FBI Director James Comey stated that there is no information to support wiretapping claims made by President Donald Trump. He spoke during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee with Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California. (Source: Bloomberg)
By Ellen Nakashima, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett
The Washington Post, March 20,2017
FBI Director James B. Comey acknowledged Monday that his agency is conducting an investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign in a counterintelligence probe that could reach all the way to the White House and may last for months.
The extraordinary disclosure came near the beginning of a sprawling, 5½ -hour public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in which Comey also said there is “no information” that supports President Trump’s claims that his predecessor ordered surveillance of Trump Tower during the election campaign.
Comey repeatedly refused to answer whether specific individuals close to the president had fallen under suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, “so we don’t wind up smearing people” who may not be charged with a crime. The FBI traditionally does not disclose the existence of an investigation, “but in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest,” Comey said, “it may be appropriate to do so.”
Comey also said he was authorized by the Justice Department to confirm the existence of the wide-ranging probe into Russian interference in the electoral process. He drew fire last year after he notified Congress 11 days before the presidential election — and against the department’s strong advice not to — that the FBI had reopened an examination of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
That move, Democrats charged, hurt Clinton as she was heading into the home stretch of her campaign. Now, the tables are turned. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, urged Comey to reveal if and when the bureau has information clearing any of its targets, and to do so as quickly as possible.
“There’s a big gray cloud that you’ve now put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country, and so the faster that you can get to the bottom of this, it’s going to be better for all Americans,” Nunes said. Comey said that the investigation began in late July and that for a counterintelligence probe, “that’s a fairly short period of time.”
The hearing came amid the controversy fired up by Trump more than two weeks ago when he tweeted, without providing evidence, that President Barack Obama had ordered his phones tapped at Trump Tower.
“I have no information that supports those tweets,’’ Comey said. “We have looked carefully inside the FBI,’’ and agents found nothing to support those claims.
He added that the Justice Department had asked him to tell the committee that the agency has no such information, either.
Under questioning from the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), Comey said no president could order such surveillance.
Remarkably, Trump’s presidential Twitter account continued to fire away throughout the widely watched hearing, live-tweeting comments and assertions that lawmakers then referred to and used to question Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers. At the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer stressed that an investigation into possible collusion between Russian officials and Trump associates doesn’t mean that there was any. “Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things,” Spicer said. “I think it’s fine to look into it, but at the end of the day they’re going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else has had.” Said Spicer: “There’s no evidence of a Trump-Russian collusion.”
As the hearing was going on, Trump’s presidential Twitter account — in an apparent dig at Comey and carrying the suggestion that Obama administration officials were behind the leaks — posted the tweet: “FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia.”