Donald Trump has said the White House should not be criticised for quoting a Fox News analyst who accused British intelligence of helping former president Barack Obama spy on him.
There is no evidence such spying took place and GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence agency, has called the allegation “utterly ridiculous”.
During a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US president said that “we said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television”.
He added: “You shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
He also stood firm on his unproven wiretapping allegation with a reference to 2013 reports that the US listened in on Mrs Merkel’s phone calls. Mr Trump said that when it comes to wiretapping, “at least we have something in common, perhaps”.
Mr Trump’s comments came after his press secretary Sean Spicer directly assured Britain’s ambassador to the US he will not repeat allegations that GCHQ spied on the president.
Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch spoke to Mr Spicer after the allegations were described by GCHQ as “utterly ridiculous”, in a rare public intervention which was backed by UK Government officials, including Sir Kim and the PM’s national security adviser Sir Mark Lyall Grant, in conversations with the US administration.
At a regular Westminster briefing, Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman refused to say whether US officials apologised.
He said: “We have made clear to the (US) administration that these claims are ridiculous and that they should be ignored and we have received assurances that these allegations won’t be repeated.”
Asked if the allegations posed problems for the special UK-US relationship, he replied: “We have a close, special relationship with the White House and that allows us to raise concerns as and when they arise as was true in this case.”
He added: “We have received assurances that these allegations won’t be repeated and this shows the administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”
The PM’s spokesman said it would not be possible for GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump as both countries are members of the Five Eyes alliance, a joint intelligence co-operation agreement which also includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
“I would add, just as a matter of fact, with the Five Eyes pact, we cannot use each other’s capabilities to circumvent laws,” he said. “It’s a situation that simply wouldn’t arise.”
During a media briefing at the White House on Thursday, Mr Spicer drew reporters’ attention to comments made earlier this week on Fox News by former judge Andrew Napolitano in relation to Mr Trump’s controversial claim that his New York residence had been bugged.
Detailing a long list of reports about the wiretap claims, Mr Spicer quoted Mr Napolitano as saying: “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.”
In a surprise break from its normal practice of refusing to comment on allegations about its activities, GCHQ released a statement on Thursday night, saying: “Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
Mr Spicer’s intervention came shortly after the US Senate Intelligence Committee released a statement saying it had seen no evidence to support the US president’s claim – made in a series of Twitter posts earlier this month – that Mr Obama had bugged Trump Towers.