Andrew Napolitano returns to Fox News after being benched over wiretap claims

Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano returned to the air on Wednesday morning and stood by the unsubstantiated wiretapping claims that got him in hot water with his network nearly two weeks ago.

The former New Jersey Superior Court judge had not been on the air since March 16 as he became enmeshed in the controversy over President Trump’s still-unproven claim that his predecessor had ordered surveillance of Trump Tower.

Napolitano, citing unnamed sources, had said that the British foreign surveillance agency “most likely” provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s recorded calls.

FBI Director James B. Comey said his agency and the Department of Justice have "no information" to support Trump's allegations that President Obama ordered wiretapping of Trump and his campaign.

In discussing the claims on several programs, Napolitano incorrectly asserted that the sources he was citing had spoken to Fox News. Several anchors had to make on-air statements to distance the network from the assertion after the Trump administration started citing Napolitano’s allegations as proof of the president’s original wiretapping claim.

While Fox News never made an official statement about a change in Napolitano’s status, he was conspicuously missing from its coverage last week on the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Napolitano was taken off the air and management had addressed the matter with him, said people with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to comment.

Napolitano returned on “America’s Newsroom” with only a passing reference to his absence made by anchor Bill Hemmer, who, after introducing him, said, “You've had a few quiet days.”

Napolitano was called on to discuss a matter involving Aaron Shock, a former Illinois congressman, but briefly said that he and his sources stood by the wiretapping claims.

“The American public needs to know more about this rather than less, because a lot of the government surveillance authorities will expire in the fall and there'll be a great debate about how much authority we want the government to have to surveil us,” he said. “And the more the American public knows about this, the more informed their and Congress' decisions will be.”

A representative of Fox News said the “matter was addressed internally” and declined to comment further.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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