Other officials, speaking on background, suggested that the chief counsel was looking for evidence to back up the president’s claim.
The second-day response was twofold: criticize the news media coverage and try to shift the responsibility for providing information to Capitol Hill by demanding a congressional investigation.
“Everybody acts like President Trump is the one that came up with this idea and just threw it out there. There are multiple news outlets that have reported this. And all we’re asking is that we get the same level of look into the Obama administration and the potential that they had for a complete abuse of power that they’ve been claiming that we have done over the last six months.” — Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary, on ABC’s “This Week.”
By the Tuesday after the tweet, administration officials were trying to move past the issue. Several sought to stick to Mr. Spicer’s previous admonition that the White House would not comment any further until congressional investigations took place.
“No, that’s above my pay grade.” Sean Spicer
“No comment.” — Attorney General Jeff Sessions
“I don’t know anything about it. If the president of the United States said that, he’s got his reasons to say it.” — John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary.
The next day, Mr. Spicer seemed to shift gears, suggesting to reporters in his daily briefing that the White House did not believe that an investigation into the wiretapping of Mr. Trump existed, as the president had suggested on Twitter.
“There is no reason to — to believe that he is the target of an — of any investigation. I think that’s a very important point to make. The tweet dealt with wiretaps during the thing. The other is an investigation. They are two separate issues. And there is no reason to believe there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice.” — Sean Spicer
But the day after, presented with the “no comment” from the F.B.I. about whether there was an investigation, Mr. Spicer backtracked. He suggested to reporters that his previous comments should not have been interpreted as suggesting that the White House knew, one way or the other, whether Mr. Trump was under investigation.
“No comment” about whether there’s an investigation. — Federal Bureau of Investigation
“I said — right, I said I’m not aware and — we’re not aware and that’s why we want the House and Senate to do what the president has asked of them, to look into this. But no, we’re not aware.” — Sean Spicer
By the end of the week, the president’s spokesman was back to being more careful, refusing to “prejudge” the possible outcome of any congressional investigation. He declined to say whether Mr. Trump would apologize if it turned out that there was no evidence to support his claim.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think it’s important to see where that goes, and I don’t want to prejudge their work at this time.” — Sean Spicer
“I’m not going to get into a series of hypotheticals, prejudging the outcome of a report or an investigation that hasn’t occurred yet. I think once that’s done, we’ll respond appropriately.” — Sean Spicer
When he faced reporters again on Monday, Mr. Spicer was trying to clarify, in part by trying to broaden the meaning of the president’s initial Twitter post. He urged reporters to look closely at it, saying it “very clearly” was about wiretapping. Mr. Spicer suggested that news reports supported the president’s claim.
“If you look at the president’s tweet, he said very clearly quote — ‘wiretapping’ — end quote. There’s been reports in The New York Times, in the BBC and other outlets about other aspects of surveillance that have occurred.” — Sean Spicer
On Tuesday, in a snowy Washington, Mr. Spicer went even further, saying that Mr. Trump had — in his initial tweets — used the word wiretap “in quotes,” and that he really meant to suggest only that there had been a broad program of surveillance during the presidential campaign.
“The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities.” — Sean Spicer
“There’s a whole host of tactics that can be used to monitor somebody either through wiretap or other ways.” — Sean Spicer
On Wednesday evening, Mr. Trump himself offered a new assessment during an interview with Fox News. His suggestion that “some very interesting items” would be revealed in the next two weeks was certain to fuel the story on Capitol Hills, where members of his own party were beginning to angrily demand answers.
“I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.” — President Trump
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