THE REAL WORLD
FBI Director James Comey confirms investigation of Trump campaign’ s possible ties to Russia, knocks down claims of Obama wiretap
FBI Director James Comey on Monday offered the most definitive repudiation yet of President Trump’s claims that the Obama administration wiretapped the president’s New York offices in advance of the 2016 elections.
“The FBI and the Justice Department have no information to support’’ Trump’s wiretap assertions, Comey said.
Comey, appearing before the House Intelligence Committee along with National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, confirmed for the first time publicly that the FBI was investigating Russian interference in the election, including communication between Trump associates and Russian officials.
“We’re investigating whether there was any coordination between people associated with the Trump campaign and the Russians,” Comey said, declining to elaborate on whether any such evidence had been uncovered. Comey did acknowledge that the Russians appeared to use a third party — a “cutout” — in its com--
munication with WikiLeaks, which published internal information obtained in a hack of the Democratic National Committee. The identity of the third party was not disclosed.
“If any Americans are part of that effort,” Comey said of possible collusion with Russian officials, “then that is a very serious matter.”
Trump tweeted Monday that any suggestion that his associates coordinated efforts with Russian officials was “fake news.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said “nothing had changed” as a result of Comey’s appearance before the committee.
“Investigating ( Russian interference) and having proof of it are two different things,” Spicer said.
For weeks, federal law enforcement officials have privately confirmed the existence of an inquiry involving Trump associates and Russia, but Comey’s public acknowledgment of such an investigation — with no apparent timeline for completion — raised the prospect that a criminal probe will indefinitely shadow the administration along with the disputed wiretap claims.
Comey’s denial that Trump Tower was illegally wiretapped before the elections came days after House and Senate leaders refuted the claims in bipartisan joint statements, leaving the White House alone in asserting the allegations.
“Let me be clear,” House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R- Calif., said Monday, “we know there was not a wiretap on Trump Tower. However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the House committee’s ranking Democrat, called Trump’s claims ” slanderous,” adding that “we do not yet know whether the Russians had the help of U. S. citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign.”
Schiff said the effort to determine the scope of Russian interference in the election system represented the most important challenge for U. S. intelligence.
“The stakes are nothing less than the future of liberal democracy,” Schiff said.
The false wiretap accusation has not only dogged the White House for the past three weeks, it also has triggered a diplomatic row with a key ally. Trump and aides cited a discredited report by FoxNews commentator Andrew Napolitano that President Obama asked a British intelligence agency to tap Trump. The British government strongly rejected the account Friday, and the Trump administration pledged not to use the claim again.
Asked about the flap during a joint White House appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said, “That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox, and so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox. OK?”
Monday, Rogers rejected that claim, too, telling the House panel that U. S. authorities never sought the help of British intelligence to conduct such surveillance.
Asked whether the claims had damaged the relationship between the United States and its primary ally, Rogers said the report was “frustrating.”
“I don’t know the basis for President Trump’s assertion,” Sen. Susan Collins, R- Maine, said Sunday. “I do believe he owes us that explanation.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R- Wis., sought to move beyond the dispute. “I want to get on with passing our agenda,” Ryan said.
The high- stakes House hearing Monday featured numerous efforts to press Comey and Rogers to disclose possible targets of the investigation or issue preliminary conclusions on whether there is any evidence of collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials.
Nunes and former director of national intelligence James Clapper have said no such evidence of coordination exists. Nunes reasserted that claim Monday, but Comey and Rogers repeatedly declined to comment on the matter.
The FBI director and Rogers declined numerous times to respond to questions about whether former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was a subject of the FBI’s inquiry. Flynn was forced to resign last month after it was determined that he misled Vice President Pence about his pre- inaugural contacts with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.
Other top Trump advisers’ contacts with Kislyak have been called into question. Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose two encounters with the Russian ambassador when questioned during his confirmation hearing in January. The disclosure prompted Sessions’ recusal from any involvement in the inquiry on Russia.
Committee Republicans suggested Monday that the questions about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak emerged only as a result of unauthorized leaks of classified information that appeared in media accounts. Rep. Trey Gowdy, RS. C., and Rep. Tom Rooney, R- Fla., pressed Comey to commit to moving forward with a parallel leak investigation, even as the bureau pursued the Russia inquiry.
Though he characterized such leaks as “terrible,” Comey again refused to address specific questions about Russian contact with Flynn and other Trump associates, including flamboyant adviser Roger Stone and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The committee hearing came a little more than two weeks after Trump leveled his accusations against Obama in a tweet- storm. One tweet said, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘ wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
The charges brought furious denials from Obama aides, who asserted that the law forbids presidents from ordering wiretaps.
Trump and aides have denied any connection to Russians who sought to hack Democratic officials during last year’s election and said opponents leak derogatory information against them as part of a “witch hunt” to undermine the presidency.
For Comey, Monday’s hearing represented another unusually high- profile role for the FBI director.
He was harshly criticized by Republicans for a public announcement in July that he was not recommending criminal charges against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of State. He drew the wrath of Democrats in October for announcing that the bureau reopened its email review, 11 days before the presidential election.
Monday, Comey was cautious not to indicate that the FBI had reached any determinations about contacts with Russia, though he reasserted last year’s findings by the U. S. intelligence community that Russia expressly sought to influence the election and favored Trump.
“They wanted to hurt ( Clinton) and help him,” Comey said, adding that the conclusion was a “fairly easy judgment” by the intelligence community.
National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers says U. S. authorities didn’t seek the help of British intelligence to conduct surveillance.
FBI Director James Comey testifies during aHouse Intelligence hearing Monday inWashington.
FBI Director James Comey says the FBI and Justice Department have no evidence of a bug in Donald Trump’s offices.