WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – Congress held its first public hearing looking into Russian interference of the 2016 presidential election.
FBI Director James Comey and the National Security Agency director, Admiral Mike Rogers, testified Monday before the House Intelligence Committee.
Comey answered lawmakers’ questions in their probe of Russia’s reported involvement in the 2016 election.
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”
Comey broke with normal protocol to reveal the bureau is looking into Russian interference in presidential election.
“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 Trump campaign and Russia’s efforts,” said Comey. “It’s almost as if they didn’t care that we knew what they were doing, or they wanted us to see what they were doing.”
While Director Comey and Admiral Rogers would not reveal any details of the investigation, Democrats focused on President Trump’s campaign aides.
“The people around the president, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, have an odd connection to Russia,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut. “Without exception, the individuals that I have quoted have dissembled, or misled, maybe even lied about the natures of those connections.”
President Trump likely paid close attention to the hearing. He sent out a flurry of tweets just hours before it started claiming the Russian connection was made up by Democrats and the real story was the leak of classified information.
“I think that’s a bit of a dodge. You know, leaks are always an issue. But the real problem here is you had a foreign adversarial power intervene in our election,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California.
Comey said they believed Russian intelligence used some kind of “cut-out” in dealing with WikiLeaks.
Director Comey also refuted President Trump’s tweets claiming former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign.
“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.”
“President Obama could not unilaterally order a wiretap of anyone,” asked Schiff.
“No president could,” said Comey.
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.
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 said the reports that Merkel was wiretapped a few years ago were never proven.
The White House said President Trump wasn’t being literal when he said Trump Tower was “wiretapped,” adding that surveillance could occur by any variety of means, not just a physical wiretap.
Republicans want to find out who is leaking classified information to the press.
“Is the investigation into the leak of classified information, has it begun yet?” asked Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina.
“I can’t say because I don’t want to confirm that that was classified information,” said Comey.
Director Comey stood by the conclusion that Russian interference was meant to help President Trump win.
“Mr. Putin would like people who like him,” he said.
But he acknowledged there’s no way to know if Russia changed the outcome of the election.
The White House insists there is no evidence anyone with the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials during the campaign.