"I don’t think the Israelis are spying on us. I really would find that hard to believe," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn driveway Thursday night, noting that "anything’s possible."
A Politico report published Thursday morning revealed that US officials have concluded the Israeli government is most likely responsible for several cellphone-monitoring devices known as StingRays discovered around Washington, DC, in recent years. The device imitates a cell tower to phones in its radius, tricking them into running data through its antennas, which the owner of the device can then record and listen to.
One of the former senior US officials who gave Politico the scoop for the story noted that the devices were most likely intended to spy on Trump and his close associates.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the charges, saying, "Israel doesn't conduct espionage operations in the United States, period."
The Politico report notes the FBI's counterintelligence division investigated the StingRays, studying to the devices to understand "a little about their history, where the parts and pieces come from, how old are they, who had access to them, and that will help get you to what the origins are.”
“It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible,” one of the officials said.
However, US police also use the devices to peer into cellphone conversations, as the FBI's investigation into Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, proved. In 2016, US lawmakers acted to try and restrict StingRays, with a 2016 House Oversight Committee report finding the US government owned some 400 of the devices at the time.
Trump's comments Thursday spread across a bevy of other topics.
The president told reporters he had approached Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the job of national security adviser, which John Bolton was fired from earlier this week. Pompeo declined, but Trump said there are still roughly 15 candidates he's considering.
Trump also noted he'd be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un again in person. The two met briefly at the demilitarized zone in late June, but no substantial negotiations have taken place since February. Pyongyang extended an offer this week to set up a meeting with US officials again before the month is out.
The president reiterated statements about being tougher on Cuba and Venezuela than noted interventionist Bolton had been, and also dismissed the idea of an interim deal on the trade war with China, saying he preferred a complete deal. He also said "Iran wants to meet," but didn't indicate whether he'd be meeting officials from Tehran or not.