A former British ambassador to the US has lashed out at Donald Trump, calling his allegations that the UK wiretapped the Trump Tower “absurd” and “nonsensical,” while warning that the controversy could damage the two countries’ close relationship.
Writing in the Guardian, Sir Peter Westmacott accused the White House of “peddling falsehoods” after Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, repeated claims that the UK’s intelligence agency, GCHQ, had assisted then-president Barack Obama in tapping Trump’s New York phones.
The comments come as the Republican chair of the House of Representatives intelligence committee said he has seen no evidence to back Trump’s claims.
“This is a dangerous game,” Westmacott writes, explaining that “the intelligence relationship between Britain and America is unique and precious. It is critical to our shared efforts to counter terrorism… Russian aggression, the cyberattacks of China, the nuclear threat from North Korea, and much else.”
Westmacott, who was the UK’s ambassador to Washington from 2012 to 2016, says “gratuitously damaging [the relationship] by peddling falsehoods and then doing nothing to set the record straight would be a gift to our enemies they could only dream of.”
“Anyone with any knowledge of the intelligence world knew the suggestion was absurd. First, the president of the United States does not have the power to order the tapping of anyone’s phone. Second, the idea of the British foreign secretary signing a warrant authorizing such an intrusion into domestic US politics was unthinkable,” he added.
Westmacott also referred to Trump’s “famous reluctance to admit mistakes.”
The wiretapping allegation is seen by many as a controversy entirely of Trump’s own making. On March 4, the president claimed in a tweet that Obama had tapped his phones during the presidential election. He has engaged in an increasingly desperate effort to stand by the charge ever since.
Spicer later cited an unsubstantiated report from Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who said that GCHQ had colluded in obtaining intelligence on Trump.
GCHQ released a rare public statement claiming the accusation was “utterly ridiculous,” saying that it “should be ignored.”
When Trump was questioned about the “wiretapping” saga during a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Trump said Spicer was simply repeating a media report, the Huffington Post reports.
“All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.
“So you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox,” he told the reporter.
Fox News has disassociated itself from the allegations, saying there is no evidence to back them.
Trump tried to joke with Merkel about the situation, saying that they “have something in common,” in that they have both been victims of US government wiretapping.
According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, which were reported on by the Guardian and other media outlets, Merkel was among the world leaders the NSA targeted for surveillance.