Comey: FBI probing possible Trump campaign ties with Russia

March 20 (UPI) — FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that his agency is investigating whether Donald Trump‘s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating whether Trump was under surveillance before he became president.

“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey said in his opening statement. “And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Comey said he wouldn’t be able to give many details of the investigation. In fact, the FBI doesn’t normally confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation.

“But in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so,” Comey said.

He said the investigation could lead to charges.

“As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed,” he said.

National Security Agency head Michael Rogers also testified.

Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said the hearing will focus on several areas, including the scope of Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, whether any campaign officials conspired in those attempts and leaks of classified information to the media.

Like he said publicly last week, Nunes said there was no wiretap at Trump Tower in New York, as the president asserted in a series of tweets earlier in the month.

“Let me be clear,” he said. “We know there was not a wiretap on Trump Tower. However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”

He also noted the allegations against Russia are not surprising.

“The fact that Russia hacked U.S. election-related databases comes as no shock to this committee. We have been closely monitoring Russia’s aggressions for years,” Nunes said. “However, while the indications of Russian measures targeting the U.S. presidential election are deeply troubling, one benefit is already clear — it has focused wide attention on the pressing threats posed by the Russian autocrat. In recent years, committee members have issued repeated and forceful pleas for stronger action against Russian belligerence. But the Obama administration was committed to the notion, against all evidence, that we could ‘reset’ relations with Putin, and it routinely ignored our warnings.”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said it’s important to determine the extent of Russia’s involvements and whether they were aided by U.S. citizens, “including people associated with the Trump campaign.”

“We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. 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.”

On March 4, Trump said former President Barack Obama was behind wiretapping allegations in a series of Twitter posts. The White House has defended Trump’s accusations but broadened the term “wiretapping” to include more general surveillance.

On Monday, before the hearings began, Trump posted on Twitter: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College lost!”

He also posted, “The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!”

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