”
Spicer also dismissed reports that have emerged about Trump associates who did have connections with Russia. He suggested these were all people who did not have a real connection to the campaign.
“There is a discussion, I heard some names thrown around before that were hangers-on or on the campaign,” Spicer said. He added, “Some of those names, the greatest amount of interaction that they’ve had is cease-and-desist letters sent to them.”
In response to another question by Karl, Spicer acknowledged that he was referring to Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and early adviser who left the campaign in August 2015, and Carter Page, who was for a time a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. Spicer also noted that former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had ties to Russia, but he minimized Manafort’s role in the campaign.
“Obviously, there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” Spicer said.
“Paul Manafort didn’t play a limited role!” Karl interjected incredulously.
In fact, Manafort was involved with the Trump campaign for about five months, including about two as the campaign’s top official. Manafort eventually quit Trump’s campaign last August as Trump’s poll numbers were falling and amid growing controversy about his links to Russia.
Yahoo News texted Manafort to ask whether he agreed with Spicer’s characterization of his “very limited role.” Manafort did not respond, but he later released a statement reading, in part:
“I had no role or involvement in the cyberattack on the DNC or the subsequent release of information gained from the attack, and I have never spoken with any Russian Government officials or anyone who claimed to have been involved in the attack. … Despite the constant scrutiny and innuendo, there are no facts or evidence supporting these allegations, nor will there be.”
What we learned from the testimony of FBI Director James Comey
On Monday, March 20, 2017, Yahoo News an Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga talks with Yahoo News Chief Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff regarding the testimony of FBI Director James Comey before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. Comey was questioned regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election but touched on several other subjects as well.
Chancellor Merkel and President Trump have held their first joint press conference at the White House. Items on the agenda for the first meetings between the two leaders are NATO, immigration and global trade.
Merkel: ‘Security and defense have many dimensions’
They sat for photos in the Oval Office following their talks and roundtable discussion with US and German business leaders. Trump had quipped with journalists, urging them to “send a good picture back to Germany, please.” Despite awkward body language from both leaders, Merkel said the talks went “very well.”
Trump is the third US President Merkel has met as chancellor. She took time in the press conference to appreciate the role of the US in rebuilding Germany after World War II through the Marshall Plan, and in reunifying Germany after 1989.
On defense and NATO spending
Trump reaffirmed his “strong support” for the NATO alliance, but he also said he had pressed the chancellor to increase Germany’s defense budget and to meet the 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending. NATO allies, the president said, need to “pay their fair share” for the cost of defense.
“Many nations owe vast sums of money” and that situation is “very unfair to the United States,” Trump said.
Merkel pledged to continue to increase Germany’s defense budget and reaffirmed her commitment of achieving the 2 percent of GDP threshold by 2024. Germany’s current level is 1.2 percent. Merkel also stressed the need to find a solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
In her opening remarks at the press conference, Merkel said it was important to “talk to one another and not about one another.”
Ahead of their press conference, Trump hosted a roundtable discussion with the chancellor and a delegation of German and US business leaders, where he voiced his praise for Germany’s vocational apprenticeship schemes.
Ahead of the chancellor’s trip to Washington, German political and business leaders had expressed concerns that Trump’s “America First” policy favors US exports. Answering a reporter’s question about protectionism at the press conference in the White House on Friday, Trump pushed back against any accusations that his economic policy was isolationist.
“I’m a free trader but also a fair trader,” Trump said, adding that he expected “fair and reciprocal policies” in Washington’s relationship with Berlin. However, Trump did not rule out adopting more protectionist policies and said previous trade policies had left millions of US citizens being “behind by international commerce.”
Ahead of Merkel and Trump’s meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble spoke out against the US president’s brand of protectionism during a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Baden-Baden.
The White House meeting had been initially been scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed after a major snowstorm blanketed large parts of the US east coast.
Perhaps the most anticipated remarks from both leaders were on each country’s divergent immigration policies.
However, just days after his executive order temporarily suspending the US refugee program and barring people from a number of Muslim-majority countries, Trump reaffirmed his position that “Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first, without question.”
Merkel did not speak in depth on immigration but said she agreed with the president in stressing the importance of tackling illegal immigration and combatting radical threats. She confirmed the need for strong borders but also to help people in their own countries in Africa and the Middle East, before they became refugees.
“You watch what happens to Angela Merkel, who I always thought of as a very good leader until she did this,” Trump, then a candidate, said at a rally in Virginia in August. “I don’t know what went wrong with her. Angela, what happened?”
Merkel: “People are different”
dm/jm (AFP, Reuters)
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I continue to worry about Steve Bannon. I see him in the White House photos, but he never has that sprightly Prince of Darkness gleam in his eye anymore.
His governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies. I’m beginning to fear that he’s spending his days sitting along the wall in the Roosevelt Room morosely playing one of those Risk-style global empire video games on his smartphone.
Back in the good old days — like two months ago — it was fun to watch Bannon operate. He was the guy with a coherent governing philosophy. He seemed to have realized that the two major party establishments had abandoned the working class. He also seemed to have realized that the 21st-century political debate is not big versus small government, it’s open versus closed.
Bannon had the opportunity to realign American politics around the social, cultural and economic concerns of the working class. Erect barriers to keep out aliens from abroad, and shift money from the rich to the working class to create economic security at home.
It was easy to see the Trump agenda that would flow from this philosophy: Close off trade and immigration. Fund a jobs-creating infrastructure program. Reverse the Republican desire to reform and reduce entitlements. Increase funding on all sorts of programs that benefit working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Many of us wouldn’t have liked that agenda — the trade and immigration parts — but at least it would have helped the people who are being pummeled by this economy.
But Bannonesque populism is being abandoned. The infrastructure and jobs plan is being put off until next year (which is to say never). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has agreed with Paul Ryan’s crazy plan to do health care first.
Moths show greater resistance to flame than American politicians do to health care reform. And sure enough it’s become a poisonous morass for the entire party, and a complete distraction from the populist project.
Worse, the Ryan health care plan punishes the very people Trump and Bannon had vowed to help. It would raise premiums by as much as 25 percent on people between 50 and 64, one core of the Trump voter base. It would completely hammer working-class voters whose incomes put them just above the Medicaid threshold.
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The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism. It eliminates or cuts organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are important to people from Tennessee and West Virginia up through Ohio and Michigan. It cuts job-training and road-building programs. It does almost nothing to help expand opportunity for the working class and almost everything to serve defense contractors and the national security state.
Why is Bannonism being abandoned? One possibility is that there just aren’t enough Trumpians in the world to staff an administration, so Trump and Bannon have filled their apparatus with old guard Republicans who continue to go about their jobs in old guard pseudo-libertarian ways.
The second possibility, raised by Rich Lowry in Politico, is that the Republican sweep of 2016 was won on separate tracks. Trump won on populism, but congressional Republicans won on the standard cut-government script. The congressional Republicans are better prepared, and so their plans are crowding out anything Bannon might have contemplated.
The third possibility is that Donald Trump doesn’t really care about domestic policy; he mostly cares about testosterone.
He wants to cut any part of government that may seem soft and nurturing, like poverty programs. He wants to cut any program that might seem emotional and airy-fairy, like the National Endowment for the Arts. He wants to cut any program that might seem smart and nerdy, like the National Institutes of Health.
But he wants to increase funding for every program that seems manly, hard, muscular and ripped, like the military and armed antiterrorism programs.
Indeed, the Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t.
The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected. But they’ll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn’t.
We’re ending up with the worst of the new guard Trumpian populists and the old guard Republican libertarians. We’re building walls to close off the world while also shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.
When these two plans fail, which seems very likely, there’s going to be a holy war between the White House and Capitol Hill. I don’t have high hopes for what’s going to emerge from that war, but it would be nice if the people who voted for Trump got economic support, not punishment.
For that, there’s one immediate recipe: Unleash Steve Bannon!
WASHINGTON — President Trump refused to back down on Friday after his White House aired an unverified claim that Britain’s spy agency secretly monitored him during last year’s campaign at the behest of President Barack Obama.
Although his aides in private conversations since Thursday night had tried to calm British officials who were livid over the claim, Mr. Trump made clear that he felt the White House had nothing to retract or apologize for. He said his spokesman was simply repeating an assertion made by a Fox News commentator.
“We said nothing,” Mr. Trump told a German reporter who asked about the matter at a joint White House news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” He added: “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”
Mr. Trump, who has stuck by his unsubstantiated assertion that Mr. Obama ordered his telephone tapped last year despite across-the-board denials, wryly used Ms. Merkel’s visit to repeat his contention. Ms. Merkel was angry during Mr. Obama’s administration at reports that the United States had tapped her cellphone and those of other foreign leaders. Turning to her, Mr. Trump said, “At least we have something in common, perhaps.”
After the news conference Mr. Spicer echoed Mr. Trump’s defiant tone. “I don’t think we regret anything,” he told reporters. “As the president said, I was just reading off media reports.”
Shortly afterward, Fox backed off the claim made by its commentator, Andrew Napolitano. “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary,” the anchor Shepard Smith said on air. “Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain said on Friday that the White House had backed off the allegation. “We’ve made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesman said, on the condition of anonymity in keeping with British protocol. “We’ve received assurances these allegations won’t be repeated.”
Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, spoke with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, at a St. Patrick’s Day reception in Washington on Thursday night just hours after Mr. Spicer aired the assertion at his daily briefing. Mark Lyall Grant, the prime minister’s national security adviser, spoke separately with his American counterpart, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
“Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said on the condition of anonymity to confirm private conversations. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”
Other White House officials, who also requested anonymity, said Mr. Spicer had offered no regret to the ambassador. “He didn’t apologize, no way, no how,” said a senior West Wing official. The officials said they did not know whether General McMaster had apologized.
The controversy over Mr. Trump’s two-week-old unsubstantiated accusation that Mr. Obama had wiretapped his telephones last year continued to unnerve even fellow Republicans. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said on Friday that Mr. Trump had not proven his case and should apologize to Mr. Obama.
“Frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling truth, I think President Obama is owed an apology,” Mr. Cole told reporters. “If he didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”
The flap with Britain started when Mr. Spicer, in the course of defending Mr. Trump’s original accusation against Mr. Obama, on Thursday read from the White House lectern comments by Mr. Napolitano asserting that the British spy agency was involved. Mr. Napolitano said on air that Mr. Obama had used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump.
The GCHQ quickly and vehemently denied the contention on Thursday in a rare statement issued by the spy agency, calling the assertions “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” By Friday morning, Mr. Spicer’s briefing had turned into a full-blown international incident. British politicians expressed outrage and demanded apologies and retractions from the American government.
Mr. Trump’s critics assailed the White House for alienating America’s ally. “The cost of falsely blaming our closest ally for something this consequential cannot be overstated,” Susan E. Rice, who was Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, wrote on Twitter. “And from the PODIUM.”
Mr. Trump has continued to stick by his claim about Mr. Obama even after it has been refuted by a host of current and former officials, including leaders of his own party. Mr. Obama denied it, as did the former director of national intelligence. The F.B.I. director has privately told other officials that it is false. After being briefed by intelligence officials, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have in the last few days said they have seen no indication that Mr. Trump’s claim is true.
Mr. Spicer tried to turn the tables on those statements during his briefing on Thursday by reading from a sheaf of news accounts that he suggested backed up the president. Most of the news accounts, however, did not verify the president’s assertion, while several have been refuted by intelligence officials.
For instance, Mr. Spicer read several articles from The New York Times, which has written extensively on an investigation into contacts between associates of Mr. Trump and Russian officials. The Times has reported that intelligence agencies have access to intercepted conversations as part of that investigation. But it has never reported that Mr. Obama authorized the surveillance, nor that Mr. Trump himself was monitored.
Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this week that “it’s possible” that Mr. Trump or others were swept up in the course of other surveillance. But when it came to the president’s assertion that Mr. Obama authorized tapping of Trump Tower, he said, “clearly the president was wrong.”
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His Senate counterpart, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, issued a joint statement on Thursday with Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, saying they saw “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.”
In pointing the finger at Britain on Thursday, Mr. Spicer read from comments made by Mr. Napolitano on Fox this week. “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” Mr. Spicer read. “He didn’t use the N.S.A., he didn’t use the C.I.A., he didn’t use the F.B.I., and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.”
“What is that?” Mr. Spicer continued. “It’s the initials for the British intelligence spying agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, ‘The president needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,’ he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.”
In London, outrage quickly followed. “It’s complete garbage. It’s rubbish,” Malcolm Rifkind, a former chairman of Parliament’s intelligence committee, told BBC News.
GCHQ was the first agency to warn the United States government, including the National Security Agency, that Russia was hacking Democratic Party emails during the presidential campaign. That warning stemmed from internet traffic out of Russia containing malware, British officials said.
British officials and analysts were surprised at the tough language in the GCHQ response, especially from an agency that traditionally refuses to comment on any intelligence matter.
There was some annoyance and eye rolling as well. Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the last British coalition government, described Mr. Spicer’s repetition of the claims as “shameful” and said Mr. Trump was “compromising the vital U.K.-U.S. security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment.”
Dominic Grieve, the current intelligence committee chairman in Parliament, noted that no president can instruct the GCHQ to act. He pointed to elaborate safeguards that prevent spying on the United States and require “a valid national security purpose” for any monitoring. “It is inconceivable that those legal requirements could be met in the circumstances described,” he said in a statement.
But Downing Street clearly wanted to avoid adding to any embarrassment in Washington while making it clear that Britain had no part in any such wiretapping, and that Britain would not be a party to circumventing the laws of a closely allied country. “We have a close relationship which allows us to raise concerns when they arise, as was true in this case,” the prime minister’s spokesman said. “This shows the administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”
British officials said that London had initiated calls of complaint and denial to the White House after Mr. Spicer’s briefing. They also said that British officials had discussed responding earlier, after Mr. Napolitano’s comments were made on air, but acted quickly after those remarks were repeated by the president’s official spokesman.
“I doubt if there will be any long-term damage — the intelligence links between the U.S. and the U.K. are just too strong,” said Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the United States. “It was unfortunate that the White House spokesman repeated what he’s heard on Fox News without checking the facts. But once he’d done so, GCHQ had no choice but to set the record straight.”
Correction: March 17, 2017
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of Britain’s ambassador to the United States. It is Kim Darroch, not Derroch.