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March 20, 2017

Last Thursday, the White House provoked a diplomatic spat with America's closest ally, Britain, when Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated a claim from Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that Britain's GCHQ spy agency had wiretapped President Trump during the presidential campaign at the behest of former President Barack Obama. By Friday, Britain and the White House were sparring over whether the Trump administration had apologized for repeating the claim, and if so, how much, and Napolitano had pointed The New York Times to one of his "intelligence sources," Larry C. Johnson.

Johnson, who was a CIA analyst before leaving the government about 30 years ago, is perhaps most famous, The Times notes, for spreading "false rumors in 2008 that Michelle Obama had been videotaped using a slur against Caucasians." On CNN Sunday, he told Brian Stelter where his information had come from and said he was actually not "knowingly" a source for Napolitano, adding that the retired judge "didn't get it right, accurate either." "I'm not saying the British GCHQ was wiretapping Trump's tower," Johnson said. Napolitano "shouldn't have used the word 'wiretap.' I call it an 'information operation' that's been directed against President Trump."

Johnson explained that the day after Trump's tweets about Obama wiretapping him, he went on RT, the Kremlin-funded news channel, and talked about how "the British through GCHQ were passing information back-channel," then shared that on a discussion board for former intelligence operatives. "Apparently one of the individuals there shared that with Judge Napolitano," he said. "I don't know what his other sources are." Johnson said two people "who were in a position to know" told him about the back-channel communications, but "this was not done at the direction of Barack Obama — let's be clear about that."

Napolitano is reportedly standing by his claim, but Fox News anchor Shepard Smith noted tartly on Friday that "Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary" and "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop." Peter Weber