The director of the FBI has dismissed claims by Donald Trump that his predecessor Barack Obama had him wiretapped, saying the FBI had “no information” to support the allegations.
In an extraordinary hearing yesterday, James Comey publicly confirmed the bureau has launched a criminal investigation into suggestions of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign during last year’s presidential election.
It came as Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, declared it was “nonsense and ridiculous” for the Trump administration to have suggested that Britain’s GCHQ was used by Mr Obama to spy on Trump Tower.
The heads of the FBI and NSA were called to give evidence to the House Intelligence Committee which is investigating accusations that Russia tried to influence the election by hacking the Democratic National Committee and releasing information embarrassing to Hillary Clinton.
Mr Comey said it was FBI practice not to confirm the existence of an investigation, especially one involving classified material, but in this case it was in the public interest to do so.
He said the probe, which began last summer, included whether there was any co-ordination between “individuals associated with the Trump campaign” and the Russian government.
Mr Comey added: “As with any counter-intelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
The FBI director could not say “more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining” but had taken the “extraordinary step” of briefing senior politicians in Congress in a classified setting.
On March 4, Mr Trump accused Mr Obama of wiretapping him in a series of tweets but offered no evidence.
Mr Comey said: “With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI.
“The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components.”
He added: “No individual in the United States can direct surveillance of anyone. It has to go through a process and be ordered by a court. No president could.”
Admiral Rogers, the NSA chief, was asked about the suggestion that British spies were involved in wiretapping Trump Tower and whether he agreed it was “nonsense and utterly ridiculous”. He replied: “Yes, sir”.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, repeated unsubstantiated allegations by a Fox News analyst last week that GCHQ helped Mr Obama to wiretap Trump Tower.
The claims were robustly denied by British intelligence.
Admiral Rogers said it would have been a violation of the law to ask the British to do so. He added: “I’ve seen nothing on the NSA side that we’ve been engaged in that or that anyone asked us to do so.”
Asked if the assertion had done damage to US-UK relations, he said: “I think it clearly frustrates a key ally of ours. I believe the relationship is strong enough and this is something we’ll be able to deal with.”
During the hearing, Mr Comey and Admiral Rogers said they had no evidence or intelligence that Russian hacking changed vote tallies in key states during the election. Mr Trump then tweeted: “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.” But in a bizarre moment Jim Himes, a Democratic congressman, then read out the tweet at the hearing and asked if it was accurate. Mr Comey clarified: “It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today because we don’t have any information on that subject.”
Democrats pressured Mr Trump to withdraw his wiretapping allegation against Mr Obama. But his spokesman Mr Spicer said: “No.”
Mr Spicer said the FBI had no information to back up the wiretapping allegation “at this time”. He added: “We’ve started a hearing and it’s still ongoing.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)