White House ‘apologises’ to Britain over spying claims

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holding a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2017.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holding a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

London confirms assurance from US that allegations of UK agency helping to eavesdrop on Trump won’t be repeated

WASHINGTON/LONDON • The White House has apologised to Britain over allegations that London’s GCHQ intelligence agency helped former US president Barack Obama to eavesdrop on President Donald Trump, according to CNN.

Britain confirmed that it had received assurances from the US that the allegations will not be repeated.

CNN reported yesterday that it had been told by a White House official that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster apologised when he spoke to his British counterpart on Thursday. The call came after Mr Trump’s press secretary, Mr Sean Spicer, told a press conference that British intelligence helped to wiretap Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, quoting a Fox News commentator directly.

That sparked what The Sun newspaper called a “full-blown diplomatic incident” over the accusation.

The White House official said Mr McMaster’s conversation with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s security chief, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, was “cordial”, and that Mr McMaster described Mr Spicer’s comment as “unintentional”, CNN said.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mrs May told reporters: “We have made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and they should be ignored, and we have received assurances that these allegations will not be repeated.”

The spokesman was speaking after Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency, in a rare public statement, said the charge – made on Tuesday by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano – was “utterly ridiculous”.

Mr Trump 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.

Earlier this week, Mr Napolitano, a political commentator and former New Jersey judge, told the Fox & Friends programme that, rather than ordering US agencies to spy on Mr Trump, Mr Obama had obtained transcripts of Mr Trump’s conversations from the GCHQ so there were “no American fingerprints” on it.

The GCHQ spokesman called Mr Napolitano’s claims “nonsense".

“They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesman said.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mrs May’s spokesman added: “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.”

Both The Sun and The Telegraph reported that both Mr McMaster and Mr Spicer had apologised over the claims. “The apology came direct from them,” The Telegraph reported intelligence sources saying.

Mr Trump sparked a furore with the March 4 tweets that accused Mr Obama of ordering a wiretap on the New York skyscraper where he and his family live.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mr Obama swiftly issued a denial, and the White House was swamped with questions over the basis of Mr Trump’s claim.

In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, Mr Trump was asked about his sources for his allegations, and he referred to a number of unspecified news reports.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'White House ‘apologises’ to Britain over spying claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe