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Justice Dept. wants more time to probe wiretap claim

Julie Pace
Associated Press

Washington — Facing a Monday deadline, the Justice Department asked lawmakers for more time to provide evidence backing up President Donald Trump’s unproven assertion that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the election. The request came as the White House appeared to soften Trump’s explosive allegation.

The House intelligence committee said it would give the Justice Department until March 20 to comply with the evidence request. That’s the date of the committee’s first open hearing on the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

A spokesman for the committee’s Republican chairman said that if the Justice Department doesn’t meet the new deadline, the panel might use its subpoena power to gather information.

“If the committee does not receive a response by then, the committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered,” said Jack Langer, a spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Trump’s assertions have put his administration in a bind. Current and former administration officials have been unable to provide any evidence of the Obama administration wiretapping Trump Tower, yet the president’s aides have been reluctant to publicly contradict their boss.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer tried to clarify Trump’s comments Monday, saying the president wasn’t using the word wiretapping literally, noting that Trump had put the term in quotation marks.

“The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities,” Spicer said. He also suggested Trump wasn’t accusing former President Barack Obama specifically, but instead referring to the actions of the Obama administration.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway sidestepped questions about the lack of proof Monday, saying she was “not in the job of having evidence.”

“That’s what investigations are for,” Conway told CNN’s “New Day.” “The president is pleased that the House and Senate intelligence committees have agreed that this should be part of the investigation that already exists about Russia and the campaign, an investigation that apparently has gone nowhere so far.”

Trump himself has not commented on the matter since his March 4 tweets, in which he said he had “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” He also wrote: “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president?”

In two other tweets, Trump described Obama tapping his phones, but did not put the phrases in quotation marks.

The president’s accusations against Obama came amid numerous political questions surrounding his associates’ possible ties to Russia. The FBI is investigating Trump associates’ contacts with Russia during the election, as are House and Senate intelligence committees.

The White House has asked those committees to also investigate the wiretapping allegations.