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Trump administration calls for probe whether Obama 'abused' investigative authority

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

The Trump administration issued a call on Sunday for Congress to probe potentially "politically motivated" investigations initiated under former president Barack Obama, just a day after President Donald Trump made an extraordinary accusation that he was wiretapped at the height of the general election.

The president sparked a firestorm on Saturday by leveling an unsubstantiated claim against his predecessor, suggesting Obama ordered surveillance on his residence at New York's Trump Tower. The suggestion was flatly rejected by an Obama aide, but the controversy has reverberated across Washington and social media.

On Sunday, White House Press Secretary issued a statement calling on Congress to look into whether the Obama administration "abused" its investigative powers before leaving office.

"Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling," Spicer said in a statement, but did not elaborate on which reports had made the wiretapping claim.

Last year, a few conservative-leaning publications reported that the FBI had obtained a Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) court warrant—a request that would have been routed through the Justice Department but not the White House.

Trump "is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016," Spicer said.

"Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted," he added.

Donald Trump
Jim Lo Scalzo | Pool | Reuters
Donald Trump

In a statement issued Saturday, Kevin Lewis, a spokesperson for Obama, rejected Trump's assertion. "A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice," he said.

"As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false," he added.

Trump's remarks also come in the middle of a roiling debate over potential contact his campaign and its surrogates may have had with Russian officials. Russia stands accused of having interfered in the election by leaking information damaging to the campaign of Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.

Trump's surprising accusation has flummoxed even some Republicans. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 GOP contender, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he had "no insight" into what prompted the president's claim.

"Suffice it to say I don't have any basis, I've never heard that allegation made before by anybody," Rubio told NBC. "I've never seen anything about that anywhere before. But again, the president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to."

The issue has widened a rift between Trump and the intelligence community, with Trump having publicly stated he's seeking a cooperative relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last October, The New York Times reported that the FBI pursued a broad inquiry into Trump's links to Russia and Putin, but the investigation failed to yield any incriminating evidence.

--NBC News contributed to this article.