US Congressional body to probe Trump's wire-tap claim against Obama

Based on a Breitbart News report, Trump had tweeted on Saturday that the Obama administration had wire-tapped his phone during last year's deeply divisive election campaign. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Palm Beach, FL, United States Mar 05, 2017, 07.11 PM (IST)

United States President Donald Trump's explosive claim on Twitter that Barack Obama wiretapped his phone during last year's election campaign will be probed by a Congressional committee.

The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Devin Nunes, said they will investigate "whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party's campaign officials or surrogates". Nunes, however, stopped short of directly mentioning Trump's claims about the alleged Obama bugging.

The New York Times reports that FBI Director James Comey has this weekend asked the justice department to reject in public Trump's assertion, that Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump's phone. Comey argued that the highly charged claim is false, and must be corrected.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has been examining Russian interference in last year's US presidential election as well as Russia's cyber-activity, which has been viewed by many as a key reason for the withering of Hillary Clinton's presidential push.

The Committee's decision comes hours after the Donald Trump administration urged the Congress to follow up on the president's tweets, which without providing any evidence, accused Obama of tapping his phone.

On Saturday, Trump had tweeted: "How low has President Obama gone to tapp  my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

Trump's insinuation was based on a report that came out in right-wing media organisation Breitbart News, which was until recently run by his chief advisor Steve Bannon.

Scrambling to contain the potential fallout, Trump's team requested the Congress to probe into what his spokesman Sarah Sanders said would be the "greatest abuse of power and overreach that has ever occurred in the executive branch".

But Obama, through his spokesman, has denied ordering any surveillance on Trump.

US presidents cannot legally order such wiretaps, which require the approval of a federal judge and reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Obama's director of national intelligence James Clapper told NBC there was "no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign".

Trump's latest incendiary statement comes at a time when his fledgling presidency has been rocked by a series of scandals linking his team members with Russian officials.

Amid this and several other revelations of Trump aides holding meetings with Russian officials, the White House has denied allegations of collusion.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a campaign to meddle in last November's presidential election in a bid to tilt it in Trump's favor.

Former CIA director Leon Panetta accused Trump of diversionary tactics.

"They are trying to obfuscate and trying to cover up. They are trying to somehow raise other issues," he told CBS. "In the end, it is going to be the truth that will determine what is involved here, and not Tweets, but the truth."

(WION with inputs from AFP)