FBI Director James Comey started off his opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee in Monday’s highly-anticipated hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election with a bombshell revelation: His agency is investigating potential ties, he said, between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian efforts to influence the election.
Comey, who prefaced the announcement by saying it is bureau practice to not “confirm the existence of ongoing investigations,” particularly those that involve classified information, said this is an “unusual circumstance” where it is in the public interest to do so. He said he received authorization from the Department of Justice to reveal the nature of the investigation, which he said began in late July.
“As part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections — and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” Comey said. “And, whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
“Because it is an open, ongoing investigation, and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and who’s conduct we are examining,” he continued.
Last week, Comey met with congressional leaders for a briefing on the details of this investigation, he said. But he added he could not go into details.
“I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks, but that is the way it has to be,” Comey said.
Trump, his administration, and campaign staffers have all denied any connections to Russia’s efforts at meddling in the 2016 election at length. But ties during the campaign between high-level Trump officials such as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have emerged in the past few months. The content of the communications among those individuals is not clear.
Lower-level Trump campaign affiliates and confidants, such as Carter Page and Roger Stone, have also been linked to either Russian officials or leakers of hacked Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails. In Stone’s instance, he has admitted that he had a back channel with WikiLeaks, the operation that leaked the hacked emails.
The Russia-related controversy hanging over the early days of the Trump administration led to the ousting of Flynn from his post as national security adviser, just weeks into Trump’s presidency.
“The Department of Justice and Trump administration must allow Director Comey’s investigation to move forward without any interference, meddling, or political pressure of any kind whatsoever,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement shortly after Comey’s public revelation. “The possibility of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials is a serious, serious matter.”
Earlier Monday, ahead of the House hearing, Trump took to Twitter to attempt delegitimizing the Russia story, which he has done vigorously in the aftermath of his stunning November electoral victory.
“The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign,” he said. “Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
In an earlier tweet, he called the allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia “fake news.”
“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia,” Trump wrote. “This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”
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