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Spicer struggles to defuse Trump wiretapping controversy

The controversy over President Donald Trump’s explosive claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower phones during the 2016 campaign appears to be spinning out of the White House’s control.

On Thursday, press secretary Sean Spicer further fanned the flames.

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Shortly after the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a statement saying there is no evidence of Trump’s accusation — a rare rebuke and the second such comment in so many days — Spicer repeatedly refused to answer questions about the White House’s reaction during the daily news briefing.

Instead, Spicer accused reporters of cherry-picking facts, and himself cherry-picked passages from a series of articles during a nearly eight-minute soliloquy and selectively highlighted comments from the Republican leaders who have cast doubt on Trump’s accusation.

“And I think the president’s been very clear when he talked about this, and he talked about it last night. When he talked about wiretapping, he meant surveillance and that there have been incidents that have occurred,” Spicer said. “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, Chairman Nunes and others.”

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Nunes and Burr are the Republican chairmen on the House and Senate intelligence committees, respectively, and Spicer was referring to their past assertions that they had not seen evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. He suggested that reporters did not accept those assertions about a lack of evidence but were quick to accept the lack of evidence for Trump’s claims.

Yet while significant amounts of reporting from multiple outlets have raised the prospect that Trump associates communicated with Russians during the campaign, there is no such reporting to back up Trump’s central claim: that Obama ordered a wiretap of his phone. Spicer, however, sought to make the case Thursday that such reporting does exist.

Spicer quoted a number of reports that the Obama administration had requested a FISA warrant to investigate connections between Russia and Trump associates. He did not cite reports stating Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump’s phone.

“He stands by it,” Spicer said of Trump’s accusation. He claimed reporters were “mischaracterizing” the senators’ statement Thursday.

The joint statement from Burr and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said: “Based on the information available to us, we see 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.”

Spicer accuses media of cherry-picking comments on Trump wiretapping claims