Trump probe? Yes. Obama wire­tap? No.

Comey con­firms FBI in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sia, de­nies bug­ging claim.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker and Eileen Sul­li­van As­so­ci­ated Press

WASHINGTON — The FBI is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Don­ald Trump’s as­so­ciates co­or­di­nated with Rus­sian of­fi­cials in an ef­fort to sway the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Di­rec­tor James Comey said Mon­day in an ex­tra­or­di­nary pub­lic con­fir­ma­tion of a probe the pres­i­dent has re­fused to ac­knowl­edge, dis­missed as fake news and blamed on Democrats.

In a bruis­ing five-hour ses­sion, the FBI di­rec­tor also knocked down Trump’s claim that his pre­de­ces­sor had wire­tapped his New York sky­scraper, an as­ser­tion that has dis­tracted White House of­fi­cials and frus­trated fel­low Repub­li­cans who ac­knowl­edge they’ve seen no ev­i­dence to sup­port it.

The rev­e­la­tion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with Rus­sians, and the first pub­lic con­fir­ma­tion of the wider probe that be­gan last sum­mer, came in a re­mark­able hear­ing by one branch of gov­ern­ment ex­am­in­ing serious al­le­ga­tions against an­other branch and the new pres­i­dent’s elec­tion cam­paign.

Tight-lipped for the most part, Comey re­fused to of­fer de­tails on the scope, tar­gets or time­line for the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which could shadow the White House for months, if not years. The di­rec­tor would not say whether the probe has turned up ev­i­dence that Trump as­so­ciates may have schemed with Rus­sians dur­ing a cam­paign marked by email hack­ing that in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve was aimed at help­ing the Repub­li­can de­feat Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“I can prom­ise you,” the FBI di­rec­tor vowed, “we will fol­low the facts wher­ever they lead.”

Comey for the first time put him­self pub­licly at odds with the pres­i­dent by con­tra­dict­ing a se­ries of re­cent tweets from Trump that

as­serted his phones had been or­dered tapped by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama dur­ing the cam­paign.

“With re­spect to the pres­i­dent’s tweets about al­leged wire­tap­ping directed at him by the prior ad­min­is­tra­tion, I have no in­for­ma­tion that sup­ports those tweets, and we have looked care­fully in­side the FBI,” Comey said. The same was true, he added, of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

His con­fir­ma­tion of the Rus­sia-links in­ves­ti­ga­tion was strik­ing given the FBI’s historic re­luc­tance to dis­cuss its work. But Comey said the in­tense pub­lic in­ter­est in the mat­ter — and per­mis­sion from the Jus­tice Depart­ment — made it ap­pro­pri­ate to do so.

Mean­while, White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer con­tin­ued Mon­day to de­fend Trump’s claims that Obama or­dered sur­veil­lance of Trump Tower dur­ing the cam­paign.

“We are still at the be­gin­ning phase of a look as to what kind of sur­veil­lance took place and why,” Spicer told re­porters at his daily brief­ing at the White House.

Spicer ar­gued that Trump crit­ics have fo­cused too nar­rowly on the pres­i­dent’s use of the term “wire­tap­ping.”

Spicer also stressed that an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sians and the Trump cam­paign doesn’t mean that there was any. “In­ves­ti­gat­ing it and hav­ing proof of it are two dif­fer­ent things,” Spicer said.

Comey said the col­lu­sion in­quiry be­gan last July as part of a broader probe into Rus­sian med­dling in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, mean­ing Trump was elected pres­i­dent as as­so­ciates re­mained un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for pos­si­ble con­nec­tions to Rus­sia.

Clin­ton al­lies on Mon­day con­trasted Comey’s si­lence dur­ing the cam­paign with pub­lic com­ments he made last year when clos­ing out an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Clin­ton’s email prac­tices and then, shortly be­fore Elec­tion Day, an­nounc­ing that the probe would be re­vived fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of ad­di­tional emails. Many Democrats blame Comey’s pub­lic up­dates with stok­ing wor­ries about Clin­ton’s trust­wor­thi­ness and turn­ing vot­ers against her.

Comey ac­knowl­edged that “some folks may want to make com­par­isons to past in­stances” where he and other of­fi­cials were more open, but he said those were about con­cluded in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

In the cur­rent case, it’s not clear how long it will take for the FBI to de­cide if a crime was com­mit­ted, but coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tions are known for be­ing com­pli­cated and time-in­ten­sive — and for fre­quently con­clud­ing with­out charges. Comey would not com­mit to a timetable.

Re­gard­less of the out­come, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­ques­tion­ably an un­wel­come dis­trac­tion for an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has strug­gled to move past ques­tions about ties to Rus­sia. The White House tried anew Mon­day to dis­tance it­self from two for­mer se­nior mem­bers of Trump’s team, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who have been un­der scru­tiny for for­eign con­tacts.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, told Comey that reve­la­tions about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion had placed a “big gray cloud” over peo­ple try­ing to lead the coun­try.

“The faster you can get to the bot­tom of this, it’s go­ing to be bet­ter for all Amer­i­cans,” he said.

The hear­ing quickly di­vided along par­ti­san lines, Democrats press­ing for de­tails on the sta­tus of the FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion while Repub­li­cans fo­cused on news cov­er­age and pos­si­ble im­proper dis­clo­sures of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion de­vel­oped through sur­veil­lance.

Comey is the lat­est gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial to re­ject Trump’s claims, made with­out any ev­i­dence, that Obama had wire­tapped Trump Tower, his cam­paign head­quar­ters. Nunes re­jected them ear­lier in the hear­ing.

Comey tes­ti­fied along with Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency Di­rec­tor Michael Rogers, who also dis­puted al­le­ga­tions that Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence ser­vices could have been in­volved in such wire­tap­ping. The White House last week pointed to a re­port of Bri­tish in­volve­ment in an at­tempt to bol­ster the pres­i­dent’s claim. The move only an­gered an ally.

Trump took to Twit­ter be­fore Mon­day’s hear­ing be­gan, ac­cus­ing Democrats of mak­ing up al­le­ga­tions about his cam­paign as­so­ciates. He said Congress and the FBI should be go­ing af­ter me­dia leaks and maybe even Clin­ton in­stead.

“The real story that Congress, the FBI and oth­ers should be look­ing into is the leak­ing of Clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. Must find leaker now!” Trump tweeted early Mon- day as news cov­er­age on the Rus­sia al­le­ga­tions dom­i­nated the morn­ing’s cable news.

The pres­i­dent con­tin­ued to tweet through­out the hear­ing, cre­at­ing a un­usual pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the em­bat­tled pres­i­dent and his FBI di­rec­tor.

Af­ter Trump tweeted that the FBI and NSA had told Congress that Rus­sia did not in­flu­ence the elec­toral process, Comey dis­puted that de­scrip­tion. The FBI has of­fered no opin­ion and has no view and no in­for­ma­tion on the po­ten­tial im­pact on the elec­tion be­cause that’s not some­thing the bureau has looked at, he said.

The pres­i­dent also claimed that Comey had said there was no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween his aides and Rus­sia, though Comey said no such thing.

The panel’s rank­ing Demo­crat, Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, out­lined a chronol­ogy that he said sug­gested fre­quent and trou­bling con­tacts be­tween Trump as­so­ciates and Rus­sian in­ter­me­di­aries.

“Is it pos­si­ble that all of th­ese events and re­ports are com­pletely un­re­lated and noth­ing more than a en­tirely un­happy co­in­ci­dence?” he asked rhetor­i­cally. “Yes, it is pos­si­ble. But it is also pos­si­ble, maybe more than pos­si­ble, that they are not co­in­ci­den­tal, not dis­con­nected and not un­re­lated.”

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey (left), joined by Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency Di­rec­tor Michael Rogers, tes­ti­fies Mon­day on Capi­tol Hill be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, which held a hear­ing on pos­si­ble Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., flanked by rank­ing mem­ber Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. (right), lis­tens to tes­ti­mony Mon­day in the Rus­sian hack­ing probe.

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