The Note: White House holds strong on wiretapping allegation despite pushback

PHOTO: Sean Spicer conducts the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, March 16, 2017. PlayChip Somodevilla/Getty Images
WATCH Spicer continues to defend Trump's wiretapping claims

Trump's first 100 days with ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and VERONICA STRACQUALURSI

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Day No. 57

The big story: The top Democrat and top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a joint statement Thursday saying they've seen no evidence to back up the president’s claim that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. “We’ve seen no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government” during the campaign or transition. Speaker Paul Ryan agreed saying "no such wiretap existed." But the White House hasn’t backed down from its claim, as was apparent in an extraordinary, lengthy back-and-forth between ABC’s Jonathan Karl and press secretary Sean Spicer during Thursday’s briefing. Asked if he thinks the president will be vindicated on his unsubstantiated wiretapping accusations, Spicer said he “believes he will.” Trump himself hinted this week that the public would "find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks” in regard to his claims. But without any evidence or proof yet, nearly two weeks since the president made the claim in an extraordinary series of tweets, he has a credibility problem on the issue. FBI Director James Comey is slated to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, and there’s no doubt he will be asked about the president’s claims.

The sleeper story: Well, a president’s budget usually is a sleeper. We can’t say that this time with battles over the president’s “skinny budget” just heating up. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, advocates, and Americans who would be impacted by proposed steep cuts are speaking up, making it clear this first version will likely serve as just that, a first draft. The EPA, State Department, and programs like after-school activities, rural programs, health research, the National Endowment for the Arts, AmeriCorps, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would all face the chopping block under the spending plan. The outcry is unlikely to end soon as lawmakers try to save valuable programs for their constituents as well as voice concerns such as on the proposed 31 percent cut to the EPA or 28 percent reduction to the State Department. Comments like OMB Director Mick Mulvaney’s on Thursday that, “There's no demonstrable evidence” after-school programs are "helping kids do better in school,” likely won’t fade from memory soon, including by families whose children may have benefited from such initiatives. With the process of hashing out and haggling over the budget just starting, it’s clear the proposed cuts may not live in the final budget, at least not all of them.

The shiny story: Today, the president welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House where the two leaders will hold a joint press conference. It’s the first time the leaders will meet, and it could get awkward as the two disagree on plenty of issues – such as refugee and immigration policies -- and have publicly criticized each other’s stances. In an August speech, then-candidate Trump compared Merkel’s immigration policies to those of Hillary Clinton, saying, “In short, Hillary Clinton wants to be America’s Angela Merkel, and you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany. Crime has risen to levels that no one thought would they would ever see.” He has since said he has “great respect” for the German leader, but there’s no doubt the presser today (and the two leaders’ body language) will be closely watched. Later, the president heads back to the winter White House for the weekend, his first visit there since he sent the eye-popping wiretap tweets.

TLDR: The White House is standing by Trump’s tweets accusing President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, even as others, like the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, are saying they see no evidence of it.

Photo of the day: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Yesterday, Trump joined Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny for a Friends of Ireland luncheon on Capitol Hill and later welcomed Kenny to the White House for a St. Patrick’s Day reception. The two participated in the tradition of the Irish prime minister giving a bowl of shamrocks to the president. (Credit: Olivier Douliery/EPA)

PHOTO: President Donald Trump, accepts a bowl of shamrocks from Enda Kenny, Irelands prime minister during a reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 16, 2017. Olivier Douliery/EPA
President Donald Trump, accepts a bowl of shamrocks from Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister during a reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 16, 2017.

Notables

--Senate Intelligence Committee finds 'no indications' of wiretapping at Trump Tower: "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," Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a joint statement Thursday. The two senators visited CIA headquarters last week and also met with FBI Director James Comey. Both senators have been privy to relevant classified documents: ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI, MEGHAN KENEALLY and ALI ROGIN have more. http://abcn.ws/2nskIwC

--Spicer continues to defend Trump's wiretapping claims: White House press secretary Sean Spicer gave a lengthy and exhaustive defense of President Donald Trump's wiretapping claims against then-President Obama to reporters Thursday, ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY and ALEXANDER MALLIN report. Spicer accused reporters of continuing "to perpetuate a false narrative" by not covering statements that could seem favorable to Trump and argued that the statements by the House and Senate Intelligence committees were not based on any investigative work. “The bipartisan leaders of the Intelligence Committee would not have made the statement they made without having been fully briefed by the appropriate authorities,” a spokeswoman for the Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair Mark Warner, D-Va. http://abcn.ws/2nKmhSD WATCH video of the exchange: http://abcn.ws/2m6X2h0

--Republican dismiss Trump's ambitious budget blueprint: President Trump's first White House budget received a chilly reception from many Republicans on Capitol Hill today, as appropriators and defense hawks questioned the blueprint's dramatic cuts to domestic spending and foreign aid. ABC’s MARY BRUCE, JOHN PARKINSON, BENJAMIN SIEGEL and ALI ROGIN have more. http://abcn.ws/2mAaTZq

--Happening today - Trump to meet Angela Merkel at White House: President Donald Trump will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today at the White House — the first time the two leaders will meet. Although the U.S. and Germany are close allies, Trump and Merkel disagree on just about everything, from immigration and refugee policies to the future of NATO, ABC’s ELIZABETH MCLAUGHLIN notes. http://abcn.ws/2mBkQWA

This week on 'This Week': The Powerhouse Roundtable debates the week in politics, with Republican strategist and CNBC contributor Sara Fagen, New York Times White House correspondent and CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman, host and managing editor of TV One’s “News One Now” Roland Martin, and ABC News chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran.

Speed Read

Ex-Trump adviser Flynn paid $56,200 by Russian firms in 2015, documents show. President Trump's fired national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was paid a total of $56,200 in 2015 by three Russian firms owned by or closely tied to the Kremlin, new documents released by congressional Democrats appear to show. The fees included $33,750 paid by Russia's state-owned TV network RT to the retired three-star general, who once served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, to speak at what the Russian organizers described to his speakers bureau as a "private, invitation-only conference." ABC’s MATTHEW MOSK and JAMES GORDON MEEK have more: http://abcn.ws/2mz5Pob

What's next for Trump's revised travel ban. President Trump's executive order banning travel from six majority-Muslim nations suffered a new round of blows as two federal judges issued different rulings stopping it from moving forward, at least temporarily. There are separate courses of action in the two cases, the first in Hawaii and the second in Maryland. There are still two outstanding motions for restraining orders in Washington state. ABC’s JAMES HILL and MEGHAN KENEALLY look at the next steps for Trump’s executive order: http://abcn.ws/2nJoDkD

Families face reality of possible budget cuts killing programs they use. The first budget proposal of President Donald Trump's administration was released Thursday morning and now people across the country are bracing for the prospect of having programs that impact their lives face elimination, ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY writes. One such person who is may be affected is Rigel Preston, a former coal miner who lives in Paintsville, Kentucky, who benefited from a job retraining program funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The budget released Thursday lists the Appalachian Regional Commission as one of 19 independent agencies whose funding would be eliminated. http://abcn.ws/2m7sT1j

McDonald's confirms Twitter account was 'hacked by an external source' after anti-Trump tweet posted. McDonald's confirmed Thursday night that one of its Twitter accounts was indeed hacked, after a tweet that called Donald Trump "a disgusting excuse of a president" was posted earlier in the day to its @McDonaldsCorp account. McDonald's spokeswoman Terri Hickey said Thursday night that the company has determined a hack was the culprit, ABC’s MORGAN WINSOR reports. http://abcn.ws/2nJeUuT

Who's tweeting?

@Steven_Swinford: EXCLUSIVE: US makes formal apology to Britain after White House accuses GCHQ of wiretapping Trump Tower http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/17/us-makes-formal-apology-britain-white-house-accuses-gchq-wiretapping/

@OfficialCBC: Yes, we are meeting w/ @realDonaldTrump on March 22 @ 3 PM. We will answer his campaign question to Black America: What do you have to lose?

@Elizabeth_McLau: OVERNIGHT -- Rex Tillerson: Military action against #NorthKorea is an option 'on the table' http://abcnews.go.com/International/rex-tillerson-military-action-north-korea-option-table/story?id=46196141

@_cingraham: Mick Mulvaney says Meals on Wheels "not showing any results." Actual peer-reviewed research says otherwise. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24916974 @NBCNews: Speaking on the @TODAYshow, Breitbart editor-in-chief Alex Marlow defends the publication: "We're not a hate site" http://nbcnews.to/2mPWppu

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