WASHINGTON — White House adviser Kellyanne Conway is denying she suggested there was wider surveillance of President Donald Trump during the campaign, telling CNN Monday that her comments in a recent interview were taken out of context.
Sunday night, Conway appeared to expand Trump’s allegations that the Obama administration wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower — a claim for which the President has not yet provided evidence — when she told the Bergen Record there could have been even wider spying on the Trump campaign, including the use of microwaves and television sets.
She did not provide any evidence for the claims.
Pressed about the comments by CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day,” Conway insisted she was not alleging actions by the Obama administration against the Trump campaign.
“I was answering a question about surveillance techniques generally,” she said.
When Cuomo pressed Conway on her answer — saying the question posed to her was “asked specifically” rather than generally — Conway shot back, countering that she was not responsible for providing proof of such surveillance.
“I’m not Inspector Gadget,” Conway said. “I don’t believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign. However, I’m not in the job of having evidence; that’s what investigations are for.”
Rather than alluding to wider surveillance of the Trump campaign, she said she was simply noting that there were news reports of advanced technologies that facilitate spying, an observation that had been warped thanks to people’s desires to “fit things how they want,” Conway said.
“I was talking about surveillance generally, but people are going to fit that the way they want to fit it,” Conway said.
When Cuomo brought up current controversy over Trump campaign officials’ relations with Russian politicians — “this seems to be a distraction” from that controversy, Cuomo said — Conway shot back.
“Maybe (it seems that way) to you and maybe to other people who don’t necessarily want Donald Trump to be president, but to other people, they see it as what it was — talking about news articles and talking about surveillance generally,” Conway answered.
“My questioning of you … is not about not wanting the President to be President,” Cuomo countered. “That’s unfair and it’s hurtful because you are feeding people’s animosity.”
“Feeding people’s animosity? Look over your shoulder,” Conway shot back. “I have 24/7 Secret Service protection because of people feeding people’s animosity. Don’t claim that privilege.”
Trump ‘comfortable waiting’ over wiretap claims
Monday is the deadline set by the House Intelligence Committee for the Department of Justice to provide evidence of Trump’s wiretapping allegations.
A number of Republican lawmakers — including Sen. John McCain — have also called for the President to explain his claims that Obama arranged for Trump to be surveilled.
On Monday, Cuomo repeatedly probed Conway on why the President didn’t “pick up the phone” and clarify his recent accusations himself.
“Nobody has more power than the President, yet he hasn’t made a call to (FBI Director) Jim Comey,” Cuomo said. “Why?”
“I’m not going to discuss who he does and doesn’t call,” Conway replied. “The President is comfortable waiting.”
Conway went on to condemn recent leaks, saying, “somebody in the government is giving information they should not be.”
“We have leaks of the President’s readout of a conversation he’s having with a head of state,” Conway added. “That can’t be.”
When Conway said “we know (former national security adviser) General (Michael) Flynn was wiretapped,” Cuomo immediately interrupted her: “General Flynn was not wiretapped.”
The adviser then corrected herself, saying, “I’m sorry — that people leaked the conversation.”
Asked whether Trump was right to call Obama “bad or sick,” Conway demurred.
“I’m going to let the President speak for himself,” Conway said. “He’s perfectly capable of that.”
Employment statistics now ‘a meaningful number’
Conway later steered the conversation toward recent employment numbers: 235,000 new jobs in February and a dip in the unemployment rate.
“Let’s talk about real things, not fantasy things,” Conway said. “Let’s talk about the jobs he’s created.”
Noting that the numbers were similar to statistics from the month of February in recent years, Cuomo also brought up Trump’s campaign-trail attacks on the same reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“(Trump) has bad-mouthed the job numbers as phony every time they come out,” Cuomo said. “Now he says they’re not phony anymore, and you don’t think that’s worthy of criticism?”
“Why flick your wrist at that as if you’re one of the guys in construction?” Conway countered. “It’s a meaningful number.”
‘Everybody will have coverage’
Also meaningful, Conway said, was the GOP’s bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, legislation about which a Congressional Budget Office analysis is expected Monday.
“The President has said everybody will have coverage and they will have a smooth transition,” Conway responded after Cuomo asked whether people would lose coverage under the new law.
Contrary to recent reports, nobody currently insured under Medicaid would lose coverage, Conway said.
“I’m not going to let that stand,” Conway said. “The fact is if you’re on Medicaid now and that’s how you get your health insurance, that’s how you’ll get your health insurance in the future.”
When asked about opposition from Republican lawmakers, Conway replied that the President was working hard to ensure the legislation passed.
“He’s working the phones, he’s doing what leaders do, he’s listening, he’s negotiating, he’s deal-making,” Conway said. “He is receiving all this input.”
Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer downplayed the CBO’s upcoming scoring, saying at a briefing, “If you’re looking to the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place.”
But Trump will respect the CBO’s analysis once it is released, Conway said.
“The CBO is a very important component of this,” Conway said. “We’re awaiting their scoring.”