Comey: FBI investigating ties between Russia, Trump associates

Updated March 20, 2017 - 3:29 pm

WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that the FBI is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election and whether there was collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

“I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they may lead,” Comey assured the House Intelligence Committee.

The day began with President Donald Trump tweeting in advance of the committee hearing, “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”

By midday, Comey, flanked by National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, had stipulated that the FBI has no information to support Trump’s March 4 tweets that accused former President Barack Obama of having Trump Tower wiretapped.

With those disclosures over at the beginning of the hearing, partisans on both sides of the aisle used the session to try to score political points.

Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., railed against apparent leaks of transcripts authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Rogers and Comey agreed that leaking information on Americans from a FISA wiretap is a serious crime, worthy of investigation.

Nunes asked Rogers if the intelligence community continued to find no proof that Russian operatives tampered with the ballot counts in various states. Rogers confirmed there had been no finding of ballot tampering.

Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California asked Comey and Rogers if the intelligence community remained confident in its assessment that the Russians had intended to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton in her bid to win in November. Both Comey and Rogers confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Clinton to lose in November — although the Russians, like many political insiders, expected her to win.

Nunes and other Republicans brought up intelligence officials from the Obama administration who have stated publicly they saw no evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and Trump Tower. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, for example, told “Meet the Press,” “We saw no evidence of collusion.”

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., noted that former acting director of the CIA Mike Morell told a recent forum, “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire at all.”

Comey would not comment.

Democrats on the committee rattled off a list of Trump associates who had communicated with Russian officials. Trump’s first National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had to resign after the Washington Post reported he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about communications he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — the information apparently came from FISA transcripts.

Carter Page, an unpaid foreign policy adviser to the campaign, attended a meeting with Kislyak before he left the campaign in September. Paul Manafort had to resign as Trump campaign manager in August in part because of news stories that put him on the payroll to the pro-Russian party in Ukraine. And close Trump friend Roger Stone bragged during the campaign that he was communicating with Guccifer 2.0, whom authorities believe played a role in the Russian hacks of Clinton associates.

During the hearing, Reps. Jackie Speier and Eric Swalwell, both Democrats from California, compared the Russian hacks to acts of war. After the hearing, Swalwell noted “there are a lot of dots” between Trump associates and Russia. Maybe it’s innocent, he said, maybe not. He hopes Flynn, Page, Manafort and Stone will agree to testify under oath in front of the committee.

Also after the hearing, Nunes told a press scrum he didn’t know who Stone is and that none of the names mentioned by committee Democrats work for the administration. “We can’t start hauling in Americans” to testify because of press reports, he said.

“Quadruple hearsay,” was the reaction of Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., during the hearing.

“I still don’t see a lot of there there,” international attorney Robert Amsterdam observed, “but I can’t be blind to the ongoing number of things that don’t add up well.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, “it’s clear nothing has changed. Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla, asked the rare question that did not necessarily raise a partisan point. What did the Russians do in the U.S. presidential race last year that they haven’t done before?

“They were unusually loud,” Comey answered. He added, “They’ll be back. And they’ll be back in 2020, they may be back in 2018 and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sewed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal. com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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