Rus­sia, Trump links probed

The FBI di­rec­tor tells Congress the in­ves­ti­ga­tion started last sum­mer.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker and Eileen Sul­li­van

washington» The FBI is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Don­ald Trump’s as­so­ciates co­or­di­nated with Rus­sian of­fi­cials 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 e-mail 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.

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 e-mail prac­tices and then, shortly be­fore Elec­tion Day, an­nounc­ing that the probe would be re­vived fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of ad­di­tional e-mails. 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, a 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. Rep. Nunes re­jected them ear­lier in the hear­ing.

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, joined by Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency Di­rec­tor Michael Rogers, tes­ti­fies Mon­day be­fore a House com­mit­tee on al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. J. Scott Ap­ple­white, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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