FBI chief: No sign of wire­tap

Comey con­firms Trump cam­paign-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Ellen Nakashima, Karoun Demir­jian and Devlin Bar­rett of The Wash­ing­ton Post; by Matt Apuzzo, Matthew Rosen­berg and Em­marie Huet­te­man of The New York Times; and by Eric Tucker and Eileen Sul­li­van of The Asso

WASH­ING­TON — FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey said Mon­day that there is “no in­for­ma­tion” that sup­ports Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claims that his pre­de­ces­sor or­dered surveil­lance of Trump Tower dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign.

“I have no in­for­ma­tion that sup­ports those tweets,” said Comey, tes­ti­fy­ing at the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s

first pub­lic hear­ing on Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 cam­paign. “We have looked care­fully inside the FBI” and agents found noth­ing to sup­port those claims, he said.

The five-hour ses­sion comes more than two weeks after Trump tweeted, with­out pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence, that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had or­dered his phones tapped at Trump Tower.

Un­der ques­tion­ing from the top Demo­crat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, Comey said no pres­i­dent could or­der such surveil­lance. He added that the Jus­tice Depart­ment had asked him to also tell the com­mit­tee that that agency has no such in­for­ma­tion, ei­ther.

Comey also ac­knowl­edged the ex­is­tence of a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion and said that probe ex­tends to the na­ture of any links be­tween Trump cam­paign as­so­ciates and the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

Comey said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is also ex­plor­ing whether there was any co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the cam­paign and

the Krem­lin and “whether any crimes were com­mit­ted.”

The ac­knowl­edg­ment was an un­usual move, given that the FBI’s prac­tice is not to con­firm the ex­is­tence of ongoing in­ves­ti­ga­tions. “But in un­usual cir­cum­stances, where it is in the pub­lic in­ter­est,” Comey said, “it may be ap­pro­pri­ate to do so.”

He said he had been au­tho­rized by the Jus­tice Depart­ment to con­firm the wide-rang­ing probe’s ex­is­tence.

Cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials say they have un­cov­ered ev­i­dence that Trump’s as­so­ciates were in re­peated con­tact with Rus­sian of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing peo­ple tied to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence.

Roger Stone, a long­time ad­viser to Trump, has ac­knowl­edged com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Guc­cifer 2.0, an on­line per­sona be­lieved to be a front for Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials in­volved in dis­sem­i­nat­ing hacked Demo­cratic emails. Stone has de­nied that there was any­thing im­proper about the con­tact and said he was one of many, in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives and jour­nal­ists, to com­mu­ni­cate with the hack­ers.

Last July, the month that Wik­iLeaks be­gan re­leas­ing the hacked emails, Carter Page, a for­eign pol­icy ad­viser to Trump, vis­ited Moscow for a speak­ing en­gage­ment. Page has de­clined to say whom he met there, but he has said they were mostly schol­ars.

Michael Flynn, a Trump cam­paign ad­viser who went on to be his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, was paid more than $65,000 by com­pa­nies linked to Rus­sia in 2015, in­clud­ing an Amer­i­can branch of a cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm be­lieved to have ties to Rus­sia’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, ac­cord­ing to con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Flynn was forced to re­sign after mis­rep­re­sent­ing his con­ver­sa­tions with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the United States.

Democrats on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee listed those Rus­sian con­nec­tions and oth­ers as they painted Trump as a can­di­date who adopted pro-Rus­sia views and courted Rus­sian in­ter­ests.

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

The FBI di­rec­tor vowed to “fol­low the facts wher­ever they lead.”

Comey and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency head Michael Rogers, who also spoke at the hear­ing, pre­dicted that Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies will con­tinue to seek to med­dle with U.S. po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, be­cause the Rus­sian agen­cies view their work in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race as suc­cess­ful.

“They’ll be back in 2020, they may be back in 2018,” Comey said. “One of the lessons

they may draw from this is that they were suc­cess­ful, in­tro­duc­ing chaos and dis­cord” into the elec­toral process.

“It’s pos­si­ble they’re mis­read­ing that as ‘it worked,’ so we’ll come back and hit them again in 2020,” Comey added.

Rogers agreed: “I fully ex­pect they will main­tain this level of ac­tiv­ity.” And, he said, Moscow is con­duct­ing a sim­i­lar “ac­tive mea­sures” cam­paign in Europe, where France and Ger­many are hold­ing elec­tions this year.

TWEET DUR­ING HEAR­ING

Trump and the com­mit­tee’s Repub­li­cans seemed most stirred up by leaks to the me­dia. In­for­ma­tion shared with the me­dia has re­sulted in a se­ries of sto­ries over the past 1½ months about con­tacts Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials or close as­so­ciates had with Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

One such story was The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Feb. 9 piece on Flynn, who the Post said had dis­cussed the sub­ject of sanc­tions with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, Sergey Kislyak, in the month be­fore Trump took of­fice.

The Post re­ported that the dis­cus­sions were mon­i­tored un­der rou­tine, court-ap­proved surveil­lance of Kislyak’s calls. Flynn de­nied to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence that he had spo­ken about sanc­tions, lead­ing to his res­ig­na­tion.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., sug­gested that the leaks were po­lit­i­cal. He asked Comey if the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity had shared such in­for­ma­tion with for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch or Obama.

Comey, who had ac­knowl­edged that in gen­eral se­nior of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Lynch, would have ac­cess to such in­for­ma­tion, said he would not com­ment on his con­ver­sa­tions with Obama or Trump.

As the hear­ing was go­ing on — in an ap­par­ent dig at Comey and car­ry­ing the suggestion that Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were be­hind the leaks — Trump’s pres­i­den­tial Twit­ter ac­count tweeted “FBI Di­rec­tor Comey re­fuses to deny he briefed Pres­i­dent Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Rus­sia.”

Just hours be­fore the start of the hear­ing, Trump posted a se­ries of tweets claim­ing Democrats “made up” the al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian con­tacts in an at­tempt to dis­credit the GOP dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Trump also urged fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors to shift their fo­cus to probe dis­clo­sures of clas­si­fied ma­te­rial.

“The real story that Congress, the FBI and all oth­ers should be look­ing into is the leak­ing of Clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion,” Trump wrote early Mon­day. “Must find leaker now!”

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, sought an ad­mis­sion from the of­fi­cials that the leaks were il­le­gal un­der the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Surveil­lance Act, the law that gov­erns for­eign in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing on U.S. soil or of Amer­i­cans over­seas.

“Yes,” Comey an­swered. “In ad­di­tion to be­ing a breach of our trust with the FISA court.”

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., pressed Rogers to clar­ify un­der what cir­cum­stances it would be le­git­i­mate for Amer­i­cans caught on tape speak­ing with peo­ple un­der surveil­lance to have their iden­ti­ties dis­closed pub­licly, and whether leak­ing those iden­ti­ties would “hurt or help” in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion. “Hurt,” Rogers noted. Rogers stressed that the iden­ti­ties of Amer­i­cans picked up through “in­ci­den­tal col­lec­tion” — that be­ing the way in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials picked up on Flynn’s phone calls with Kislyak — are dis­closed only on a “valid, need-to-know” ba­sis, and usu­ally only when there is a crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity or po­ten­tial threat to the United States at play.

Rogers added that there are a to­tal of 20 peo­ple in the NSA he has del­e­gated to make de­ci­sions about when some­one’s iden­tity can be un­masked.

Comey did con­firm that the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the Jus­tice Depart­ment and oth­ers — in­clud­ing per­son­nel in the White House in some sit­u­a­tions — could have ac­cess to un­masked names of Amer­i­cans.

But he stressed that only the col­lect­ing agency can un­mask the iden­ti­ties of peo­ple. Oth­ers with whom the in­for­ma­tion is shared “can ask the col­lec­tors to un­mask,” he said — but can’t do it on their own.

Comey de­clined to say whether any of­fi­cials had sought ap­proval from the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Surveil­lance Court to mon­i­tor any­one in the Trump cam­paign, say­ing he did not want to dis­cuss the work­ings of the highly se­cre­tive court. In­di­vid­u­als fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss a sen­si­tive mat­ter, have said there was no such re­quest made dur­ing the cam­paign.

The FBI probe com­bines an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into hack­ing op­er­a­tions by Rus­sian spy agen­cies with ef­forts to un­der­stand how the Krem­lin sought to ma­nip­u­late pub­lic opin­ion and in­flu­ence the elec­tion’s out­come.

In Jan­uary, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity re­leased a re­port con­clud­ing that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin wanted to not only un­der­mine the le­git­i­macy of the elec­tion process but also harm the cam­paign of Hil­lary Clin­ton and boost Trump’s chances of win­ning.

Hack­ers work­ing for Rus­sian spy agen­cies pen­e­trated the com­put­ers of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee in 2015 and 2016 as well as the email ac­counts of Demo­cratic of­fi­cials, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said in the re­port. The ma­te­rial was re­layed to Wik­iLeaks, the of­fi­cials said, and the anti-se­crecy group be­gan a se­ries of dam­ag­ing email re­leases just be­fore the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion that con­tin­ued through the fall.

AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

“I have no in­for­ma­tion that sup­ports those tweets,” FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey said Mon­day in con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s wire­tap­ping claims.

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