The White House has apologized to the British government for alleging that British intelligence services helped former President Barack Obama spy on President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster spoke with British intelligence officials about the allegation, which originated when press secretary Sean Spicer cited a Fox News report about rumors of British spies colluding with the Obama administration, reported CNN.
McMaster described Spicer's comment as "unintentional."
"Sean was pointing to the breadth of reporting, not endorsing any specific story," he said.
McMaster's British counterpart described the conversation as "cordial" and McMaster said that British "concerns were understood and heard and it would be relayed to the White House."
During a press briefing on March, 16, Spicer cited Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano from a March 14 airing, according to the Telegraph.
"Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA, he didn't use the FBI and he didn't use the Department of Justice," Napolitano said in the report, which was repeated by Spicer to the Washington press corps. "He used GCHQ. What is that? It's the initials for the British intelligence-finding agency. So, simply by having two people saying to them president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump's conversations, involving president-elect Trump, he's able to get it and there's no American fingerprints on this. Putting the published accounts and common-sense together, this leads to a lot."
According to Reuters, GCHQ works closely with the NSA and the spy agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in a consortium called "Five Eyes."
But a British official dismissed the idea that GCHQ gathered intelligence on Trump for Obama because under British law, GCHQ "can only gather intelligence for national security purposes" and that the U.S. election "clearly doesn't meet that criteria."
Trump first alleged that Obama "wiretapped" the phones of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign in a series of tweets earlier this month.
"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! " Trump tweeted on March 4. "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! "
The Trump administration has so far failed to produce any evidence that the Obama administration placed surveillance on the Trump campaign.