By Niall Stanage - 03-17-17 18:46 PM EDT
President Trump can't seem to get past the wiretapping controversy.
It's not even clear that he wants to do so, despite Republican lawmakers joining Democrats in rejecting his claims.
At a stiff and sometimes-awkward White House news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Trump once again refused to back away from allegations that his predecessor, President Obama, wiretapped Trump Tower during last year's election campaign.
On Friday, Trump suggested that he and Merkel had "something in common, perhaps" when it came to being targets of surveillance.
The chancellor looked on expressionlessly as Trump made the comment. Merkel's phone had reportedly been tapped for years as part of a National Security Agency program, and she was livid when that surveillance came to light in 2013.
Trump risked offending another ally when he declined to offer contrition for the White House's implication that British intelligence agencies had helped the Obama administration spy on him.
During the previous day's White House media briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer had read remarks from a Fox News commentator, Judge Andrew Napolitano, who claimed that GCHQ - a British intelligence facility - had been "used" by Obama to get "transcripts of conversations" involving Trump.
This has sparked fury in London. GCHQ itself, which generally refrains from public comment, called the allegations "nonsense."
But Trump insisted on Friday that "we said nothing," and instead sought to put full responsibility for the claim onto Fox News. "You should be talking to Fox," he told the German reporter who had asked about the episode.
Soon afterward, a Fox anchor, Shepard Smith, said on-air that the network "cannot confirm" what Napolitano had alleged, and added, "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop."
As the news conference ended, Spicer told reporters that he didn't "think we regret anything."
Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, attended the news conference, seated at one side of the podium alongside key aides Stephen Bannon, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller.
The exchanges over wiretapping dominated a summit with Merkel that was never more than cordial and often bordering on chilly.
Prior to the news conference, footage of Trump seeming to ignore Merkel's request for a handshake went viral on social media.
The news conference itself, held in the grandeur of the East Room of the White House, was a striking contrast of tone and style.
Merkel, not the most animated of politicians under any circumstances, looked on stony-faced as Trump railed against "fake news" and responded to the first, pointed question from a German journalist by saying, sarcastically, "nice, friendly reporter."
At times when the chancellor was talking, Trump's eyes scanned the ranks of the media in front of him, darting from one reporter to another. When Merkel talked at one point about the plight of refugees, Trump's facial expression betrayed little reaction. Merkel spoke in German, but her remarks were being translated in Trump's earpiece.
He could hardly have missed Merkel straining for diplomacy in some of those remarks. Asked about Trump's overall tone as president, she averred that he "stands up, as is his right, for American interests." She added, "People are different."
On the major issues, Merkel sought at least a rhetorical sense of common ground. She talked about how Germany would do its part to uphold NATO, an organization that Trump has at times suggested allows other nations to coast on American coattails.
She also said that there is a need to find a "win-win" situation on trade, another topic where Trump's past comments have discomfited some in Europe and beyond.
Trump, for his part, insisted in response to one question that he was not an isolationist. "I'm a free trader but also a fair trader," he said.
The Trump White House has at times taken fire from the media for a perceived tendency to call on conservative outlets during news conferences and press briefings.
Trump went in a more mainstream direction on Friday. The two questions from American journalists on Friday came from author and MSNBC contributor Mark Halperin and Bloomberg's Kevin Cirilli. Halperin asked about Trump's bottom line in the effort to craft legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare; Cirilli about trade.
Perhaps reflecting broad European skepticism about Trump, the questions from German reporters carried more of an edge. The first suggested that he did not believe in diversity, the second asked about the allegations pertaining to GCHQ.
The second questioner also asked Trump whether he ever regretted his tweets.
"Very seldom," the president responded, encapsulating the defiant tone of the news conference in two words.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency.