WASHINGTON • White House officials have declared that US President Donald Trump is not the target of an investigation, five days after Mr Trump himself raised the prospect with an unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.
After first refusing to disavow Mr Trump's allegations, made in a series of Twitter posts, and instead calling for Congress to investigate them, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday: "There is no reason that we have to think the President is the target of any investigation whatsoever."
Mr Spicer's statement, which he read from a sheet of paper handed to him at the end of his briefing, reinforced the conundrum that Mr Trump's tweets have created for the White House: Either the President's assertions are baseless, or he may have implicated himself in a government investigation of contacts between his presidential campaign and Russia.
Until Wednesday, Mr Spicer had steadfastly declined to discuss Mr Trump's assertion that former president Barack Obama ordered wiretap surveillance of Trump Tower - an act that Mr Trump condemned as a scandal comparable in scale to McCarthyism or Watergate.
Early into Wednesday's briefing, Mr Spicer stuck to the policy he has followed since the storm broke over Mr Trump's posts. Asked whether the President was the target of a counter-intelligence inquiry, he replied: "I think that's what we need to find out. There's obviously a lot of concern."
However, after an aide slipped Mr Spicer a note, he circled back to clarify that "there is no reason to believe there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice". He insisted he was not disavowing the President, who posted his tweets early last Saturday morning. "The tweet dealt with wiretaps," Mr Spicer said. "The other is an investigation. They are two separate issues."
While the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a wide-ranging counter-intelligence investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, there is no public evidence that Mr Trump is a target.
The Justice Department defines "target" as someone investigators have substantial evidence against and who is likely to be indicted.
Current and former officials have said repeatedly that, although they are concerned about intelligence suggesting meetings between associates of Mr Trump and Russian officials, they have developed no evidence of collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia's hacking efforts.
Meanwhile, the state of Hawaii has requested emergency court intervention to halt Mr Trump's revised executive order placing US entry restrictions on refugees and travellers from six Muslim-majority nations. Arguing that the new travel ban violates the US Constitution, the state asked a Hawaii federal court on Wednesday to grant a temporary restraining order that should apply nationally.
US District Court Judge Derrick Watson ruled earlier in the day that the state could sue over Mr Trump's new order, which was signed by the President on Monday. It is the first legal challenge to the revised order.
A hearing is set for next Wednesday, a day before the new ban is to go into effect.