The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—including the nature of potential “links” or “coordination” between members of the Donald Trump presidential campaign and Russian agents, FBI Director James Comey told Congress today.
The open and ongoing FBI counterintelligence operation has been underway since July, Comey told the U.S. House Intelligence Committee at a hearing this morning.
Additionally, there is no evidence that former President Barack Obama “tapped” Trump’s phones while he was a candidate, counter to Trump’s tweeted claims, Comey added. Trump tweeted out on March 4 that Obama had “tapped” his phones at his New York building.
“I have no information that supports those tweets—and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” he said, adding that the whole Justice Department agreed.
Comey would not go further into specifics as to the individuals that were the focus of the Russia probe—and he gave no timetable of when the Bureau would be concluding its look into the potential connections.
“I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks, but that’s the way it has to be,” said Comey.
The FBI director appeared next to Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency. Both answered questions about intelligence collection—including “incidental collection” of information about U.S. citizens or companies amid surveillance of foreign entities. They also discussed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
Part of the testimony Rogers offered led to questioning about Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security adviser. Flynn resigned after less than a month in his role, due to potentially unlawful contacts with the Russian ambassador prior to the election.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA, 28th District), one of the ranking members on the Committee, asked Comey whether he was engaging in “McCarthyism,” as the 45th president alleged in his tweets.
“I try very hard not to engage in -isms of any kind,” answered Comey.
Both Comey and Rogers maintained there was no evidence that vote tallies had been directly changed through Russian interference.
Schiff laid out a web of allegations including contacts between Flynn, Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page and former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian contacts, and a timeline including WikiLeaks document dumps. Schiff conceded it was “possible” that the entire scenario was a coincidence. But the congressman added that it was “perhaps more than possible” that there were links that have yet to be discovered.
“The Russians successfully meddled in our democracy—and the intelligence experts said they will do it again,” said Schiff. “The stakes are nothing less than the future of our democracy.”
Comey said Putin hated Clinton from previous foreign relations during her time as the secretary of state. Russia had three objectives—to undermine Clinton, assist Trump and to damage the perception of American democracy, Comey explained. The Russians felt Clinton's victory was nearly assured last summer—and were running operations to damage her future presidency, Comey added.
"They wanted to hurt our democracy ... hurt her, help him," he said.
Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said officials are determined to figure out who leaked information concerning the Trump administration.
Trump, meanwhile, tweeted this morning that the alleged ties from Russia to his campaign were "fake news," and that the leaks coming from the intelligence community were more important.