FBI Director James Comey confirmed on Monday that the agency is investigating “the nature of any links” between the Russians meddling in the 2016 election and the campaign of Donald Trump, the first time he has publicly acknowledged such a probe.
Comey, appearing at a House Intelligence Committee hearing, said that he could not go into details, citing an ongoing investigation. He added that the Department of Justice had authorized him to confirm the investigation.
He said that the investigation was part of their “counter-intelligence mission.” He said that their probe will investigate “whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
The hearing riveted Washington, and the broadcast networks covering the initial part of the hearing live in addition to the news networks.
Comey said that their investigation included Russian interfering in the election itself, although he said that they have found no evidence that any votes were changed.
“We approach this work in an open-minded, independent way,” Comey said.
He said that the investigation began in late July.
He said that they did not have a timeline for the conclusion of the investigation, and later declined to comment on more specific details or on whether there is any validity to news reports of links to specific members of the Trump campaign.
“I am aware of public accounts. I don’t want to talk any more than that,” he said.
Later, after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the committee, asked him whether there was any truth to Trump’s claims on Twitter that President Barack Obama ordered that Trump Tower be wiretapped during the campaign.
Comey said that the FBI and the Department of Justice has “no information that supports those tweets.”
Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, also testified, and also said that they have found no evidence to support Trump’s claim. He also said that the agency did not ask British intelligence services to spy on Trump. Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited a Fox News report making that claim.
Republicans spent the early part of the hearing focusing on the danger of leaks to the press coming from security agencies. Comey said any unauthorized disclosures of secret information also should be investigated.
Trump himself commented on the unfolding story before the hearing began.
What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians? Also, is it true that the DNC would not let the FBI in to look?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017
Later, on the official White House account, Trump said that “the NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.” Comey and Rogers said that while Russia did interfere in the election, they did not alter vote tallies on Election Day.