No proof

The House in­tel­li­gence panel’s top Repub­li­can and Demo­crat said they found no ev­i­dence of wire­tap­ping at Trump Tower.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE DEBONIS Ellen Nakashima con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The Repub­li­can chair­man and rank­ing Demo­crat on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee said Sun­day that new doc­u­ments pro­vided to Congress by the Jus­tice De­part­ment pro­vided no proof to sup­port Pres­i­dent Trump’s claim that his pre­de­ces­sor had or­dered wire­taps of Trump Tower.

“Was there a phys­i­cal wire­tap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was, and the in­for­ma­tion we got on Fri­day con­tin­ues to lead us in that di­rec­tion,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair­man, said on “Fox News Sun­day.”

He added, “There was no FISA war­rant that I’m aware of to tap Trump Tower” — a ref­er­ence to the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act, a fed­eral law that gov­erns the is­suance of search war­rants in U.S. in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the panel’s top Demo­crat, also said there is no proof of a wire­tap: “We are at the bot­tom of this: There is noth­ing at the bot­tom.”

Nunes and Schiff spoke a day be­fore their panel is sched­uled to have its first pub­lic hear­ing on al­leged Rus­sian at­tempts to in­ter­fere in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — a sub­ject that is cer­tain to in­clude dis­cus­sion of con­tacts be­tween Trump cam­paign fig­ures and Rus­sian op­er­a­tives. Trump’s first na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, re­signed last month af­ter it was re­vealed that he had pri­vately dis­cussed U.S. sanc­tions with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton be­fore Trump took of­fice.

Schiff, speak­ing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said he ex­pects FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey to tes­tify clearly at the hear­ing that there is no fac­tual ba­sis for Trump’s wire­tap­ping claims.

“I hope that we can put an end to this wild goose chase, be­cause what the pres­i­dent said was just patently false,” the Demo­crat said. “It’s con­tin­u­ing to grow in terms of dam­age, and he needs to put an end to this.”

Comey pri­vately told law­mak­ers last week that there is no ba­sis what­so­ever for Trump’s claim. “It was a cat­e­gor­i­cal de­nial,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. The FBI chief is ex­pected to say so pub­licly on Mon­day.

Although they agreed on the wire­tap­ping claims, Nunes and Schiff did not agree on whether the ques­tion of col­lu­sion be­tween Trump cam­paign fig­ures and Rus­sian op­er­a­tives has been set­tled.

Nunes said the new Jus­tice De­part­ment doc­u­ments, sub­mit­ted Fri­day in re­sponse to a con­gres­sional re­quest, in­cluded “no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion” to swing the elec­tion in Trump’s fa­vor and re­peated pre­vi­ous state­ments that there is no cred­i­ble proof that there was any ac­tive co­or­di­na­tion. The law­maker said he re­mains pri­mar­ily con­cerned about leaks of U.S. sur­veil­lance of con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Flynn and Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak.

“That’s the only crime we know has been com­mit­ted right now,” Nunes said.

But Schiff said there was “cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion” at the out­set of the con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions into pur­ported Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling, as well as “di­rect ev­i­dence” that Trump cam­paign fig­ures sought to de­ceive the pub­lic about their in­ter­ac­tions with Rus­sian fig­ures.

“Of course, there’s one thing to say there’s ev­i­dence; there’s an­other thing to say we can prove this or prove it beyond a rea­son­able doubt,” he said. “But there was cer­tainly enough for us to con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Amer­i­can peo­ple have a right to know, and in order to de­fend our­selves, we need to know whether the cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion and di­rect ev­i­dence of de­cep­tion is in­dica­tive of more.”

Trump last week re­fused to back down from his tweets on March 4 that claimed Pres­i­dent Barack Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just be­fore the vic­tory” and com­pared it to McCarthy­ism and the Water­gate scan­dal. But no cred­i­ble ev­i­dence has emerged to sup­port those claims, and the top Repub­li­can and Demo­crat on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee said last week that they have seen noth­ing that sup­ports the al­le­ga­tion.

In a Fox News Chan­nel in­ter­view on Thurs­day, Trump said, “I think you’re go­ing to find some very in­ter­est­ing items com­ing to the fore­front over the next two weeks.”

Nunes said Trump could be re­fer­ring to new in­for­ma­tion about whether in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials “un­masked,” or iden­ti­fied, U.S. cit­i­zens who were cap­tured speak­ing with for­eign of­fi­cials who are un­der rou­tine sur­veil­lance — a process gov­erned by FISA. “That is very pos­si­ble, and we don’t have the an­swers to those ques­tions yet,” he said. “We had a dead­line of Fri­day for the NSA, FBI and CIA to get us those names that were un­masked through the FISA sys­tem. We didn’t get those names on Fri­day, and un­til we get those names, we can’t rule this out.”

He added that Mon­day’s hear­ing is “just the be­gin­ning” and that he plans to con­tinue look­ing into who re­vealed Flynn’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Kislyak.

“We’re try­ing to get to ev­ery­one who, for lack of a bet­ter term, was at the crime scene,” he said. “We’re try­ing to bring them all in, see what they knew, when they knew it, if they knew about the leaks, if they knew about Gen­eral Flynn’s name be­ing un­masked. These are all ques­tions that we need to get to the bot­tom of.”

Trump re­mains un­der pres­sure from mem­bers of his own party to back off his claims of il­le­gal wire­tap­ping — par­tic­u­larly af­ter the furor in­ten­si­fied last week when White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer sug­gested that Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence might have played a role in the sur­veil­lance. Spicer later apol­o­gized for the claim and ex­plained that he had re­peated an un­ver­i­fied me­dia re­port.

Matthew Olsen, a for­mer head of in­tel­li­gence pro­grams at the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Divi­sion and a for­mer gen­eral coun­sel of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, said a claim like Trump’s is “de­struc­tive on a cou­ple of lev­els.”

One, a false claim that the FBI is en­gaged in il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity — act­ing on a pres­i­dent’s order to wire­tap a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date — “erodes the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the White House and the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.” But more fun­da­men­tally, he said, con­tin­u­ing to make such a claim “also erodes pub­lic con­fi­dence in what comes out of the White House.”

On ABC’s “This Week,” an­other Repub­li­can on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee called on Trump to apol­o­gize for ac­cus­ing Obama of or­der­ing an il­le­gal wire­tap.

“To quote my 85-year-old fa­ther ... it never hurts to say you’re sorry,” said Rep. Will Hurd ( Tex.), a for­mer clan­des­tine agent for the CIA. “I think it helps with our al­lies. We’ve got to make sure that we’re all work­ing to­gether. We live in a very dan­ger­ous world, and we can’t do this alone. . . . It’s not just sorry to the pres­i­dent, but also to the U.K. for the claims or the in­ti­ma­tion that the U.K. was in­volved in this, as well. It doesn’t hurt. And it takes away from the rest of his agenda.”

Hurd said that “some folks will prob­a­bly be frus­trated” by the hear­ing Mon­day be­cause the of­fi­cials set to tes­tify, in­clud­ing Comey, might not be able to elab­o­rate on in­ves­tiga­tive mat­ters: “There may be an ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion go­ing on, a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And if there’s an ac­tive crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we need to al­low law en­force­ment . . . do their job.”

In a sep­a­rate in­ter­view on “This Week,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) fo­cused on the leak of Flynn’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Kislyak and said those within the fed­eral gov­ern­ment who might have been re­spon­si­ble should un­dergo lie-de­tec­tor tests.

“It is very, very im­por­tant that who­ever re­leased that go to jail, be­cause you can­not have mem­bers of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity lis­ten­ing to the most pri­vate and highly clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion and then re­leas­ing that to the New York Times,” Paul said. “There can only be a cer­tain hand­ful of peo­ple who did that. I would bring them all in. They would have to take lie-de­tec­tor tests. And, I would say, in­clud­ing the po­lit­i­cal peo­ple, be­cause some po­lit­i­cal peo­ple knew about this as well.”

Paul said, us­ing a term in­creas­ingly fa­vored by con­ser­va­tives for mem­bers of the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy, “You will get a ‘deep state.’ You will have an in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity that has enor­mous power if that hap­pens.”

Hurd, how­ever, pushed back on the no­tion that a deep state was seek­ing to un­der­mine Trump.

“I spent nine and a half years as an un­der­cover of­fi­cer. I was the dude in the back al­leys at 4 in the morn­ing col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence to pro­tect our home­land,” he said. “The men and the women in the CIA, they do their job re­gard­less of who is in the White House. Same for NSA. Same for FBI. These men and women are putting them­selves in harm’s way.”

If true, the al­leged cam­paign of po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence by Rus­sia, Hurd said, would “go down in the his­tory of Mother Rus­sia as the great­est covert ac­tion cam­paign” it had ever pur­sued.

“It cre­ated a wedge, whether real or per­ceived, be­tween the White House, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and the Amer­i­can pub­lic,” he said. “And that’s why, as we go through this re­view and in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it has to be bi­par­ti­san. It has to be thor­ough. And it has to be thought­ful, be­cause we are feed­ing into this covert-ac­tion nar­ra­tive that the Rus­sians are try­ing to cre­ate.”

“I hope we can put an end to this wild goose chase, be­cause what the pres­i­dent said was just patently false. It’s con­tin­u­ing to grow in terms of dam­age.” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee

JUSTIN LANE/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Law­mak­ers dis­pute Pres­i­dent Trump’s claims that Trump Tower, above, was wire­tapped dur­ing the elec­tions. House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), top left, and rank­ing Demo­crat Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), top right, both said on news shows on Sun­day they had seen no ev­i­dence that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion or­dered wire­taps.

MARK WIL­SON/GETTY IMAGES

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