DONALD Trump took to social media again last night after the director of the FBI confirmed that an investigation is under way into possible links between Russia and associates of the US President – as part of as wider probe into Russian interference in the presidential election.
James Comey gave the first public confirmation of a probe that began last summer, at the outset of his opening statement to a congressional hearing examining Russian alleged meddling and possible connections between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.
He acknowledged that the FBI does not usually discuss ongoing investigations, but said he has been authorised to do so given the extreme public interest in this case.
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Comey told the House intelligence committee: “This work is very complex, and there is no way for me to give you a timetable for when it will be done.”
Under questioning from the committee’s top Democrat, Adam Schiff, he also publicly contradicted a series of tweets from Trump declaring that the Republican candidate’s phones had been ordered to be tapped by then-President Barack Obama during the campaign.
Comey said: “I have no confirmation that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”
The same was true, he added, of the Justice Department. He disputed allegations British intelligence services were involved in the wiretapping.
Comey was the latest US Government official to reject Trump’s claims, made without evidence, that Obama had wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the campaign.
Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the committee, also rejected the assertion earlier in the hearing.
Comey was testifying along with National Security Agency (NSA) director Michael Rogers.
In a Twitter outburst, Trump accused 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 yesterday as news coverage on the Russia allegations dominated bulletins.
Trump also suggested, again without evidence, that Clinton’s campaign was in contact with Russia and had possibly thwarted a federal probe.
US 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. The hearing is one of several by congressional panels probing allegations of Russian interference, and could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations which have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months.
The committee’s top two representatives said 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 election.
Schiff said: “There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception.
“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.”
The Senate intelligence committee has scheduled a similar hearing for later in the month.