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Fox News pulls Judge Napolitano over his Trump wiretap claims

Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano is being kept off the air indefinitely amid the controversy over his unverified claims that British intelligence wiretapped Trump Tower at the behest of former President Obama.

Fox News did not respond to inquiries about Napolitano’s status Monday. Napolitano was conspicuously missing from the network’s coverage of the confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch — an event in which he typically would have played a significant role. He has not been on the air since Thursday.

People familiar with the situation who could speak only on the condition of anonymity said Napolitano is not expected to be on Fox News Channel any time in the near future. Napolitano was not available for comment.

On March 4, President Trump first tweeted the accusation that Obama ordered his “‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”

“Nothing found,” Trump tweeted. “This is McCarthyism!”

The tweet has been widely discredited, but last week, Napolitano heightened the controversy — and caused a major embarrassment for Fox News — when he presented a scenario on several programs that backed the accusation.

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The former New Jersey Superior Court judge, citing unnamed sources, said that the British foreign surveillance agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, “most likely” provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s recorded calls.

“By bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints,” Napolitano wrote in a column on FoxNews.com.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Napolitano’s charge last week when asked why President Trump continues to stand by his initial claim. The British spy agency sharply denounced Napolitano’s allegations, saying they are “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

That rebuttal did not stop President Trump from citing Napolitano as a source again when he was asked about the wiretapping claims at a Friday news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“You shouldn’t be talking to me; you should be talking to Fox News,” said Trump, who described Napolitano as “a very talented lawyer.”

Fox News gives its analysts much more latitude than correspondents and anchors in regard to what they can say on the network.

But Napolitano said on one program that "Fox News has spoken to intelligence community members who believe that surveillance did occur, that it was done by British intelligence.”

Fox News, however, did no such thing, forcing its anchors to walk back Napolitano’s statement.

“Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way,” Shepard Smith told viewers Friday.

In a statement read on the Fox News program “MediaBuzz” on Sunday, Napolitano defended his comments. He said he “reported what the sources told me, reported it accurately and I do believe the substance of what they told me.”

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that he had “no information” supporting Trump’s claims. National Security Director Michael Rogers also refuted Trump’s claim. He testified that the Obama administration did not ask the British agency to spy on Trump — nor would it ever make such a request because it would be “expressly against the construct” of intelligence agreements between the U.S. and its allies.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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UPDATES:

6:55 p.m. This story was updated with additional background from testimony given at Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing.

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