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Trump's press secretary says president stands by accusation that Obama wiretapped him, despite bipartisan rebuttals

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mounted a vigorous, albeit unwieldy, defense of President Trump's accusation that he was wiretapped by President Obama during the presidential campaign, despite agreement from the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence committees that no evidence backs Trump's claim.

"He stands by it," Spicer told reporters during his daily press briefing Thursday.

But that was hardly the beginning or the end of the conversation, which made for an unusual press briefing full of filibustering and confrontation.

Republican leaders seem eager to move on from the issue in the face of growing skepticism from all corners of the intelligence community and a lack of evidence presented by Trump to back up his extraordinary claim.

But Spicer is under intense pressure to hold the line: His boss is known to hate retreating and love watching the televised press briefings. In recent days, Spicer has alternated between blaming the media for ignoring statements or taking intelligence officials out of context and broadening the definition of wiretapping.

Thursday's briefing was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. but was delayed by more than an hour after the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a joint statement saying that “based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016." 

When reporters asked Spicer to respond, he spent several minutes reading from a long list of media accounts on the broad subject of government surveillance and the election, none of which lent credence to the specific claim that Trump had been the target of a wiretap.

The articles he read from included several that cited anonymous sources -- even as Trump has condemned reporters for using them -- and the New York Times, which Trump has called failing and accused of making up stories.

But when a New York Times reporter tried to ask a question about the subject, Spicer balked at calling on him.

Spicer also pointed to single quotes around the term "wiretapping" in some of Trump's tweets on the subject to suggest that he was referring to other forms of surveillance.

And Spicer shifted the burden to present evidence away fom the president, who made the accusation, and toward those who would disprove it. 

"You seem to know all the answers," Spicer said at one point, when CNN reporter Jim Acosta quoted Senate intelligence leaders and pressed Spicer to show evidence contradicting them.

When asked to defend the list of news articles he was reading against official intelligence statements, Spicer seemed to move the goalposts yet again.

"All we're doing is literally reading off what other stations and other people have reported," Spicer said. "We're not casting judgment on that."

Shortly after the briefing ended, House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared on MSNBC and was shown several clips. He said he was "having earpiece problems" as he tried to avoid getting enmeshed in the discussion.

“We have not seen any evidence," Ryan said. "That's all I really have to add to it.”

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