(WASHINGTON) — The heads of the FBI and National Security Agency, James Comey and Mike Rogers, testified for hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee Monday, answering questions for the first time about Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of wiretapping against his predecessor.
The hearing was eagerly anticipated by those looking for specifics on Russia’s suspected interference in the race for the White House, whether Trump associates coordinated with Russian officials and whether the intelligence community had any evidence of Trump’s assertion that former President Barack Obama wiretapped his successor, as Trump had claimed.
The intelligence community had previously said that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to bolster Trump’s chances and sources had said the FBI was investigating people associated with Trump’s campaign for alleged communication with Russian officials during the campaign. Several top lawmakers have also said they’ve seen no evidence of Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.
Here are the top moments from the testimony:
Comey says he is investigating potential links between Russia and the Trump campaign
Comey told the panel that the FBI is investigating “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election — and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Comey said he had been authorized by the Department of Justice to reveal the existence of an ongoing investigation, which is unusual for the organization. “Because it is an open, ongoing investigation, and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining,” Comey continued. “I can’t go into those details here. I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks. But it is the way it has to be.”
Comey and Rogers say they have no evidence of Trump’s wiretapping claims
Both Comey and Rogers told the committee that they knew of no evidence that former President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower — an unsubstantiated allegation that Trump tweeted more than two weeks ago.
“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” said Comey. “We have no information that supports them.”
“No individual in the United States can direct electronic surveillance of anyone,” he continued.
And Rogers echoed the sentiments. “I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today told reporters Trump isn’t withdrawing his allegations. Neither Trump nor the White House have provided any substantiation for the claim.
Comey says Russia may try to hack again
Comey warned that Russia may view its intervention in the 2016 presidential campaign as a success. He said that the United States should be prepared for Russia to attempt to intervene in the 2018 midterm elections or the 2020 presidential election.
“They’ll be back. They’ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018,” Comey said. “One of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sewed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process,” Comey explained. “We think we have to assume they’re coming back.”
“I think, in part, their number one mission is to undermine the credibility of our entire democracy enterprise of this nation,” he said.
A January report from the intelligence community said that Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the election that included covert and over operations.
Vladimir Putin ‘hated’ Hillary Clinton
Comey hinted at a potential reason for Russian meddling in the U.S. election during the hearing.
“Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that, the flip side of that coin was, he had a clear preference to the person running against the person he hated so much,” Comey told lawmakers today at the Capitol.
“The assessment of the intelligence community was, as the summer went on and the polls appeared to show that Secretary Clinton was going to win, the Russians sort of gave up and simply focused on trying to undermine her. It’s the raiders. You know they’re not going to win, so you hope key people on the other team get hurt so they’re not such a tough opponent down the road.” Comey also said it was “correct” that his sentiments went beyond a distaste for Clinton — but also encompassed a favorable view of Trump.
House Intelligence Panel Chair Devin Nunes leaves door open to other surveillance
The panel’s leader, Rep. Devin Nunes, has previously said there was no physical wiretapping, but left the door open to the possibility of other surveillance. “We know there was not a physical wiretap,” Nunes said. “However, it is still possible other surveillance tactics were used to monitor Trump and his associates.”
The White House has said Trump, who used the word wiretapping in quotation marks in some — but not all — of his tweets, meant broader surveillance than a literal wiretap.
Neither the White House nor Nunes has given concrete evidence of broader surveillance, and the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said there were “no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance.”
Comey and Rogers talk football
In explaining Russia’s thought process in meddling with the US election, Comey used his disdain for the New England Patriots as a metaphor as to why the Russians wanted Hillary Clinton to lose so badly that they intervened to help Trump win the election.
“To put it in a homely metaphor, I hate the New England Patriots. And no matter who they play, I’d like them to lose. So I’m at the same time rooting against the Patriots and hoping their opponent beats them because it’s only two teams on the field,” Comey said.
Later in the hearing, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., thanked Comey and his agency for recovering Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey (which has since been found):
“Thank you. If I’m honest with myself, the reason I don’t like the Patriots is they represent sustained excellence,” Comey admitted. “As a Giants fan, that drives me crazy.” NSA director Rogers was also asked if he had any comment on the Patriots, to which he answered, “I’m a Chicago Bears guy, born and bred.”
Comey fact checks Trump’s tweet
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., questioned the FBI director on a tweet that came from President Trump’s official Twitter handle, which is managed by White House director of social media Dan Scavino.
The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process. pic.twitter.com/d9HqkxYBt5
— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
“Is that accurate?” Himes asked Comey, after reading the tweet out loud.
“Well, it’s hard for me to react to them,” Comey said. “We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it’s never something we looked at.”
Himes followed up again, “It’s not too far of a logical leap to conclude the assertion you have told Congress that there was no influence on the electoral process is not quite right?”
“Right,” Comey said. “It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today because we don’t have any information on that subject. That’s not something that was looked at.”
Comey media reports containing classified information
During the hearing, Republican committee members’ questions focused largely on leaks of classified information to the media — a point that has also been pushed by Trump.
In his opening remarks, Comey said that leaks of classified information are “serious, serious federal crimes for a reason.”
“They should be investigated and where possible, prosecuted, in a way that reflects that seriousness so that people understand it simply cannot be tolerated,” Comey said.
He said even if news reports pertaining to classified information are false, he cannot dispute them publicly.
“We just can’t do that because we’ll give information to our adversaries that way, and it’s very, very frustrating, but we can’t start down that road,” Comey said.
“We cannot do that with classified information. It’s very, very frustrating because I’ve read a whole lot of stuff, especially in the last two months, that’s just wrong, but I can’t say which is wrong, and I can’t say it to those reporters.”
Comey admits he should have warned DNC on hacking
Comey acknowledged that in retrospect, the FBI should have “sent up a much larger flare” and “kept banging and banging on the door” when the Democratic National Committee was hacked in the 2016 campaign.
What’s more, Comey offered a description of just how big the Russian effort was -– he said that in this particular case, the U.S. government had to notify more than 1,000 entities that the Russians were hitting at the same time.
“Knowing what I know now, we would have made extensive efforts to notify … I would have walked over there myself knowing what we know now. But I think the efforts we made, that our agents made, were reasonable at the time,” he said.
Comey said that the FBI first notified DNC of hack in August 2015. Comey said the FBI “never got direct access to the [DNC] machines themselves. The DNC in spring of 2016 hired a firm that ultimately shared with us their forensics from their review of the system.”
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