Comey Confirms Investigation into Russia, Shoots D...

Comey Confirms Investigation into Russia, Shoots Down Wiretap Claims

During a public hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) on Monday morning, FBI Director James Comey answered questions which confirmed the existence of an ongoing federal investigation into possible communication and collusion with the Russian government and the campaign of President Donald Trump.

The investigation, which began in late July 2016, came almost immediately at the conclusion of the FBI investigation into the Hillary Clinton campaign, specifically the candidate’s handling of a private email server.  The revelation of the extent of the investigation means that the 2016 election was the only time two general election candidates were both under federal investigation.

“As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations,” Comey said. “But, in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so. This is one of those circumstances.”

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI and part of our Counter-Intelligence Commission is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between the individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Ca.), in response to the seeming coincidental connections between members of the Trump campaign and potential operatives of the Russian FSB.

The investigation was stated to include, but not be limited to, collusion between senior Russian government and business officials, many of which may have been tapped as intelligence agents, and American citizens connected to the campaign, and now presidency, of Donald Trump.

Comey, along with NSA Director Vice Admiral Mike Rogers, both confirmed that there was no evidence that the Russian government had manipulated actual votes in swing states including Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio. Comey restated the information previously published in an unclassified report on Russian hacking, which stated instead that the Russian government hacked personal and election information from the DNC and possibly other sources, using it to help shape a narrative to influence voters.

Asked about a series of tweets posted by Trump on Mar. 4, which alleged an illegal wiretap of Trump Tower by former president Barack Obama, Comey flatly denied the existence of any evidence.

“I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey said.

Asked, in response to this tweet, as to whether the FBI had engaged in McCarthyism, Comey again flatly denied that any such policies remained in the FBI.

“No individual can direct surveillance on any other individual,” Comey responded. “No president could.”

Asked about an unsubstantiated claim that Obama had requested surveillance through GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA, Rogers again put this theory to rest.

“No sir, nor would I. That would be expressly against the Five Eyes construct,” he said, adding it would be “a violation of US law.”

Both Comey and Rogers agreed with the broader proposed narrative that ensuring the loss of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election was a key goal of the Russian government; however, the goal of electing Donald Trump specifically as the president was also just as key a goal. By early December, the intelligence community had concluded that Russia had focused on electing Trump as the next president, from a leaked CIA report published in the Washington Post.

Asked about two campaign operatives in particular – Roger Stone Jr. and Paul Manafort – both of whom are under active investigation, Stone for his collusion with “Guccifer 2.0,” a known Russian hacker, as well as Wikileaks, and Manafort for his financial ties to Russian operatives in Ukraine, Comey declined to comment at all about the scope and extent of this investigation. Comey declined to name any other names of potential suspects in the investigation.

In response to concerns of leaked classified information, particularly the identity of now-fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, from intercepted surveillance, Comey confirmed that the list of individuals who could “unmask” this identity is low, mentioning that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and acting Attorney General Sally Yates were two people with the ability to do so. Unmasking the identity of any individual actively under surveillance or investigation could be a potential threat to national security, Rogers confirmed.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked whether it would be possible to prosecute journalists who had published classified information. Comey and Rogers both stated that the circumstances surrounding the leaks would have to be investigated, declining to offer a blanket policy for preventing classified leaks in the media.

“I don’t believe a reporter has been prosecuted in my lifetime,” Comey said in response.

“Our president will attack anyone and everyone,” Gowdy continued. “He will attack the cast of Hamilton, he will attack Germany, he will attack France, he will attack Great Britain. But there is one country that is immune from his attacks, and that is Russia.”

Asked if Russia is an adversary to the United States, Comey answered affirmatively. The interference was one of “loudness,” he said. “It’s almost as if they didn’t care about getting caught,” he said, “or they wanted us to see.”

“They’ll be back in 2020, they’ll be back in 2018, and one of the things they learned was that they can sow doubt and discord in this country and believe it worked. We have to assume they’re coming back.”

Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, one of the two key figures in the Watergate investigation, commented on the irony of some of the statements made by the committee members:

This article has been updated after its initial publication.

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