President Trump’s unproven claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower last year is eroding diplomatic relations abroad and needs to be put to rest, top Democrats said Sunday.
Rep. Adam Schiff said he hopes FBI Director James B. Comey will debunk the claim Monday during a highly anticipated hearing before the House intelligence committee on alleged Russian interference into the 2016 election.
“I hope we can put an end to this wild goose chase,” Mr. Schiff, California Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What the president said was just patently false.”
Mr. Trump said on Twitter two weeks ago that Mr. Obama had wiretapped his campaign headquarters during the presidential race last year. Mr. Obama has denied it, and the White House has offered no specific proof aside from media reports about surveillance.
The bombshell accusation has metastasized since then, spilling Friday into a side-by-side press conference with Mr. Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and roping in British intelligence officials, after a Fox News commentator suggested Mr. Obama went outside the usual chain of command to get help from the U.K. to surveil Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Mr. Trump deflected criticism over the British link, saying questions about it should be directed toward Fox News.
“All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind [Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano], who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox,” Mr. Trump said during his press conference with Mrs. Merkel.
Yet the implicit swipe at a U.S. ally raised eyebrows in the media and among top Democrats, who said Mr. Trump also shouldn’t have quipped that he and Ms. Merkel had “something in common” in being wiretapped by U.S. spies.
Mr. Trump was referring to revelation in 2013 that Mr. Obama authorized National Security Agency eavesdropping on her and his claim that Mr. Obama did the same to him during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The comment left the German chancellor stone-faced at the lectern. Mr. Trump defended the comment on Twitter a day later, though he criticized Germany at the same time, claiming they owed money to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” Mr. Trump said over two posts.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, said Mr. Trump had made a huge mistake by dragging other countries into the wiretapping saga.
“Working together on things like counterterrorism is only successful if these nations and their intelligence agencies trust and have confidence in the United States,” Mr. Castro told ABC’s “This Week.” “So when you hear these outlandish comments, what I keep thinking is that there’s a real possibility that the president is undermining these relationships.”
Multiple congressional Republicans also struggled to defend the president’s wiretapping claims Sunday, though they said they’d like to learn more.
“I’d like to first get to the bottom of this before saying what should be done,” Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I don’t know the basis for President Trump’s assertion, and that’s what I wish he would explain to us on the intelligence committee, and to the American people.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said he doesn’t know what basis Mr. Trump had for the accusations, though he cautioned against dismissing them outright, noting the IRS under Mr. Obama targeted conservatives for extra scrutiny.
“So the notion is not necessarily outlandish, but it is serious,” Mr. Cruz told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “So it needs to be based on facts.”
The issue will add intrigue to Monday’s hearing on Russian cyber-hacking ahead of November’s election.
“We’re excited about this because for the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses. So we’re going to highlight that,” Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, told “Fox News Sunday.”
Asked if he’d seen any evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, Mr. Nunes said: “I’ll give you a very simple answer: No.”
But he also said there wasn’t a warrant issued under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, “that I’m aware of, to tap Trump Tower.”
• Dave Boyer and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.