GCHQ, Cheltenham
GCHQ, Cheltenham

The White House seems to have issued a rare apology after accusing the U.K.'s spy agency of having a hand in tapping Trump Tower.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claim that former President Obama ordered wiretaps of his New York offices in Trump Tower preceeding the election in January, received the latest in a series of rebuttals, this one from U.K.'s intelligence agency.

In an uncharacteristic public statement, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British equivalent of the NSA, responded on Thursday to claims by White House press secretary Sean Spicer that it was involved in the surveillance at Obama's behest. Spicer was citing a report on Fox News that former judge Andrew Napolitano had claimed GCHQ was involved so no U.S. intelligence program could be associated with the wiretap.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” Spicer announced, reading from a transcript of the comments made by Napolitano. “He didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the C.I.A., he didn't use the F.B.I., and he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.”

"Nonsense," said GCHQ, on Thursday.

“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then President-elect are nonsense,” a spokesperson at GCHQ said. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

It appears as if the White House is scrambling and now walking back its allegation. The New York Times reported on Friday that Spicer contacted Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, on Thursday night to discuss the allegations.

Though no statement has yet been issued from the White House, on Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement that “we've received assurances from the White House that these allegations would not be repeated.”

Trump so far is sticking to his contention about Obama, despite a number of refutations from Obama and the F.B.I. director. Adding to the chorus, four congressional leaders who oversee intelligence-based surveillance by the government, as well as their counterparts on the House Intelligence Committee, have denied Trump's claim. 

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, speaking in a Facebook chat on Friday, called it "incredible" that the White House may have actually apologized for President Trump's "false allegations about wiretapping of Trump Tower."

Though, there was a caveat. President Trump didn't apologize to President Obama or to the American people, he said.

Kristof did say he was glad to see some walk-back from the White House. "I'm glad to see that the White House is indeed becoming a little more reality-based," he said. "If the White House could muster that kind of contrition toward Great Britain, maybe it should also be able to muster similar contrition toward President Obama and the American people themselves."

UPDATE: White House press secretary Sean Spicer "flatly denied" on Friday that the White House apologized to the British government, according to CNN.

"I don't think we regret anything," Spicer told reporters Friday afternoon. When pressed by a CNN reporter on whether the administration had apologized to the British government about its assertion that GCHQ was involved in the wiretapping of Trump Tower, Spicer evaded the question, instead replying, "No, we were just passing on news reports."