Trump’s stunning allegation came in an early morning tweetstorm, in which he wrote in part: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
Because the sitting president offered no evidence to back up his claim, it wasn’t clear whether the tweet — which was followed by four others taking on his predecessor, including one misspelling the word “tap” — was based on classified knowledge he received in his capacity as president, or on an article posted yesterday to the conservative Breitbart website.
It also isn't known whether such federal wiretaps existed.
If — through his tweets — Trump revealed secret government information about surveillance, he exercised an exclusive privilege afforded only to the president as the ultimate declassification authority.
“Anyone who would reveal the existence of a wiretap would violate federal law,” he said. “It is against federal law to disclose the existence of a wiretap, whether that wiretap is for criminal purposes or intelligence purposes.”
The White House has so far offered no clarification on whether the president was citing sensitive, nonpublic information or it was prompted by a loose reading of the Breitbart article — itself based on a segment from conspiracy-loving radio host Mark Levin.
In a recent program, a clip for which was posted on Facebook on Feb. 16, Levin rhetorically asked, “How many of Trump's people were eavesdropped on, how many had their conversations intercepted, recorded, transcribed? Because this ladies and gentlemen is the big scandal."
Regardless of what prompted the rancorous tweets, a spokesman for the former president denied any wiretaps were ordered by then-President Barack Obama.
“Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said. “Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
The Obama administration’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, slammed Trump’s accusations, writing on Twitter, “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”
A senator from Trump’s own party, along with U.S. intelligence officials, called the Twitter rant — which began just before 6:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday — a worrying display of Trump temperament.
Trump’s tempestuous tweets served to keep the public’s attention on Russia and contacts between the Russian ambassador and at least five Trump advisers.
It also comes one day after a Democratic member that he believed key wiretaps are, in fact, part of the investigation, although he has not seen them.
ABC News’ Randy Kreider, Cho Park, Alex Hosenball and Paul Blake contributed to this report.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the airdate of Levin's program that was quoted. It has been updated to reflect that a clip from the program was posted to Facebook on Feb. 16.