Fox News has reportedly pulled legal analyst Andrew Napolitano from the air over his baseless claim, repeated by President Trump, that British intelligence officials spied on Trump at the request of President Barack Obama.
Napolitano, a regular face on Fox News, has not appeared on the network since Thursday and will not be a guest in the near future, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press reported Monday, citing anonymous individuals.
A Fox News spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday night. The Dow Jones Newswire also reported the story, along with speculation that Napolitano wouldn’t be gone too long from Fox. The longtime commentator and purveyor of conspiracy theories has a significant following.
The move would distance Fox News from allegations that British officials, as well as National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers, have denounced as false. In tweets earlier this month, Trump accused Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in what he called a “Nixon/Watergate” plot.
Pressed for details, the Trump administration has produced no evidence to support the allegations, citing only news reports from conservative media. On Monday, FBI Director James B. Comey testified before Congress that there was “no information” indicating that Obama ordered surveillance of Trump Tower during the election. Rogers, asked in the same hearing whether he agreed that the allegation about British intelligence was “nonsense,” responded “yes.”
In a March 14 appearance on “Fox and Friends,” Napolitano, who calls himself “Judge Napolitano” because he was once a New Jersey Superior Court judge, claimed he had spoken to three “intelligence sources” who said Obama “went outside the chain of command” to spy on Trump. Instead of using U.S. intelligence services, Napolitano said, Obama used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, to ensure there were “no American fingerprints on this.”
Napolitano doubled down on his claims in a column for Fox News, writing that “by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Napolitano’s comments in a press briefing Thursday. Asked whether Trump would stand by his unproven wiretapping allegations, Spicer quoted directly from the Fox News transcript.
“All we’re doing is literally reading off what other stations and people have reported,” Spicer said. “We’re not casting judgment on that.”
In response, GCHQ, usually silent on intelligence matters, sharply denied that it had engaged in any of the activities described by Napolitano.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense,” the agency said in a statement Thursday. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
But that did not stop Trump from bringing them up again. In a news conference Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump pointed to Napolitano’s appearance on Fox News when asked to defend his wiretapping claims, as The Washington Post reported.
“All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for that on television,” he said. “I didn’t make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox.”
“So you shouldn’t be talking to me,” Trump added, “you should be talking to Fox.”
At that point, Fox News tried to distance itself from Napolitano’s commentary, with anchor Shepard Smith saying the network could not confirm what Napolitano had said on “Fox and Friends.”
“Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop,” Shepard said on air.
The British government, meanwhile, said Friday that the White House had promised to stop suggesting that British intelligence services had spied on Trump, as The Post reported. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a news conference: “We have received assurances from the White House that these allegations would not be repeated.”