Washington: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey confirmed that the bureau is investigating potential ties between associates of President Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaign as part of a broader look into Moscow’s efforts to “interfere” in the election.
“I have been authorized by the department of justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on Monday. “And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Comey cautioned he would not be able to discuss many details of what remains a classified probe. Given the high public interest in the outcome of the inquiry, he told members of the committee that he will pursue the investigation “wherever it may lead.”
Comey addressed the panel alongside the head of the National Security Agency as leaders of the Intelligence Committee debunked Trump’s claim that his predecessor listened in on his communications.
Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence committee, said “the fact that Russia hacked US election-related databases comes as no shock to this committee.” He also went on reject the president’s claims that the Obama administration “wiretapped” Trump Tower last year, saying, “Let me be clear: we know there was not a wiretap on Trump Tower.”
His Democratic colleague, Adam Schiff of California, said there was “no crime” in Trump or his aides having legitimate connections with Russian interests. But he added, “If the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.”
Nunes said Monday’s public hearing, with Comey and NSA chief Admiral Michael Rogers, will focus on Russia’s actions, whether campaign officials or other US citizens were improperly monitored and who was responsible for leaks of sensitive information.
Looming over the hearing was the case of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired last month for misleading vice president Mike Pence about the content of phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, a few weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Media reports at the time, based on anonymous sources, said the subject of US sanctions against Russia was discussed.
Later, attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russian probes after acknowledging that he met with the Russian ambassador during the campaign.
Trump supporters including Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and energy consultant Carter Page have denied any improprieties in their contacts with Russian officials or intermediaries. Documents released last week by congressional Democrats show Flynn received more than $45,000 from RT, the Russian government-backed television network, for his participation at a December 2015 gala where he sat at President Vladimir Putin’s table.
Trump preemptively weighed in on the proceedings, saying it was a political attack meant to undermine his administration.
“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning, using an acronym for President of the United States and referring to the former director of national intelligence. “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
Trump didn’t address the wiretapping claim on Monday. He alleged in a 4 March tweet that former President Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped, a claim denied by Obama administration officials. In a statement last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee leaders said there had been no proof that Trump Tower was a target of surveillance and the Trump administration hasn’t produced any evidence backing up the claim.
The House panel’s top Democrat, Schiff, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that a classified dossier from the justice department delivered on Friday showed “no evidence to support the president’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor” so “I hope we can put an end to this wild goose chase, because what the president said was patently false.”
‘The real story’
Trump said Congress instead should be investigating leaks that have harmed his young administration.
“The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of classified information,” the president said in a Twitter post Monday. “Must find leaker now!”
Trump officials will be watching when Comey and Rogers testify Monday in a rare open session.
“If the Democrats didn’t have Russia to talk about what would their message be?” Trump aide Omarosa Manigault said Monday on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” programme. “They have squandered an opportunity to reach out to Democrats across this country because they’ve been so obsessed on this story where there is nothing there.” Bloomberg