James Comey confirms FBI investigation into possible Trump-Russia connections

FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that his agency is running an investigation into possible connections or coordination between President Trump’s associates and the Russian government.

Comey confirmed it in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee alongside National Security Agency (NSA) Director Admiral Mike Rogers. Comey, however, declined to say whether Mr. Trump himself is part of that investigation.

As far as Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated allegation that President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the election, Comey said, “I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully within the FBI,” Comey said, adding that the “[Department of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”

On the Russia probe, Comey said it’s “impossible to say” how long it will take to conduct the counterintelligence investigation. Comey said that congressional leaders were briefed only recently for the first time about the probe, even though it was launched last July.

Asked why they weren’t notified until recently, Comey said, “It was a matter of such sensitivty that we wouldn’t include it in the quarterly briefings.”

Comey said that the FBI never obtaiend direct access to the hacked machines at the Democratic National Committee.

“We never got direct access to the machines themselves,” Comey said, adding that the firm the DNC hired to review the forensics, handed over that information to the FBI around June of last year.

Comey appeared to express regret over how the situation was handled and he said knowing what the FBI knows now, he would have “sent up a much larger flare” and he said “I may have walked over there myself.”

Comey and Rogers reiterated the intelligence community’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign involving covert intelligence operations and overt propaganda to undermine faith in the 2016 U.S. election, disparage Hillary Clinton and help Mr. Trump’s election chances. In addition to hacking the DNC, and waging a propaganda campaign of disinformation, Comey said that Russia’s efforts were “aimed at voter registration systems in various states” during the election.

“That’s where it was focused,” he said, adding that their efforts were not focused on “the vote itself -- that we’ve seen.”

They also reiterated that they have no information supporting the idea that Russia’s activities helped determined the election outcome.

Follow our live-blog from earlier below.


3:21 p.m. The hearing is over.

3:11 p.m. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, asked Comey about when the FBI notified the DNC about the first hacking and Russian involvement. Comey said they were notified of the hack in August 2015 and the first document dump didn’t happen until June 2016. 

“We never got direct access to the machines themselves,” Comey said, adding that the firm the DNC hired to review the forensics, handed over that information to the FBI around June of last year. 

Comey appeared to express regret over how the situation was handled and he said knowing what the FBI knows now, he would have “sent up a much larger flare” and he said “I may have walked over there myself.” 

3:05 p.m. Castro asked if it’s possible whether leaks could come directly from White House officials. Comey said “sure” and that he’s often found that the leaker is often beyond the circle of people who has direct access to the information or someone you didn’t anticipate knowing about the information. 

2:47 p.m. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, asked Comey about when the FBI notified congressional leadership about its investigation into Trump’s associates and Russia. Comey said that they were briefed somewhat recently for the first time even though he said the probe was launched last July. 

Asked why they weren’t notified until recently, Comey said, “It was a matter of such sensitivty that we wouldn’t include it in the quarterly briefings.” 

2:36 p.m. Comey said that Russia’s efforts were “aimed at voter registration systems in various states” during the election. 

“That’s where it was focused,” he said, adding that their efforts were not focused on “the vote itself -- that we’ve seen.” 

2:25 p.m. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, asked Comey if he knows the Christopher Steele, who wrote the dossier on Trump. Comey said he wouldn’t comment and he also declined to say whether the FBI is investigating the dossier.

2:08 p.m. Comey said that what he meant by the Russians will be “back” is that the next U.S. election is two years away with the 2018 midterms, and the next presidential election is four years away in 2020.

1:56 p.m. During an exchange with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, Comey said that tax returns is “maybe” a tool to look into financial entanglements between someone and a foreign adversary. Comey said there might be other financial documents that might be of use.

Comey was also asked if he was aware of the number of trips Trump and his son have taken to Russia. He said it’s “not something I’m going to comment on.”

Swalwell continued to press Comey about whether he is aware of connections between Trump associates and Russia, but Comey continued to decline to answer about anyone specifically. He also declined to confirm whether the FBI is investigating Trump in particular. 

1:31 p.m. Rep. Dr. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, wants to know what triggers an investigation, whether anyone knows who leaked about the investigation into Russian leaking. He asks Comey a series of questions and is met with a series of “no comment” responses.

1:26 p.m. On classified information, Rep. Turner says, he knows that if he leaks the information, he knows that’s wrong. But what if someone lies about the information released, he asks Comey. Are the sources of those lies committing a crime?

If all they’ve done is lie to reporters, that’s not against the law, Comey said. “It’s not a crime.”

“We not only have no obligation to correct that, we can’t....we’ll give information to our adversaries that way,” Comey explained. I’ve read a whole lot of stuff that’s wrong in the last two months, Comey told Turner, and he said it was frustrating.

Where do you stop on that slope? When I don’t call the NY Times to tell them they’ve gotten something wrong -- bingo -- they’ve gotten it right, Comey said.

1:19 p.m. Rep. Turner asks Comey about what it would take to open a counter-intelligence investigation -- whether it could be based on a photo of a person with a foreign leader. Or whether openly receiving payment to attend an open conference. “I can’t say, as I sit here. It would depend on a lot of different things,” said Comey.

Who paid them? Who else was sitting with them? There are circumstances that make that difficult to answer, Comey told Turner.

12:59 p.m. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, asked Rogers if the intelligence community is required to cease collection or stop the interception if it includes an incoming administration official, president-elect or member of a transition team. 

“There’s no simple yes or no,” Rogers said at first, adding that the intelligence community is not required “automatically” to cease collection under those circumstances. 

Turner then asked Comey is he’s aware of evidence that before the inauguration, Flynn communicated to the Russian government or Russian official that the administration would release, rescind or reverse U.S. sanctions against Russia or made any offer of a quid pro quo. 

“That’s not something I can comment on, Mr. Turner,” Comey said. “I’m trying to be studiously vague here to protect the integrity of the investigation.” 

12:48 p.m. Two tweets from the president’s Twitter account, @POTUS, during the hearing inaccurately said the NSA and FBI are saying that Russia did not influence the electoral process. In fact, the two agencies are saying that Russia tried to influence it in Trump’s favor, and the president was briefed on that in January. The intelligence agencies just can’t say whether Russia’s efforts determined the election’s outcome. Unless the @POTUS tweets are signed “-DJT,” they are posted by @Scavino45.

12:27 p.m. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, asked Comey if he’s investigating who leaked out the dossier that he and other leaders of the intelligence agencies presented to the president. Comey said that he couldn’t comment, but said it’s a “serious, serious problem” for unauthorized disclosures to occur. Comey said, often, it doesn’t come from people who know the information directly. 

Comey said he can’t confirm that there was a conversation and he can’t say who was in the room for the briefing.

At the time, Trump, however, confirmed himself that the briefing took place

12:21 p.m. Nunes suggested that the intelligence community changed its assessment between December and January from only believing that Russia tried to undermine Clinton to also believing that its government was trying to help Trump. 

“We didn’t change our view,” Comey said. “That’s not my recollection.” 

Nunes asked Comey and Rogers if Russians have historically supported Republicans over Democrats. 

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Comey said, which was echoed by Rogers. 

Nunes asked if the Russians preferred Mitt Romney or John McCain and Rogers said he doesn’t know if the U.S. ever drew an analytical conclusion.

12:13 p.m. Rogers said that the intelligence community has been aware of the direct connections between the Russian government and individuals working for the RT TV network and the “monetary flow,” he said. Rogers said the intelligence community has been aware of the connections for some number of years. 

11:59 a.m. Comey was asked about the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia wanted to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump’s chances. He said that as the summer went on, and the polls indicated Clinton was ahead, the Russians gave up and simply focused on trying to undermine her. Comey said that FBI analysts had a view from late fall until the report issued in early January that Russia wanted to undermine Clinton’s campaign and help Trump. 

11:49 a.m. Nunes asked Comey if anyone from the committee or public approached the FBI with information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign or associates or someone from the Clinton Foundation, if he would add that to his investigation. 

“We will evaluate it,” Comey said, adding that he encourages people to continue sharing information with the FBI. 

11:39 a.m. During an exchange with Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, Comey was asked if Trump’s former campaign manager was registered as a U.S. foreign agent because of his involvement in Ukraine. Comey said, “That’s not something I can comment on.” 

Comey was asked by another Democrat if the Russian ambassador to the U.S. generally collect overt intelligence on influential people in the U.S. 

“That’s not something I can answer in an open setting,” Comey said.

11:33 a.m. Schiff asked Comey if he was aware that Roger Stone was involved with Trump’s campaign or if he was aware that Stone proudly boasts of “political dirty tricks.” Comey said he’s “not going to talk about any particular person.” 

Comey said that the U.S. believes Russian intelligence used some kind of “cut-out” in dealing with WikiLeaks. 

11:21 a.m. Gowdy went back to the idea of leaking classified information. He asked Comey how many people at the FBI have the authority to unmask people in intelligence investigations and Comey said he doesn’t know the number off the top of his head. Gowdy said that he’d like to know the universe of people who have that authority because then it would offer a “roadmap” of who disseminated classified information. Comey said that the FBI is “obsessive” about the FISA process.

Gowdy asked if former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director James Brennan, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former White House adviser Ben Rhodes and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch would know about the unmasking of someone’s name. He implied that he was referring to Flynn and implied that they had something to do with it.

Comey said that he “can’t” assure the public that the FBI is or would investigate the leaks of classified information.

11:17 a.m. Comey said that it’s “impossible to say” how long this counterintelligence investigation will take. He declined to detail the process that the FBI follows for such a probe, but said that the agency coordinates with its brothers and sisters in the intelligence community and find out what they know about what’s going on in the world.

11:14 a.m. Comey said that the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election began in late July last year. He said that the FBI is investigating whether there was any “coordination” between people involved in the Trump campaign and the Russians. Comey declined to discuss generally any coordination the FBI is looking at. 

11:08 a.m. Schiff asked Rogers if the U.S. had asked the British to spy on America, would it be a violation of U.S. law. 

“Yes, sir,” Rogers said. 

Schiff also asked Rogers about comments Trump made during a press conference Friday in which he suggested that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have something in common -- that they were both wiretapped. Comey just rejected that claim regarding Trump and the reports that Merkel was wiretapped a few years ago were never proven. Rogers said that Trump’s latest remarks “certainly complicates things” in the relationship between the U.S. and Germany. 

11:02 a.m. Schiff repeated Trump’s tweets in which he alleged that Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign. He asked Comey if his statements were true. 

“I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully within the FBI,” Comey said, adding that the “[Department of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.” 

Asked if it would have been legal for Obama to order a wiretap of Trump, Comey said there’s a statutory framework in place under which courts grant permission for surveillance activities. He said there has to be probable cause and it’s a “rigorous process that involves all three branches of government.” 

Comey said that no individual, including the president, can direct electronic surveillance of anyone. There’s an application process, and then it goes to a federal judge and the judge has to issue an order.

10:58 a.m. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, the former chairman of the now-defunct House Select Committee on Benghazi, is asking Comey about the need for FISA and the underlying agreement that the U.S. have tools to keep Americans safe but also that the government shouldn’t infringe on people’s privacy. 

He referred to articles by The Washington Post that cited anonymous sources. Gowdy said it’s “against the law” to disseminate classified information.

10:55 a.m. Rogers was asked if he can say how many unmasked persons were reported on by the NSA between June 2016 and June 2017 and he said the the NSA is still working on that answer and that it would provide it to the committee.

10:41 a.m. Rogers was asked to talk about the idea of “incidental collection,” which he said happens when the U.S. is targeting a valid foreign target and in the course of that targeting, a U.S. person is encountered or emerges in that investigation. 

He was asked about the safeguards in place when that happens, and he said it “depends on the legal authority” that the NSA is using to conduct the surveillance. In broad terms, he said they step back and ask if they’re dealing with a U.S. person and ask if the identification of that person needs to be known and if the person needs to be unmasked. Rogers said that there aren’t that many cases when the NSA encounters U.S. persons. 

Rogers was asked by a GOP congressman if he could explain how Michael Flynn’s identity could be unmasked based on his description of criteria for unmasking. Rogers said, “I’m not going to discuss hypotheticals about individuals.” Rogers said that he and 19 other people at the NSA have the power to unmask people’s identities.

10:36 a.m. Nunes asked Comey and Rogers if there was evidence that Russia altered votes in a number of states, and they said there is no evidence to support that idea.

10:30 a.m. Comey delivered his opening statement and said that he promises to “follow the facts wherever they lead.” He also said that leaks of classified information are serious and should be investigated and prosecuted. 

10:28 a.m. Rogers has begun his opening statement. He said there are “some issues” he can’t discuss in an open session. The intelligence community, he said, cannot discuss certain “surveillance targeting” because it would open the door to further disclosures that he said would be harmful to U.S. national security.

10:09 a.m. Schiff began a 15-minute opening statement. He repeated the intelligence community’s findings of Russian hacking into the election and its efforts to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump. In mid-2016, he said that Russia “weaponized” data it stole from Democratic groups and used platforms like WikiLeaks to dump the documents. 

“The releases greatly benefitted Trump’s campaign,” he said. 

Schiff said that “we will never know” whether Russia’s activities were “determinative” in the outcome of the election.

“It simply does not matter,” he said. “What does matter is this: the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy and the intelligence agencies have concluded they will do so again.” 

Schiff began previewing some questions that he said lawmakers would ask Comey and Rogers during the hearing. He said that they will be asked whether Russia’s measures began as mere efforts to gather intelligence or whether it was intended to be more than that. 

“We do know this: the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal,” Schiff said. “It was at this time that the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why? What was happening in July/August of last year? And were U.S. persons involved?”

Schiff asked if a number of connections between Trump associates and Russia are just coincidences.

“Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians? Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke – the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company Rosneft sold a 19 percent share after former British Intelligence Officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be the victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?”

Schiff said that while it’s possible that the events are unrelated or coincidences, it’s also possible that they were not disconnected. 

“It is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out,” Schiff said. 

10:04 a.m. ET Chairman Nunes began with an opening statement about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward the West, including the U.S. He said that the Kremlin is using RT to wage “a propaganda campaign” and that Russia has a “long history” of meddling in other countries’ elections. Nunes said that the fact that the U.S. was hacked during last year’s election “comes as no shock to this committee.” 

He said that the hearing will focus on actions that Russia undertook during the election and if anyone from a political campaign conspired in those activities. He also said it would focus on whether communications from a political campaign were subject to improper surveillance.

Article: CBSNews