FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that the FBI is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
He also shot down President Donald Trump’s explosive claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in the run-up to the election.
Comey told the House Intelligence Committee at a hearing that the bureau normally does not comment on the existence of counterintelligence investigations, but that he was authorized by the Justice Department to do so in this case because of the extraordinary public interest.
“This will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed,” Comey told the intelligence panel, explaining that the investigation began in late July. He said he could not give a timeline or comment further on the matter but pledged to “follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Comey also said he had “no information” to support Trump’s claim, made on Twitter, about Trump Tower being wiretapped by his predecessor.
“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said. He added that the Justice Department had also looked for evidence to support the president’s allegation and could not find any.
Comey noted that “some folks may want to make comparison to past instances where the Department of Justice and the FBI have spoken about the details of some investigations,” an apparent reference to his decision to speak publicly before the election about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. He said the difference was that “those involved the details of completed investigations.”
Republicans on the committee focused their questions on getting to the bottom of who leaked to the news media the fact that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had pre-inauguration conversations with Russia’s ambassador.
“Whether Russia attempted to influence our democratic process is incredibly important,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). “Some of that may rise to the level of a crime. Some of it does not rise to the level of a crime. One thing you and I agree on is the felonious dissemination of classified material most definitely is a crime.”
Comey declined to say whether the FBI was investigating the potential leak of classified information related to Flynn, but he said that such a leak would be taken very seriously.
His acknowledgment that the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election meddling began in July is significant, as it means the FBI was looking into the matter during the height of the presidential campaign. In October, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent a letter to Comey accusing him of having a “double standard” because he was willing to speak out about Clinton’s emails but not about Trump’s links to Russia.
“It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government,” Reid wrote. “The public has a right to know this information.”
National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, who testified alongside Comey, told the committee there was no evidence of any votes actually being changed by the Russians.
Trump’s official Twitter account pointed to Rogers’ comments during the hearing, writing: “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.”
Later in the hearing, Comey said it was not “our intention” to say that Russia’s actions had no impact on the election. Asked specifically about Trump’s tweet, he said: “We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because that’s not something we’ve looked at.”
But, he added, “We saw no efforts aimed at the vote itself.”
Minutes before Comey’s highly anticipated testimony, the intelligence panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, scolded Trump on the president’s platform of choice: Twitter.
“Mr. President, the Russians hacked our election and interfered. No one disputes this now, but you. This is what is called ‘fact,’” Schiff wrote in a series of tweets denouncing Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. “The intelligence community concluded the Russians will interfere again. This is why full investigation is important to country. Please stop.”
Schiff followed with more tweets directed at the president, saying there’s no evidence Obama or the British government surveilled him.
“Your suggestion British wiretapped you & jape with Merkel are harming our relationships with key allies. This is called ‘collateral damage,’” Schiff tweeted, a reference to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s claim last week that the U.K.’s intelligence apparatus might have spied on Trump. The White House has since promised to the U.K. that it wouldn’t repeat those allegations.
Schiff’s messages were in response to a series of early morning tweets from the president on Monday. Hours before Comey was to testify, Trump tweeted that there’s no evidence that he colluded with Russia and that any claims that he did are “fake news.” He blamed Democrats for fabricating the story “as an excuse for running a terrible campaign.”
At the start of the hearing, Schiff delivered a lengthy speech running through the public evidence of links between Trump associates and Moscow. He leaned heavily on an unsubstantiated “dossier” compiled by a former British intelligence agent.
“If the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history,” Schiff said.
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