By Stephen Collinson, CNN
FBI Chief James Comey said publicly for the first time Monday that his agency is investigating alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign and whether any crimes may have been committed during last year’s election campaign.
“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 said in his opening statement to a dramatic hearing before the House Intelligence Committee.
But Comey said that while an investigation was going on he would be unable to give few details about its progress or whether anyone in particular was being targeted.
The hearing, which also features testimony from National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, could also shed light on the state of FBI investigations into the extent of Russian meddling in the election campaign. Republicans hope Comey will state that there is no evidence of collusion between Trump aides and officials from Moscow, a move that could begin to break up a cloud of Russian intrigue that has stifled the early weeks of the administration. But Democrats say there is circumstantial evidence of wrongdoing that needs to be probed.
Comey is also expected to publicly reject President Donald Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Republican Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes said the hearing would have several areas of focus — the extent to which Russian intervened in the US election and whether any campaign officials conspired in those efforts. He restated that there was not a wiretap against Trump Tower, but did not rule out other kinds of surveillance against the Trump campaign. Nunes also said the hearing would seek information about who has leaked classified information linked to the issue or Russian election interference.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, said it was not yet known whether the Russian operation was aided by US citizens, “including people associated with the Trump campaign.”
“Many of Trump’s campaign personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime,” Schiff said.
“On the other hand, 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.”
Schiff related alleged links between people close to Trump and Russia, including his former campaign aide Paul Manafort, using the President’s words during the campaign and publicly available information contained in a dossier drawn up by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, large portions of which have yet to be corroborated by CNN.
“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated. … Yes, it is possible,” Schiff said.
“It is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt US persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.”
Trump tried to shift attention away from the wiretapping claims in a series of Monday morning tweets.
“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” Trump wrote shortly after 6:30 a.m. ET, followed by: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
The controversy over the wiretapping claims was unleashed by stunning early morning tweets from the President at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida two weeks ago. He drew parallels to Watergate and McCarthyism and said Obama was a “Bad (or sick) guy!” for ordering surveillance of his New York residence — allegations the former president quickly denied through a spokesman.
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