THE REAL WORLD

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey con­firms in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Trump cam­paign’ s pos­si­ble ties to Rus­sia, knocks down claims of Obama wire­tap

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin John­son USA TO­DAY

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.

| GETTY IMAGES

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey tes­ti­fies dur­ing aHouse In­tel­li­gence hear­ing Mon­day in­Wash­ing­ton.

JACK GRU­BER, USA TO­DAY

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey says the FBI and Jus­tice Depart­ment have no ev­i­dence of a bug in Don­ald Trump’s of­fices.

JACK GRU­BER, USA TO­DAY

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