WASHINGTON — President Trump has no regrets. His staff has no defense.
After weeks of assailing reporters and critics in diligent defense of their boss, Mr. Trump’s team has been uncharacteristically muted this week when pressed about his explosive — and so far proof-free — Twitter posts on Saturday accusing President Barack Obama of tapping phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
The accusation — and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the former national intelligence director, James R. Clapper Jr., emphatically deny that any such wiretap was requested or issued — constitutes one of the most consequential accusations made by one president against another in American history.
So for Mr. Trump’s allies inside the West Wing and beyond, the tweetstorm spawned the mother of all messaging migraines. Over the past few days, they have executed what amounts to a strategic political retreat — trying to publicly validate Mr. Trump’s suspicions without overtly endorsing a claim some of them believe might have been generated by Breitbart News and other far-right outlets.
“No, that’s above my pay grade,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary and a feisty Trump loyalist, when asked on Tuesday at an on-camera briefing if he had seen any evidence to back up Mr. Trump’s accusation. The reporters kept at him, but Mr. Spicer pointedly and repeatedly refused to offer personal assurances that the president’s statements were true.
“No comment,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier in the day. Last week, Mr. Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
“I don’t know anything about it,” John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said on CNN on Monday. Mr. Kelly shrugged and added that “if the president of the United States said that, he’s got his reasons to say it.”
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, have said they will add Mr. Trump’s request to pre-existing inquiries into intelligence community leaks.
But Mr. Nunes and Mr. Burr said they had not seen specific evidence backing up Mr. Trump’s claim.
Other Hill Republicans have responded with similar verbal shrugs. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday that he “didn’t know what the basis” of Mr. Trump’s statement was.
Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts, viewed with amazement outside the West Wing bubble, often create crises on the inside. That was never truer than when Mr. Trump began posting from his weekend retreat at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida shortly after sunrise on Saturday.
His groggy staff realized quickly that this was no typical Trump broadside, but an allegation with potentially far-reaching implications that threatened to derail a coming week that included the rollout of his redrafted travel ban and the unveiling of the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
It began at 6:35 a.m. with a Twitter post reading: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
credit ny times