WASHINGTON – FBI Director James Comey on Monday confirmed that his agency is investigating whether there was any “coordination” between Russia and the election campaign of Donald Trump to influence last November’s vote, and he denied having any evidence supporting the magnate’s recent wiretapping accusations against former President Barack Obama.
The long-awaited first public congressional hearing into Russian interference in the November 8 election confirmed three basic elements of the matter.
First, there is no evidence about the alleged wiretapping by Obama of communications in Trump Tower; second, the Russian government acted to attempt to influence the election results; and third, the FBI does not yet know, and is still investigating, whether the Kremlin and the magnate’s campaign coordinated their efforts in that regard.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, from the start of the hearing, sought to dispel doubts about the alleged wiretapping of the mogul’s New York skyscraper and said in his opening statement that “We know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower.”
Comey corroborated that statement later when, upon questioning by lawmakers, he said that “We have no information to support those tweets” the president had posted accusing his predecessor of having tapped his communications.
The FBI chief said that no individual in the US, not even the president, can unilaterally order electronic surveillance on anyone and to do so must go through a specific procedure, adding that the Department of Justice does not have any evidence to back up Trump’s accusations either.
The billionaire fired off his accusation against Obama on March 4 in a series of Twitter messages and still has not presented any evidence to support it.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted at the time, alluding to the “witch hunt” headed by ultraconservative US Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s.
Regarding that question, National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers also denied any participation by British intelligence in the alleged wiretapping, although White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had suggested as much last week.
Spicer during one of his daily press briefings last week cited a statement by a Fox News commentator regarding Trump’s accusations that Obama tapped his phone line at Trump Tower in 2016.
“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence finding agency,” former Judge Andrew Napolitano told Fox News, and Spicer quoted him.
Regarding the Russian hack-attacks, both Nunes and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, reiterated that the Kremlin engaged in trying to influence the US election result, although at present no clear evidence exists that it did so in a coordinated manner with members of Trump’s campaign team.
Schiff said that many people in Trump’s campaign, including the mogul, have links with Russia and with Russian interests, but that – in itself – is not a crime.
On the other hand, he said, if Trump’s campaign or anyone associated with it helped or encouraged the Russians, that would not only be a serious crime but would constitute one of the most important betrayals in US history.
The FBI chief said that the investigation will also examine if any type of crime was committed regarding the leaking of e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s then-campaign manager, John Podesta.
After the hearing, Spicer stressed at his daily press briefing the lack of evidence confirming a plot involving the Russians and Trump’s team and said that after the testimony of Comey and Rogers “nothing has changed,” adding that the president will not retract his accusation and will not apologize for making it.