FBI probing possible links between Russia, Trump associates

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WASHINGTON (AP) - FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that the bureau is investigating possible links and coordination between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in last year's presidential campaign.

The extraordinary revelation, and the first public confirmation of the wider investigation that began last summer, came in a congressional hearing examining Russian meddling and possible connections between Moscow and Trump's campaign.

In a bruising five-hour session, the FBI director also rejected the new president's claim that his predecessor had wiretapped his New York skyscraper, and he corrected, in real time, the president's Monday tweets about his testimony.

Comey noted that the FBI does not ordinarily discuss ongoing investigations, but he said he'd been authorized to do so given the extreme public interest in this case.

"This work is very complex, and there is no way for me to give you a timetable for when it will be done," Comey told the House intelligence committee.

The hearing, providing the most extensive public accounting of a matter that has dogged the Trump administration for its first two months, quickly broke along partisan lines. Democrats pressed for details on the status of the FBI's investigation, while Republicans focused on news coverage and possible improper disclosures of classified information.

Under questioning from the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, the FBI director publicly contradicted a series of recent tweets from Trump that declared the Republican candidate's phones had been ordered tapped by President Barack Obama during the campaign.

"With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said. The same was true, he added, of the Justice Department.

He also took issue with Trump tweets sent out during the hearing, including one that said, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process."

Comey was testifying along with National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, who also disputed allegations that surfaced last year that British intelligence services were involved in the wiretapping.

The FBI director was the latest government official to reject Trump's claims, made without any evidence, that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, also rejected it earlier in the hearing.

Trump took to Twitter before the hearing began, accusing Democrats of making up allegations about his campaign associates' contact with Russia during the election. He said Congress and the FBI should be going after media leaks and maybe even Hillary Clinton instead.

"The real story that Congress, the FBI and others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!" Trump tweeted early Monday as news coverage on the Russia allegations dominated the morning's cable news.

Trump also suggested, without evidence, that Clinton's campaign was in contact with Russia and had possibly thwarted a federal investigation. U.S. intelligence officials have not publicly raised the possibility of contacts between the Clintons and Moscow. Officials investigating the matter have said they believe Moscow had hacked into Democrats' computers in a bid to help Trump's election bid.

Monday's hearing, one of several by congressional panels probing allegations of Russian meddling, could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations that have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months.

The top two lawmakers on the committee said Sunday that documents the Justice Department and FBI delivered late last week offered no evidence that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, the president's New York City headquarters.

But the panel's ranking Democrat said the material offered circumstantial evidence that American citizens colluded with Russians in Moscow's efforts to interfere in the presidential election.

"There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception," Schiff said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''There's certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation."

Nunes said: "For the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses."

"We know that the Russians were trying to get involved in our campaign, like they have for many decades. They're also trying to get involved in campaigns around the globe and over in Europe," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a similar hearing for later in the month.

Though Comey would not discuss specific evidence, he went far beyond his testimony from a hearing in January, when he refused to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation exploring possible connections between Trump associates and Russia, consistent with the FBI's longstanding policy of not publicly discussing its work.

His appearances on Capitol Hill since then have occurred in classified settings, often with small groups of lawmakers, and he has made no public statements connected to the Trump campaign or Russia.

Any lack of detail from Comey on Monday would likely be contrasted with public comments he made last year when closing out an investigation into Clinton's email practices and then, shortly before Election Day, announcing that the probe would be revived following the discovery of additional emails.

Comey acknowledged that "some folks may want to make comparisons to past instances" where he and other officials were more open, but he said those were about concluded investigations.

"Our ability to share details with the Congress and the American people is limited when those investigations are still open, which I hope makes sense," he added.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, is denying that the British intelligence community was ever asked to conduct electronic surveillance on President Donald Trump at the behest of former President Barack Obama.

Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer referred to unsubstantiated allegations made by a Fox News analyst that GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence agency, had helped Obama wiretap Trump. The British intelligence agency flatly denied it happened.

The ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, asked Rogers if he thought it was "utterly ridiculous" that anyone in the U.S. would ask British spies to do surveillance on a presidential candidate. Rogers said it was and added that he had seen nothing at the NSA that would indicate that happened.

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11:25 a.m.

The Senate's top Democrat says that President Donald Trump "severely damaged his credibility" with Twitter postings claiming that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretaps of him.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer issued the statement after FBI Director James Comey told a House panel that there was no information that supports Trump's allegation.

Schumer said Trump "needs to retract his claim immediately."

He added that Trump "should admit he was wrong, stop the outlandish tweets."

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

FBI Director James Comey is publicly confirming for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any potential coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia's government.

Comey is testifying before Congress. He says he's authorized by the Justice Department to make the disclosure. Typically, the FBI does not discuss or even confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.

Comey says the probe is part of the FBI's counter-intelligence mission. He says the investigation includes the nature of any links between individuals associated with Trump's campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between Russia's efforts and the campaign.

Comey says the investigation will also look at whether crimes were committed. He says he can't provide details about the investigation.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

The chairman of the House intelligence committee says there was no physical wiretap on Trump Tower, but it's possible that "other surveillance activities" were used against President Donald Trump and his associates.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is speaking at the opening of the committee's first public hearing on Russia's interference in the 2016 election. He says the committee has seen no evidence to date that officials from any campaign conspired with Russian agents, but will continue to investigate that question.

He also says the committee will investigate who has been leaking classified information about investigations into Russia's interference.

Nunes says he hopes the committee's hearings will result in a "definitive report" on Russia's involvement in the presidential election.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

President Donald Trump on Monday accused Democrats of making up allegations that Russia interfered in last year's election, and said Congress and the FBI should be going after media leaks instead.

His tweets came just hours before a potentially politically damaging hearing in which FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers planned to testify on allegations of Russian hacking and whether there were any connections between Moscow and Trump's campaign.

"The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!" Trump tweeted early Monday, as news coverage on the Russia allegations dominated the morning's cable news.

"The real story that Congress, the FBI and others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!"

Monday's hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, one of several congressional panels probing allegations of Russian meddling, could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations that have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. The FBI has also been investigating ties between Russia and Trump advisers and associates during the campaign.

The top two lawmakers on the House intelligence committee said Sunday that documents the Justice Department and FBI delivered late last week offered no evidence that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, the president's New York City headquarters. But the panel's ranking Democrat says the material offers circumstantial evidence that American citizens colluded with Russians in Moscow's efforts to interfere in the presidential election.

"There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''There's certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation."

Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the committee, said: "For the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses."

"We know that the Russians were trying to get involved in our campaign, like they have for many decades. They're also trying to get involved in campaigns around the globe and over in Europe," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a similar hearing for later in the month.

It is not clear how much new information will emerge Monday, and the hearing's open setting unquestionably puts Comey in a difficult situation if he's asked to discuss an ongoing investigation tied to the campaign of the president.

At a hearing in January, Comey refused to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation exploring possible connections between Trump associates and Russia, consistent with the FBI's longstanding policy of not publicly discussing its work. His appearances on Capitol Hill since then have occurred in classified settings, often with small groups of lawmakers, and he has made no public statements connected to the Trump campaign or Russia.

But Comey may feel compelled to respond to Trump's unproven Twitter assertions that President Barack Obama ordered a wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign. Congressional leaders briefed on the matter have said they've seen no indication that that's true, and Obama's top intelligence official, James Clapper, has publicly called the claims false.

The Justice Department's disclosure Friday that it had complied with congressional demands for information regarding Trump's wiretapping tweets could allow Comey to avoid questioning by simply saying that the lawmakers already have the information they requested.

Yet any lack of detail from Comey will likely be contrasted with public comments he made last year when closing out an investigation into Hillary Clinton's email practices and then, shortly before Election Day, announcing that the probe would be revived following the discovery of additional emails.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)



 

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