Things got very contentious in the White House briefing room Thursday afternoon, as press secretary Sean Spicer was confronted with the bipartisan doubts of congressional leaders about Trump’s claims that President Barack Obama wiretapped him.
At one point, Spicer spent several minutes reading through a list of reports that he felt bolstered Trump’s claim. Journalists, meanwhile, pushed back on the evidence Spicer provided, none of which addressed Trump’s central claim that Obama was behind the alleged surveillance of Trump Tower, and some of which came from dubious and/or ideologically tinged sources such as Sean Hannity.
Below is the transcript, with our annotations. To see an annotation, click on the yellow, highlighted text.
We’ll pick things up right after Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney appeared to talk over the budget.
SPICER: Jonathan Karl?
QUESTION: So, Sean, the day before yesterday, you said you were extremely confident that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees would ultimately vindicate the president’s allegation that Trump Tower was wiretapped. As I’m sure you have now seen, the Senate Intelligence Committee has said they see no indications Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance. That seems to be a pretty blanket statement. What’s your reaction?
SPICER: Well, I think there are several things, I would also — it’s — its interesting to me that you know, just as a — as a point of interest that when — when one entity says one thing that — that proves, that claims one thing, you guys cover it ad nauseam.
When Devin Nunes came out and said, ‘I think it’s very possible,’ yesterday, there was crickets from you guys. When Devin Nunes came out and said there was no connection that he saw to Russia, crickets. When Tom Cotton said the same, you don’t wanna cover this stuff — no, no, hold on…
QUESTION: …on no evidence…
SPICER: No, actually…
QUESTION: …now you’ve had the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee…
SPICER: No, no, actually here’s his quote, Jonathan, no here’s the direct quote, “I think it’s very possible,” end quote. That’s what he said when he said the president’s communications could’ve been swept up in collection.
So again, I…
QUESTION: He said there was no — I saw no indication of a wire tap…
(CROSSTALK) SPICER: I understand that, and I think — and I think the president’s been very clear when talks about this, and he talked about it last night. So we talked about wire tapping, he meant surveillance and that there have been incidents that have occurred. Devin Nunes couldn’t have stated it more beautifully.
But you choose not to cover that part. You chose not to cover when Tom Cotton went out, when Richard Burr went out, when others, Chairman Nunes and others and said that there was no — hold on…
QUESTION: …Intelligence Committee take…
SPICER: Yeah I — no, I understand that, Jonathan. And where was your passion and where was your concern when they all said that there was no — no connection to Russia? Where was it then? You — crickets, from you guys, because at the end of the day, when — no, no, no, no, no, hold on, hold on, I’m — hold on, hold on…
SPICER: I’m making a point. The point is this, number one, that it’s interesting how when evidence comes out and people who have been briefed on the Russia connection come out and say that there was nothing that they have seen that proves a connection, you choose not to cover that, you don’t stop the narrative.
You continue to perpetuate a false narrative. When he came out yesterday and said quote, “I see no evidence that this happened.” When he said quote, “I think it’s very possible,” like I said, we should know — you don’t cover that part.
You only cover the part — but let’s go through what we do know, okay? Hold on, hold on, let me — and I’m trying to answer your question, Jonathan, if you can calm down.
If you look at [inaudible] on January 20 — 12th, 2017, they said quote, “In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections. The new rules significantly relax long-standing limits on what the NSA may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operation, which are largely unregulated by wire tapping laws.”
When Sarah Carter reported that by the start of the New Year, brought with it unexpected politicizing of the intelligence gathered in secret. Separately, the Obama administration amended a long-standing executive order, allowing information intercepted through FISA warrants or by the National Security Agency to be shared by a wider audience and 16 government agencies as Obama was leaving offices.
Intelligence normally reserved for just a handful of intelligence leaders was spread throughout briefings, of — to scores of workers and soon, leaks began appearing in news media organizations, often in stories lacking context of how national security investigations are actually concluded. On March 3rd, Fox News chief anchor Bret Baier said the following, quote, “There was a report in June 2016, a FISA request by the Obama administration forwarding intelligence surveillance court to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several other campaign officials. Then they got turned down, then in October, then they renewed it into a start up wire tap at Trump Tower with some computer and Russian banks.”
Baier continues, “A June FISA request that foreign intelligence surveillance courts get shot down. A judge says,” — hold, Jonathan, I’m gonna — you can ask, you can follow-up. “A judge says no go to monitoring Trump Tower, they go back in October, they do get a FISA granted. This is wire tap going on in a monitoring of computers that has some ties they believe to Russian counts.
By all accounts, they don’t come up with anything in the investigation, but the investigation continues and we don’t know it.”
On November 11th, 2016, days after the election, Heat Street reported, quote, “Two separate sources with links to the counter intelligence community had confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI saw and was granted a FISA warrant in October, giving counter surveillance intelligence permission to examine the activities of U.S. persons and Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.
“The first requests, which sources say named Trump, was denied back in June. But the second was drawn more narrowly and granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign and its alleged links to two banks, SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank.
“Sources suggest, that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full context of related documents that concern U.S. person. Two separate sources with links to the counter intelligence community have confirmed that the FBI saw it and was granted a FISA warrant in October, giving counter intelligence permission to examine the activity of U.S. persons and Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”
They go on: “The FISA warrant was granted in connection with the investigation of suspected activities, between the server and two banks. However, it is thought that the intelligence community that the warrant covers any U.S. person connected to this U.N. investigation. And thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men, who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as immediate surrogates.”
On January 19th, the New York Times reported the following, “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communication and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible leaks between Russian officials and associates of president-elect Donald J. Trump.
One official said, “Intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications have been provided to the White House. It is unclear what Russian official is under investigation or what particular conversations caught the attention of American eavesdroppers. The legal standard for opening these investigation is low.”
Andy McCarthy, writing in National Review suggested quote, “From three reports from The Guardian, Heat Street and the New York Times, it appears the FBI has concerns about a private server in Trump Tower that was connected to one or two Russian banks.”
Heat Street describes these concerns as centering on quote “possible financial — and banking offenses.” I — this is his quote — “I italicized the word offenses because it denotes crimes. Ordinarily when crimes are suspected, there is a criminal investigation, not a national security investigation.”
We go on. Sara Carter from the Circa reporting, “Intelligence professionals tell Circa News they were concerned that some of the Russian intelligence was spread through group briefings to a much larger than usual audience back in January. This would have happened during the final days of the Obama Administration, when it expanded Executive Order 12333, which allows and plays with a quote ‘need to know’ and further unfettered access to broad data stowed by the NSA.
“The new rules allow the NSA to share — quote — ‘raw signals intelligence information, including the names of those involved in phone conversations and emails. The expansion of the order makes it difficult to narrow on the leaks and, frankly, it allows too many people access to the raw data, which only used to be available to a select few,’ said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity and was not granted to be speak on the authority.”
Numerous outlets including the New York Times have reported on the FBI investigation into Mr. Trump’s advisers, BBC and Lynn McCarthy revealed the existence of a multi-agency working group to coordinate investigations across the thing.
On February 14th, the New York Times again refers to phone records and intercepted calls — let me quote them, “American law enforcement intelligence agency intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering the evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three officials said.” “The intelligence” Russia — “the intelligence agencies then thought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on hacking or on other efforts to influence the election. The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that so far, they’ve seen no evidence of such cooperation.”
“The official said that the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials and other associates of Mr. Trump.” “The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the FBI is sifting through.”
Days later, the New York Times then reports, quote “In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election of Donald Trump, connections between the president-elect and Russians across the government.”
But the increasingly hard to escape conclusion that in our government that — individuals in our government were instead trying to undermine the new president by saying quote — this is the New York Times again — “At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence into possible analysis to keep the report at relatively low classification levels, to ensure a widespread leadership across the government.” And in some cases — quote — “among them European allies. This allowed the upload of as much information — intelligence that was possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysis to share information.”
Sean Hannity went on Fox to say, quote, “But protections which are known as minimization procedures have been put in place to protect Americans that are not under warrant,” American citizens that are caught up in the surveillance. And quote, “By the way, their identities are protected. Their constitutional rights — are to be protected. Now of course, this was not the case with Lieutenant General Flynn, because we know a transcript of this call was created and then given to intelligence officials, who then leaked this information, which is a felony, to the press that printed it,” end quote.
Last on Fox News, on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. 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. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence finding agency. So, simply by having two people saying to them president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump’s conversations, involving president-elect Trump, he’s able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this. Putting the published accounts and common-sense together, this leads to a lot.”
QUESTION: So Sean, are you saying…
SPICER: So, John…
QUESTION: …that despite the findings, the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee —
SPICER: No, they’re not findings. They’re two — there’s a statement out today. They have not begun this. As you know, yesterday or two days ago, the Department of Justice asked for an additional week. So they — the statement clearly says that at this time, that they don’t believe that. They have yet to go through the information. The Department of Justice, as you know, has not supplied this.
But I just read off to you — it’s interesting. When the New York Times reports…
SPICER: Hold on, hold on.
QUESTION: … that whole long answer…
SPICER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
QUESTION: okay. So, are you saying that the president still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump Tower despite the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee says they see no indication that it happened?
QUESTION: Does the president still stand by the allegation?
SPICER: First of all, he stands by it, but again, you’re mischaracterizing what happened today. The Senate…
SPICER: I understand that. And at the same time, they acknowledge that they have not been in contact with the Department of Justice. So — but again, I go back to what I said at the beginning. It’s interesting…
SPICER: Hold on, hold on. It’s interesting how at the same time, where were you coming to the defense of that same Intelligence Committee and those members when they said there was no connection to Russia? You didn’t seem to report it then. There was no — no, no…
SPICER: … so you want — you want a comment and you want to perpetuate a false narrative when…
QUESTION: … report that Clapper said that. I…
SPICER: But when those individuals have gone out time and time again; when Chairman Nunes has said, number one, that there was no information that he’s aware of that that existed, that got zero reporting.
Number two, when he went out yesterday and said, quote, “I think it’s very possible,” you don’t include that in the question mark.
The bottom line is that the president said last night that he would be providing — that there would be additional information coming forward. He’s — there’s a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on during the 2016 election.
And I think it’s interesting, where was the questioning of the New York Times or these other outlets when that was going on? Where was the questioning…
SPICER: I believe he will.
QUESTION: Yeah, you were just quoting Sean Hannity there. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are quoting…
SPICER: I also quote — I get you’re going to cherry pick…
QUESTION: … the FBI director. You’re citing Sean Hannity…
SPICER: No, no, no. okay. You also look over — you also tend to overlook all of the other sources, because I know you want to cherry pick it. But — no, no… (CROSSTALK)
SPICER: … but — but you do. But where was your concern about the New York Times report? You didn’t seem to have a concern with that.
QUESTION: We have done — I’ve done plenty of reporting on all of this…
SPICER: No, no, but you want to cherry pick one…
QUESTION: … these connections between the…
SPICER: … one commentary — one piece of commentary.
QUESTION: … associates of the president to the Russians. That has all been looked at and…
SPICER: No, but how do you know all this? The — the — how do you seem to be such an expert on this?
QUESTION: I’m saying that this has been looked at, Sean…
SPICER: How do you know it’s been looked at?
SPICER: Hold on, hold on. Where is — I’m sorry — I’m afraid — to understand — where — can you tell me how you know that all of this has, quote, “been looked at”?
QUESTION: You’re asking me whether or not…
SPICER: You made a statement. You said, quote, “all of this has been looked at.”
QUESTION: … other outlets have reported…
SPICER: No, no. So, okay, so we’re — so when your outlet says it’s all been looked at…
QUESTION: … to the president and the Russians during the 2016 campaign. It sounds like during the context of that investigation, there might have been some intercepted communications. The House Intelligence Committee chairman did mention that. And we have reported that. Others have reported that — [inaudible] and various publications.
But Sean, what you are refusing to answer — the question that you are refusing to answer is whether or not the president still believes what he believes…
SPICER: No, I’m not. I just said it to Jonathan. I didn’t refuse to answer that.
QUESTION: … you have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don’t see any evidence of any wiretapping. So how can the president go on and continue to…
SPICER: Because that’s not — because you’re mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said, quote, “I think it’s possible” — he is following up on this. So to suggest that…
SPICER: And you’re stating unequivocally that you somehow…
QUESTION: … literally, you said if you…
SPICER: Right. And I think that we’ve already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the president has already said clearly, when he referred to wiretapping, he was referring to surveillance. So that’s…
SPICER: So that’s…
QUESTION: … sounds like, though, Sean, that you and the president are saying now, “Well, we don’t need wiretapping anymore; that’s not true anymore…
SPICER: No, no…
QUESTION: So now we’re going to [inaudible] other forms of surveillance. What’s it going to be next?
SPICER: No, no, that’s not — Jim, I think that’s cute, but at the end of the day, we’re talked about this for three or four days. What the president had to, quote, “wiretapping,” in quotes, he was referring to broad surveillance. And now you’re basically going back. We talked about this several days ago.
The bottom line is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does — but where was the concern…
SPICER: … hold on. I just…
QUESTION: … not evidence…
SPICER: No, no. What I — I think the president addressed that last night, said there’s more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there’s widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election, there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people. That came up…
QUESTION: … investigation going on as to whether there was contact between the president’s campaign and the Russians…
SPICER: Jim, I find it interesting that you — you somehow believe that you…
QUESTION: … of course, they’re going to be looking at these various…
SPICER: okay. okay. I get it. Somehow, you seem to believe that you have all of this information. You’ve been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.
QUESTION: I haven’t [inaudible] by the FBI…
SPICER: Well, no, you’re coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence…
QUESTION: Well, give me some credit…
SPICER: I’ll give you some…
QUESTION: … a little intelligence maybe. But no…
SPICER: Clearance. I wasn’t done. Clearance.
QUESTION: …those two — those two panels…
SPICER: Maybe both.
QUESTION: Well, come on.
QUESTION: Those two panels have spoken with the FBI director and I was…
SPICER: I — I understand that…
QUESTION: …told there’s no evidence of this.
SPICER: okay I — I think this question’s has been asked and answered…
QUESTION: … just have the president say he was wrong.
SPICER: It’s interesting how you jump to all of these conclusions about what they have, what they don’t have and you seem to know all the answers. But at the end of the day, there was clearly a ton of reporting…
QUESTION: A week from now…
SPICER: Hold on, Jim, let me answer — no, I — I think that there’s been a — a vast amount of reporting which I just detailed, about activity that was going on in the 2016 election. There was no question that there was surveillance techniques used throughout this.
I think by — by a variety of outlets that have reported this activity concluded. So and I think when you actually ask those two people whether or not and as Chairman Nunes said yesterday, when you take it literally in wire-tapping, the president’s already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wire tapping, he had it in quotes.
So I think to fall back on that is a false — is a false premise, that’s not what he said. He was very clear about that when he talked about it yesterday, major.
QUESTION: okay Sean, so just to be clear, you’re good and the president’s good with stories that have anonymous sources in them?
SPICER: No, it’s interesting, I think when it comes to the Russia story and the on-the-record sources who have been briefed by the FBI continue to conclude that there’s nothing there. You guys continue to fall back on these anonymous sources and perpetuate a false narrative.
And yet, when it comes to us talking about all these reports in there, you then criticize anonymous sources. No, it’s just interesting, this — this sort of — the double standard that exists when it comes to us citing stories when it comes to — and then how you intend to use them.
QUESTION: So let me ask you what — what the president said last night. He was asked by Tucker Carlson, you’re in charge of the various intelligence apparatus that report to you…
QUESTION: …you can ask them…
SPICER: You can, he would be getting…
QUESTION: …can I ask my question?
QUESTION: He said he was reluctant to do that.
QUESTION: So lemme just put two things together. Earlier this week, you told us when asked, has the president directed the Justice Department to collect and distribute information to the various relevant congressional committees? If I remember your answer correctly, it was…
SPICER: That’s right.
QUESTION: …no we hadn’t given that specific directions. Has that changed, has he now directed the Justice Department…
QUESTION: …and is he asking himself, or the intelligence agencies that report to him, to provide him specific answers to these underlying questions that are separate from the reportages… SPICER: No.
QUESTION: …you’re citing?
QUESTION: Why not?
SPICER: Because I think we’ve covered this before, I think that gets into interfering this and I think that the appropriate process is to allow the House and the Senate to do it so that it doesn’t appear as though we’re interfering — I understand that.
But as I’ve — I mentioned to you this the other day, Major, if we go at them then you’re gonna turn around and say you guys interfered with something and you pressured them. It’s a catch-22 for us, and the bottom line is, is that I think the president made a clear two Sundays ago that he wanted the House and the Senate Intelligence Committee to work with these agencies to collect the information and make a report.
That’s what we’re doing. In — in order to make sure that there’s a separation from us, so that you can’t turn around and then accuse us of — of forcing or pressuring an agency to produce a document. We’re asking them to go through the process of — of this separation of powers and actually going to those different entities, the Department of Justice said yesterday they want an additional week. And we’re allowing that process to play through.
SPICER: Got it, Abby?
QUESTION: Sean, I got a follow-up…
QUESTION: Did the president make any statements based on classified information?
SPICER: I’m not gonna get into what the — how the president makes a decision. I think that what I think is clear though, is through the reporting that I just read is if there’s clearly widespread open-source material pointing to surveillance that was conducted during the 2016 election.
QUESTION: …information is available to members of the House and the Senate is public, as you noted. They are looking at [inaudible] information…
SPICER: No, no, no, they have — no, no, that’s not true.
QUESTION: …evidence to back up the president’s claims. So if there is other information, why won’t the president release…
SPICER: Again, I’m not gonna get into that yet. I think the president discussed that last night on — on his interview and we’ll let the process play out. I understand what he discussed, I think they have — they have — they have clearances in the House and the Senate intelligence committees. They’re able to conduct this.
QUESTION: Sean, I’d like to ask you about two topics, but can you help us all by calling on Peter right now?
SPICER: No I’m gonna — I understand — I actually call the question. Alexis, if you don’t an answer to your question, I can call on somebody else.
SPICER: No, thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.
In the case that Judge Watson issued against — the restraining order against Trump’s second travel — or the president’s second travel ban, he included one of the president’s tweets. And this is also included in the Washington State case. So I’m wondering, does it give the president any pause that this virtual paper trail is creating — is having an impact on advancing his agenda?
***MORE TRANSCRIPT TO COME***