Comey confirms ongoing probe into Trump, Russia ties
National Security | Both FBI and NSA say they’ve seen no evidence to support wiretapping accusation
by Evan Wilt
Posted 3/20/17, 04:38 pm
WASHINGTON—FBI Director James Comey revealed Monday the bureau has an ongoing investigation into President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and possible coordination with Russian officials.
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey said. “And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”
Comey carefully selected his words in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday as lawmakers grilled him and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump’s accusation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped his office, and instances of leaked classified information. The FBI director confirmed the Trump-Russia probe began in late July but would not say which campaign members are under the microscope or confirm other details of the process.
In another blow to the White House, both Comey and Rogers asserted they have seen zero evidence to support the president’s claim Obama used surveillance tactics against him. In a March 4 tweet, Trump said Obama ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower, a claim he has repeated despite a lack of evidence.
“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey told the committee.
Before Trump’s inauguration in January, the FBI and NSA released a report claiming Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered interference in the 2016 U.S. election with the goal of hurting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and helping Trump. Both Rogers and Comey said today that assessment has not changed.
Since the inauguration, Democrats have scrambled for convicting evidence that Russia’s meddling equaled coordination with the Trump campaign.
Comey made it clear that the ongoing investigation does not mean anyone in the Trump campaign is guilty. The FBI director also said he’s unable to provide a timetable of when the bureau will complete its investigation or even provide public updates on its progress.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., began the rounds of questioning by asking if Russia’s propaganda swung votes in favor of Trump.
Rogers and Comey both said they have not seen evidence Russia’s efforts changed votes in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, or any other key state.
On Twitter, Trump quickly noted the meaninglessness of Russian propaganda.
“The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process,” the president tweeted, along with a video clip of Comey’s and Rogers’ statements.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, later read the tweet out loud, but Comey and Rogers refused to say whether the president’s tweet was accurate. Comey said it was not his intention to say what tangible impact Russia had on vote totals because he has no information on that.
At the beginning of the hearing, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, said Russia’s impact on the 2016 election does not matter.
“We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election,” he said. “Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign in which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter. What does matter is this: The Russians successfully meddled in our democracy, and our intelligence agencies have concluded that they will do so again.”
Comey said it’s clear the Russians launched their propaganda campaign to undermine American faith in the democratic process. The Russians later shifted to help Trump and discredit Clinton, and by late summer moved exclusively to attack Clinton after polls showed Trump had little chance of winning.
This is not the first time Russia has tried to influence a U.S. election, Rogers said, and it won’t be the last. He called 2016 unique because he’s never seen Russia publish information on “such a massive scale,” using the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta as an example. Comey said he expects Russia to try to meddle again in 2020, and possibly in 2018 as well.
Democrats on the panel pressed Comey to discuss possible targets of the investigation, such as former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Comey declined to name any individuals in the probe—including the president himself.
Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.