WASHINGTON, March 8 (Reuters) - Two senior senators asked the FBI and Justice Department on Wednesday for any information they have on President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor Barack Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
In a letter to James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse wrote:
"We request that the Department of Justice provide us copies of any warrant applications and court orders...related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump campaign, or Trump Tower."
Under U.S. law, presidents cannot direct wiretapping. Instead, the federal government can ask a court to authorize the action, but it must provide justification.
Critics of Trump in Congress have accused him of issuing the wiretap allegation to try to deflect attention from investigations into his administration's possible ties to Russia. Some have likened it to Trump's long-held contention that Obama was not born in the United States and thus did not legitimately hold the office of president - an accusation he did not withdraw until 2016.
Graham later told CNN that if the Justice Department does not cooperate with the senators' request, subpoenas would be issued.
"I expect them to come forward as to whether or not a warrant was obtained or sought," Graham said. He chairs a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism, and Whitehouse is the senior Democrat on the panel.
James Comey through the years
James Comey through the years
UNITED STATES - JUNE 14: Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey speaks at a conference at the Bloomberg News Bureau in Washington DC June 14, 2004. (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: James Comey (L) FBI Director nominee walks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (R) to a ceremony annoucing Comey's nomination in the Rose Garden at the White House June 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey, a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, would replace Mueller. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
James Comey, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as director of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arrives to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Comey, the nominee to be the next FBI director, said interrogation techniques such as waterboarding used during his time in President George W. Bush's administration constitute torture and are illegal. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FBI Director James Comey, right, talks to Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, left, during a meeting in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Photo: Rodrigo Garcia/NurPhoto (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
FBI Director James B. Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20: Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey speaks during a press conference at the conclusion of a visit to the Denver FBI Field Office on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Director Comey's visit to the Denver FBI Field Office is part of his plan to visit all FBI Field Offices in his first year as director. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
The shadow of FBI Director James Comey is seen as he addresses the audience during the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) annual meeting at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey adjusts his tie before testifying to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the "Oversight of the State Department" in Washington U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: FBI Director James Comey arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a classified briefing on Russia for all members of the House of Representatives January 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The internal Office of the Inspector General at the Justice Department announced yesterday that it is conducting a review on the handling of FBI and DOJ's investigation into the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server case. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey testifies to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 10: FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L-R) arrive to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The intelligence heads testified to the committee about cyber threats to the United States and fielded questions about effects of Russian government hacking on the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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On Saturday, Trump accused Obama of phone surveillance, amid a swirl of questions about possible ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. intelligence agencies have found that Russia tried to influence the election.
An Obama spokesman said on Saturday that neither Obama nor any White House official had ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. The spokesman's statement did not address the possibility that a wiretap of the Trump campaign could have been sought by the Justice Department.
In their letter, Graham and Whitehouse wrote: "We would take any abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously."
The senators added: "We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump campaign, or Trump Tower."
On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told reporters his panel would consider issuing subpoenas if information being sought on Russia's possible role influencing the election was not forthcoming.
The committee has scheduled a March 20 hearing and Trump's wiretap allegation is part of that probe.
Democrats, questioning the commitment of the Republican-controlled Congress, have been calling for an outside investigation, which so far has been rejected. (Reporting By Richard Cowan, Tim Ahmann and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Howard Goller)