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To Boost Trump Wiretap Claims, White House Leans On Unlikely Source

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To Boost Trump Wiretap Claims, White House Leans On Unlikely Source

Politics

To Boost Trump Wiretap Claims, White House Leans On Unlikely Source

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Congress is seeking evidence to support President Trump's claims that the Obama administration tapped his phones during his campaign. Trump has offered no such proof. His aides have pointed to news articles, including an apparent scoop by Heat Street. It's a new political site founded by a colorful British reporter. NPR's David Folkenflik has more.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Trump managed to pack a lot of unsubstantiated accusations in his tweets. Trump claimed then President Obama ordered Trump be wiretapped at Trump Tower at the height of the elections - claims for which Trump offered no evidence. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump wasn't sure about the details but wasn't backing down.

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SEAN SPICER: I think the president made it clear yesterday that he wants Congress to go in and look at this. I think there is substantial reporting out there from individuals and from sources.

FOLKENFLIK: Spicer's shop pointed to articles from press outlets - among them, a posting on Heat Street by Louise Mensch.

LOUISE MENSCH: I was delighted, at first, over the weekend to see Donald Trump admitting, as I thought, my FISA warrant story, but he added in this detail about a wiretap, which I was sort of surprised to see.

FOLKENFLIK: So let's break that down. Back in November, the evening before the election, Mensch wrote that the FBI sought and was granted a secret warrant by a judge who oversees national security proceedings to examine possible financial and banking offenses involving figures in the Trump campaign with ties to Russia - no mention of wiretaps. Mensch also reported that a broader request by the FBI had been rejected back in June.

MENSCH: I was the only person to report this for some time. Two months after I published my story, two other stories appeared in quick succession.

FOLKENFLIK: The BBC and The Guardian later confirmed much of Mensch's report and built on it. Mensch won't say on which side of The Atlantic her sources can be found. She does report that American authorities relied on friendly foreign agencies. And it may not be a coincidence that only British reporters have confirmed the story.

New York Times public editor Liz Spayd, a kind of in-house critic, wrote skeptically on coverage from The Times before the election that held the FBI had found no links between Trump's camps and the Russians. Spayd says Mensch's report caught her eye.

LIZ SPAYD: You know, I think she makes a somewhat reasonable argument that she has been a strong backer of U.S. intelligence - U.K. intelligence for a long period of time. And that is a clear way to gain sources.

FOLKENFLIK: Mensch's own story has had many chapters. She was a bestselling author of books for young adults and romantic novels. She became a conservative member of the British parliament. As an aside, she's also married to the manager of such groups as Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In Parliament, Mensch once interrogated media-magnate Rupert Murdoch over a series of scandals at his London tabloid newspapers.

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MENSCH: Is it not the case, sir, though, that you in fact are the captain of the ship? You are the chief executive officer of News Corp - the global corporation?

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch objected that his corporation was so large he could hardly know all that was happening.

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MENSCH: This terrible thing happened on your watch. Mr. Murdoch, have you considered resigning?

FOLKENFLIK: Yet she voted against condemning Murdoch and his son James. And they hired her later on when she left parliament, first as a columnist, and then she created Heat Street in New York City for News Corp. Lately, it's been plenty hot.

MENSCH: So, you know, my phone's been blowing up. My email's been blowing up. My direct messages on Twitter have been blowing up. And I'm just not answering any of them because who knows what's in them. But I did wonder why the White House was wasting an entire day on trying to make it seem like I or even The New York Times have reported out a wiretap on Trump Tower.

FOLKENFLIK: A reminder - no mention of wiretapping. Another key point - while Rupert Murdoch supports Trump, Mensch openly opposes him. Trump's aides are relying on the reporting of a writer who thinks the man in the Oval Office should be impeached. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, "SNOW")

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