After a report by Fox News’ Judge Napolitano that UK spies helped Obama spy on president Trump during the presidential campaign, the British spy agency GCHQ issued a rare and angry denial of the “utterly ridiculous” allegation that it eavesdropped on President Donald Trump during the election campaign.
In a rare public statement, Britain’s eavesdropping agency said the charge, made first on Tuesday by Fox News analyst judge Andrew Napolitano, was “utterly ridiculous”. The signal intelligence agency went public after Spicer quoted judge Napolitano to support Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Barack Obama.
In a testy press briefing Thursday, Spicer cited former New Jersey judge Andrew Napolitano, who alleged on Fox News that Obama “went outside the chain of command” and used the British agency so that there were “no American fingerprints” on surveillance of Trump. Spicer said it was one of many reports that suggest the president’s claims “merit looking into.” It brought a swift, highly unusual and furious public response from GCHQ, which is broadly similar to America’s NSA and monitors global communications.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense,” a spokesman for GCHQ said, adding that “they are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
Traditionally, GCHQ never comments on criticism of its work beyond saying it always operates under a strict legal framework.
Earlier in the week, Reuters reported that an unidentified British security official had denied the allegation that GCHQ had eavesdropped on Trump.
Trump, who became president in January, tweeted earlier this month that his Democratic predecessor had wiretapped him during the late stages of the 2016 campaign. The Republican president offered no evidence for the allegation, which an Obama spokesman said was “simply false”.
As discussed earlier in the week, on the “Fox & Friends” program, Napolitano, a political commentator and former New Jersey judge, said that rather than ordering U.S. agencies to spy on Trump, Obama obtained transcripts of Trump’s conversations from Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, the equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, which monitors overseas electronic communications. On Thursday, Sean Spicer quoted Napolitano’s comment on GCHQ.
GCHQ, based in a futuristic building named the doughnut because of its shape located in Cheltenham in western England, is one of three main British spy agencies alongside the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service and the MI5 Security Service.
The White House maintains Trump will ultimately be vindicated over his March 4 tweet that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower,” despite bipartisan statements from both the House and Senate intelligence committee leaders saying they had seen no evidence, yet.
To be sure, for now the heated debate boils down to “he said, she said”, as neither said has offered evidence to justify its claims.
Spicer emphasized that investigations were incomplete and that Trump had meant general surveillance when he wrote about wiretapping. Napolitano repeated his theory on his personal website, saying the NSA had given GCHQ “the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump’s.”
“So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints,” he wrote.
Obama has already waved away Trump’s claim as “simply false.”