The United Kingdom's intelligence agency has strongly denied White House allegations it spied on US President Donald Trump on behalf of former President Barack Obama during the 2016 election.
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, England
GCHQ, in a highly unusual public statement, said the claims repeated by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, were "utterly ridiculous" and ought to be ignored.
At a Thursday press briefing, Spicer read out allegations originally made on Tuesday on Fox News by legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, that the UK intelligence agency had spied on Trump.
"Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, 'Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command (to spy on Trump). He didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA ... he used GCHQ,'" Spicer told journalists.
GCHQ: Wiretap claims are 'nonsense'
When making the original allegations, Napolitano implied the decision to use GCHQ had been made to keep "American fingerprints" off the spying.
But a GCHQ spokesperson said Napolitano's claims were "utterly ridiculous."
"Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wire tapping' against the then President Elect are nonsense. They ... should be ignored," the spokesperson said.
GCHQ -- Government Communications Headquarters -- is the British equivalent of the United States' National Security Agency (NSA). It uses intelligence collecting and wiretapping tools to gather information for the UK government.
It rarely comments on specific operations, and almost never in such blunt terms.
Senate committee finds no evidence of wiretap
The denial came as the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it had found no evidence Trump Tower had been under surveillance in 2016, contrary to Trump's previous claims.
"Based on the information available to use, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United State government either before or after Election Day 2016," committee chair Richard Burr said in a statement Thursday.
The same day, US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in an interview that he also hadn't seen any evidence of a wiretap or a surveillance order against Trump Tower.
Trump originally made the allegations against former President Obama on March 4 in a series of early morning tweets.
"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" he said on his official Twitter account.
Just under two weeks later, in an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson, Trump appeared to walk back his original wiretapping allegations.
"Wiretap covers a lot of different things," Trump told Carlson on Wednesday. "I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks."