(WASHINGTON) — Within the first minutes of a much-anticipated House hearing Monday, FBI Director James Comey is expected to officially undercut the wiretapping allegations that have been promoted by the White House for more than two weeks, according to sources familiar with Comey’s thinking.
Comey’s expected comments to the House Intelligence Committee will mark the U.S. law enforcement community’s first public response to President Donald Trump’s continuing insistence that the Obama administration “wiretapped” or otherwise conducted surveillance of Trump’s presidential campaign. National Security Agency director Mike Rogers will also be testifying.
“It never hurts to say you’re sorry,” a Republican member of the committee, former CIA officer William Hurd, R-Texas, advised Trump Sunday, telling ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that the commander-in-chief should apologize for his false statements, which have angered key allies such as Great Britain.
But the hearing Monday is about much more than the unfounded accusations first lodged on Twitter — its main purpose is to look at how Russia interfered with last year’s presidential election, and to understand FBI inquiries into whether any U.S. citizens helped the Russian government.
“I would like the American people to walk away understanding that we were attacked,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, told ABC News. “The perpetrator was Russia, and there are serious questions about ties” between Trump associates and Russian officials, he said.
Indeed, the FBI has been conducting a months-long and multi-pronged investigation of Russia’s attempts to influence the presidential election.
One key part of the probe has focused on Russian hackers who stole and then disseminated damaging information from inside the Democratic National Committee and U.S. political institutions, while another division of the FBI is looking at Russian efforts to collect intelligence on U.S. policy and the presidential campaigns, including contacts between Russian operatives and associates of President Trump.
“If it’s just 100 coincidences, let the world know that is what it is, and let’s move on,” but if there is more to the contacts and a “convergence of political and financial ties,” then those ties need to be “investigated fully,” Swalwell said. “This is not going away until we find out whether these are coincidences or a convergence.”
Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, told NBC News Sunday “there is circumstantial evidence of collusion” and “direct evidence I think of deception.”
In citing alleged deception, Schiff was likely referring to former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who was fired from the White House after falsely telling Vice President Michael Pence and others that he never spoke about sensitive matters with Russian officials ahead of the inauguration.
But Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, the chairman of the committee — one of several congressional committees looking into allegations of Russian meddling in the election — insisted he has seen “no evidence of collusion” between Trump associates and the Russian government, noting that the only direct evidence of a crime he’s seen is the leaking of classified U.S. intelligence to reporters, including information about Flynn’s pre-inauguration contacts with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak.
The Washington Post first revealed that, despite Flynn’s private denials, he had discussed Obama administration sanctions against Russia with Kislyak — a discussion captured by U.S. spy agencies eavesdropping on Kislyak. The Washington Post later revealed that now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had also met with Kislyak at least twice during the campaign.
Sessions, a former senator and top adviser to Trump’s campaign, has since recused himself from any criminal investigations tied to last year’s presidential race.
Comey’s testimony Monday will “probably be the most limited” on the issue of alleged collusion, “but there’s a lot he can tell us about the Russian motivations for their intervention, how the Russians operate in Europe, [and] what techniques they use,” Schiff said Sunday.
Asked whether Comey will make clear Monday that there is no evidence to support White House claims of Obama-era wiretapping against Trump associates, Schiff said, “I expect that he will, and I hope that we can put an end to this wild goose chase because what the president said was just patently false.”
Swalwell called the wiretapping claims a “smoke bomb” intended to “fog up the place and obstruct” investigations into ties between Trump circles and the Russian government.
Even Nunes acknowledged there is no evidence indicating the Obama administration was eavesdropping on the Trump campaign.
“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No. There never was,” Nunes told Fox News on Sunday.
Nunes and Schiff are among a handful of top lawmakers who have already been privately briefed by Comey about FBI findings so far related to Russia.
The White House escalated the entire issue last week when spokesman Sean Spicer cited a Fox News commentator’s claims that a British spy agency eavesdropped on the Trump campaign at the Obama administration’s behest. The claims angered British officials and have since been widely panned as unfounded — even by Fox News itself.
Trump should apologize to Britain and the American people for making the false wiretapping claims, Hurd said on ABC’s This Week.
“We got to make sure that we’re all working together,” he added. “We live in a very dangerous world, and we can’t do this alone.”
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