Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of tapping his phones before the November presidential election and compared the situation to the Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Mr Trump tweeted.
In an early morning tweet storm, Mr Trump claimed without providing evidence that Mr Obama had ordered his phones at Trump Tower to be tapped and accused his predecessor of engaging in “McCarthyism” — a reference to Senator Joe McCarthy, who spearheaded a witch hunt against US citizens suspected of being alleged communists during the early cold war.
“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Mr Trump tweeted at dawn on Saturday from his Mar a Lago resort in Florida.
Minutes later, Mr Trump claimed that he had evidence that Mr Obama had tapped his phones but did not provide any details. The White House did not respond to questions asking for an explanation about the tweets.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Mr Trump tweeted.
The string of tweets marked the end of a week that saw Mr Trump win praise for acting uncharacteristically presidential during his speech to Congress, before reverting to campaign attack mode after it emerged that Jeff Sessions, his attorney-general and close adviser, had misled Congress about two meetings with the Russian ambassador.
While Mr Trump did not explain the background to his accusations, he provided a hint in one of the tweets, which said: “Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”
During the course of the election, there were reports — which the Financial Times was unable to verify — that US law enforcement and intelligence officials had requested a warrant to eavesdrop on certain targets related to an investigation into whether Russia interfered with the US election. If those reports were correct, the warrant would have needed to have been issued by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to Mr Obama, responded to Mr Trump by dismissing suggestions that Mr Obama could have ordered wiretaps. “No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you,” Mr Rhodes said.
The accusations from Mr Trump come as he and his former campaign aides come under mounting scrutiny surrounding possible contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential race. Mr Trump fired his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after only 24 days after it emerged that he had lied about the nature of phone conversations he held with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US.
After one day of acting more presidential after his congressional speech, which called for unity, Mr Trump has since accused Democrats of conducting a “witch hunt” after they called on Mr Sessions to resign. To ease the pressure on him to step down, Mr Sessions recused himself from investigations that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which falls under his justice department, into the presidential campaign and Russia.
The tweets came the morning after Breitbart News, the rightwing news website formerly run by Steve Bannon, a powerful White House aide, ran a story about an influential conservative radio show host who had urged Mr Trump to investigate what he described as “police state” tactics employed by the Obama administration.
David Frum, a former White House speech writer for George W Bush, said Mr Trump was showing his true colours, but the more serious question pertained to the investigations into Russian interference in the election.
“Twitter Trump is authentic Trump. Everything else is tinsel and gimcrack, and not even well-made tinsel and gimcrack,” said Mr Frum, a Republican who voted for Hillary Clinton because of concerns about Mr Trump. “We have gained a reasonably clear picture of what Russia did in the US election of 2016. We are beginning to learn how they did it. Now we face the most fearful question of all: why?”
Intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a series of cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign during the election, but the FBI is investigating whether there were inappropriate contact between Trump aides and Russian officials.
For months political experts have puzzled over the way Mr Trump attacks people on Twitter. Before and after the election he has shown a penchant to repeat falsehoods about subjects when the facts can be easily verified as wrong. While some see his online rants as an extension of the campaign style that won the election, others worry that he is incapable of making the transition to a president whose words and tweets can be taken seriously.
“Those who said Trump finally made the presidential pivot last Tuesday [in his speech] need to recant. Trump can’t help himself. The ranting Twitter Trump cannot be suppressed,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia politics professor. “Claiming Obama bugged him is an extremely serious charge. Trump needs to put up or shut up.”
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi
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