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Josh Earnest squirms when ABC host asks if he can 'categorically deny' wiretapping claims

Former White House press secretary Josh Earnest was on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. Earnest discussed accusations made by President Donald Trump that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Image source: ABC)

Former White House press secretary Josh Earnest, when asked Sunday if he could "categorically deny" that there was any wiretapping of President Donald Trump's campaign by former President Barack Obama's Justice Department, told ABC's Martha Raddatz, "I don't know."

Raddatz cited a tweet sent out Saturday by Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting under Obama, in which he stated, "I'd be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it."

Favreau was referring to Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis' statement Saturday, which denied Trump's allegation that Trump Tower had been wiretapped before the election. But as Raddatz noted, nowhere did Lewis deny that Obama's Justice Department had anything to do with the alleged wiretapping — only that the White House did not order it.

“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false," Lewis said.

So Raddataz asked Earnest Sunday if he could "categorically deny" that accusation.

"Can you categorically deny that the Obama Justice Department did not seek or obtain a FISA court order?" Raddatz asked.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, is the law that establishes a legal process by which federal law enforcement officials can legally surveil foreign powers or agents of foreign powers. The law was passed by Congress in 1978 and signed into law by former President Jimmy Carter.

Earnest dodged Raddatz's question, saying, "What I can categorically deny is that the White House was at all involved in directing or interfering or influencing an FBI investigation of any sort."

"That's not what I'm asking," Raddatz followed up. "What I'm asking is can you deny that the Obama Justice Department did not seek or obtain a FISA court order to wiretap the Trump campaign."

Earnest struggled to answer, beginning to provide what appeared to be the same response given Saturday by Lewis.

"It was a cardinal rule — " Earnest began before offering the "simple answer":

Here's the simple answer to that question: I don't know. And it's not because I'm no longer in government. The fact is, even when I was in government, I was not in a position of being regularly briefed on an FBI criminal or counterterrorism investigation.

"Nobody at the White House, including the president of the United States, should be in a position in which they are trying to influence or dictate how that investigation is being conducted," the former press secretary added.

(H/T: Daily Caller)

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