Russia Election Meddling Gets Airing on the Hill With Comey

by Chris Strohm and Alan Bjerga

Members of the House Intelligence Committee will press FBI Director James Comey to provide details of any investigation his agents are conducting over contacts between President Donald Trump’s associates and Russia, during or after the presidential campaign.

Comey on Monday will testify publicly for the first time since Trump’s inauguration about Russia’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election and the web of conspiracies — or conspiracy theories — entangling Trump and those close to him.

While the FBI and other intelligence agencies have already found that Russia hacked into Democratic emails and leaked them in an attempt to help Trump, members of intelligence panel want more information from Comey.

“We need to know whether the circumstantial evidence of collusion and direct evidence of deception is indicative of more,” Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.  

“Were there U.S. persons who were helping the Russians in any way?” Schiff said. “Was there any form of collusion? And what can we do to protect not only ourselves in the future and our allies who are facing the same Russian onslaught right now?”

Russian Techniques

Comey may need to be most limited in his comments on collusion because of the nature of ongoing investigations, Schiff said. “But there’s a lot he can tell us about the Russian motivations for their intervention in our election, how the Russians operate in Europe, what techniques they use, what we should be on the lookout for in our investigation,” he said.

Lawmakers will also press Comey about Trump’s unsupported claim in Twitter postings this month that former President Barack Obama had Trump Tower in New York “wiretapped” before the November election.

Trump has since said that he was referring more generally to “surveillance,” not necessarily bugging of phones, and his aides have echoed that changing rationale. Comey unsuccessfully urged the Justice Department to publicly deny the initial allegation, according to a U.S. official who requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive issues.

A Justice Department official brought a binder of documents to Capitol Hill late Friday and allowed members to view it in a secure room but not keep copies for themselves. That classified dossier isn’t likely to change the position of key lawmakers that there’s no evidence Trump was placed under surveillance last year by Obama, a U.S. official told Bloomberg News.

Public Forum

Now, the hearing may give Comey a forum to say so publicly. Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, has also been called to testify at Monday’s hearing.

Jeremy Bash, who was a CIA chief of staff during the Obama administration, said Comey’s testimony is likely to “complicate things” for Trump.

“He will either repudiate the wiretapping claim or he will leave open the idea that there is an investigation of the president’s inner circle,” Bash said. “Either story is bad for the president.”

Comey, 56, hasn’t testified publicly since Trump took office on Jan. 20. Many Democrats remain upset with him over his public disclosures in late October about the FBI’s investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, believing he cost the former secretary of state the election.

Russia’s attempted interference in U.S. politics continues to succeed “because it created a wedge, whether real or perceived, between the White House, the intelligence community and the American public,” said Representative Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas and a former CIA officer, on ABC’s “This Week.” That rift makes “a bipartisan, thoughtful, thorough investigation” essential, he said.

Bottom of Form

Since the election, lawmakers and intelligence experts have expressed concern that Russia’s model of interference, including selective leaking of information and attempts to control media narratives, could be replicated in other countries, including France, which holds its first round of presidential voting April 23. And congressional and public attention has turned to possible relations between Trump and Russia.

The president’s choice for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign in February after it was revealed he had talked with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., during the presidential transition and then misled Vice President Mike Pence by denying they discussed the possible easing of U.S. sanctions.

This month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from probes related to Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign and potential contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign team after acknowledging that he met twice last year with Kislyak.

Flynn’s Calls

Representative Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Democrat Schiff demanded last week that the FBI, NSA and CIA turn over the names of any U.S. citizens who may have been “unmasked” by surveillance eavesdropping.

Nunes has asked why intelligence officials eavesdropped on Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador and how information on their talks was leaked to the press. Intelligence agencies are known to listen in on communications by ambassadors, but the contents of those calls aren’t normally disclosed.

“That’s the only crime we know has been committed,” Nunes said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re trying to get to everyone who for lack of a better term was at the crime scene and we are trying to bring them all in see what they knew when they knew it.”

As it relates to the Russians, said Nunes, “we are happy to investigate it because I think Putin is a bad actor on the world stage.”

Comey is in his fourth year of a 10-year term and can be removed only if he resigns or is fired by the president. In an aside during a March 8 speech, the director indicated he has no intention of leaving voluntarily. “You’re stuck with me for about another six and a half years,” he said.

(An earlier version corrected the reference to Comey’s testimony.)

 

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