ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As Joel noted, President Trump was out of sight when he signed that new executive order on travel. He remained out of sight for the rest of the workday, leaving his team to answer questions about the ban and about some tweets that set off a political maelstrom.
Early Saturday morning, Trump tweeted without any evidence that President Obama tapped his phones in Trump Tower before the election. The White House later asked Congress to add that to their ongoing investigation of Russia's involvement in the presidential campaign.
NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: A sitting president accuses his predecessor of wrongdoing in public. It's an incredible turn of events which really seemed to come out of the blue.
LIASSON: It seems to have come out of the blue. If we can put this in a little bit of a - of context, last week, Donald Trump had a great week for most of it. He was thrilled with his performance in that speech to a joint session of Congress. It was very well reviewed. Then a couple days later, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from anything having to do with that investigation into Russia contacts because he had failed to mention that he had also met with the Russian ambassador. We have had multiple reports that Trump reacted very badly to this. He was angry. He was furious that Sessions had recused himself. This was on Friday.
Then the president gets on the plane to go to Florida, wakes up on Saturday morning, apparently heard something on conservative talk radio or read something on Breitbart about this and started tweeting. And here's some of the things he said. He tweeted, just found out that Obama had my wires tapped. Then another tweet - how low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate - bad or sick guy.
SIEGEL: And the reaction from former President Obama?
LIASSON: President Obama - former President Obama said through a spokesman he never ordered any kind of a wiretap on Donald Trump. The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said to his knowledge, no court order allowed a wiretap. And then we've had confirmation to NPR's Carrie Johnson that FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to bat this story down, to say there was no wiretap. But that request was rejected over the weekend. A White House spokesman said the president does not accept Comey's denial.
Then today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked repeatedly what evidence the president had. He - all he could say was something occurred, and he pointed to these thinly sourced reports that there was some kind of surveillance having to do with something at Trump Tower. He repeated the statement that the White House released over the weekend, which was that Congress should investigate this along with its investigation into Russian interference in the election.
SIEGEL: Mara, if there is a court order allowing this kind of surveillance, can't President Trump being president just order it to be released?
LIASSON: Absolutely. It's in his power to declassify any material he wants to. He's the only one in the United States with that power. He could also easily ask the appropriate agencies if there was a wiretap. That wouldn't take very long. Sean Spicer was asked why the president wouldn't do that, and he suggested that that would be interfering in an investigation and that Congress is the appropriate place to look into this.
This is not dissimilar to the accusation also made without evidence that Trump said 3 to 5 million Americans voted or people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. Back then, the White House said that they would form a task force to look into it. Apparently today Sean Spicer says the vice president is still in the process of forming that task force. Now they've punted this new charge about wiretapping to Congress.
SIEGEL: Mara, when Donald Trump does say something like this and when the media coverage goes off on a tangent following him, some people will say it's a sign that he's being a master manipulator of the media, distracting the country purposefully. Do you buy that?
LIASSON: Right, that's the crazy-like-a-fox theory.
SIEGEL: Yes, yeah.
LIASSON: Yes. There's the other theory that's much simpler, which is just that he wasn't in a good mood. He read something, and he impulsively reacted. Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing? It certainly called further attention to the alleged Russia connection, and it drew attention away from what was supposed to be a week about the new Obamacare replacement law.
Today, Sean Spicer briefed off-camera. As you said, Trump hasn't been seen. And Cabinet Secretaries Kelly, Tillerson and Sessions walked off the stage without taking any questions at that new executive order unveiling. Would they have done that without Trump's tweets - probably not.
SIEGEL: OK, Mara, thanks.
LIASSON: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.