President Donald Trump used a series of early morning tweets Saturday to accuse his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping Trump’s New York office during the 2016 election campaign, but did not reveal the source of his information.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” he wrote at 6:35 am (1135 GMT).
Within minutes it was followed by three more Twitter posts in which Trump asserted – still without citing evidence – that Obama had his phone calls intercepted and monitored.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
The tweets come as the new administration once again faces questions about the Trump campaign team’s contacts with Russia prior to his inauguration.
Obama defended himself against the charges, with a spokesman saying the former president never ordered surveillance of US citizens.
“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” spokesman Kevin Lewis said.
“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever order surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
Another Obama administration official was also quick to dismiss the charges.
“No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you,” Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security advisor under Obama, responded on Twitter.
Rhodes asked whether Trump still appeared “presidential” after the series of tweets, and said only a “liar” could make a case against Obama. Trump had charged a “good lawyer” could make such a case.
Trump’s first address to Congress this week was quickly overshadowed by the revelation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions – one of Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress – had met twice with the Russian ambassador during Trump’s campaign.
Sessions never disclosed the encounters during his Senate confirmation hearings, despite direct questions on the subject.
The president used his Twitter tirade to defend Sessions, saying that one of the meetings was arranged by an educational programme run by the State Department.
The top Democrat in the lower House of Representatives called Trump’s tweets a move to distract from Sessions.
“The deflector-in-chief is at it again. An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee called Trump’s unsupported allegations irresponsible.
“If there is something bad or sick going on, it is the willingness of the nation’s chief executive to make the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them,” Congressman Adam Schiff said.
Trump’s tweets appeared to follow remarks by a conservative radio host accusing the Obama administration of “police state” tactics in its investigation of Russian interference in the election.
The New York Times reported just before Trump’s January inauguration that intelligence officials were looking at information they had gathered from wiretapped communications as part of an investigation into possible connections between Trump associates and Russian officials.
Trump is spending the weekend at his Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. It is the fourth time he has visited the resort since he was inaugurated in January.