WASHINGTON, D.C. — FBI director James Comey testified on Monday before the House Senate Intelligence Committee where he said his agency has found no proof to back up president Donald Trumps accusations of wiretapping by the former Obama administration.
“I have no information that supports those tweets,’’ said Comey of tweets made two weeks ago by president Trump that accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of ordering wiretaps of Trump Tower just prior to Trump’s win last November. “We have looked carefully inside the FBI,’’ and agents found nothing to support those claims, he said.
Under often intense questioning, Comey said a president has no authority to order such surveillance.
In this, the committee’s first public hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, Comey also confirmed for the first time that the bureau is investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential race, including possible “links” to the Trump team.
“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 said. “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.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy, however, seemed less than convinced by Comey’s testimony that his agency found no proof to back up Trump’s claims of wiretapping. He also pressed Comey to name the chief suspects in the leaks of classified intelligence information, an attempt that Comey thwarted.
In one particularly tense exchange, Gowdy, himself a former federal prosecutor, cited his own short list of suspects, asking Comey whether former CIA Director John Brennan, Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper or ex-White House adviser Ben Rhodes could have known Flynn was recorded by phone conversing with a Russian ambassador.
Comey answered that all but Rhodes would have had access to that information, the disclosing of which is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison.
When questioned by Gowdy, Comey refused to confirm or deny whether or not the FBI is investigating the leak.
“I can’t say because I don’t want to confirm that that was classified information,” said Comey, who had earlier admitted that the bureau is investigating claims of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“But you confirmed the investigation into the Trump camp Russia ties,” Gowdy pushed. “And aren’t these leaks a matter of life and death?”
“Leaks are terrible and taken very seriously,” Comey replied before saying “there’s a whole lot of wrong information” in newspapers, and adding that he did not want to “compound the offense that’s committed.”
Gowdy then took the opportunity to pounce.
“In the universe of possible motives of felonious dissemination of classified material, we could rule out wanting to help the intelligence communities and the law enforcement communities those are two motives that are gone now. That leaves more nefarious motives,” Gowdy said.
Throughout the remainder of his testimony Comey was careful to avoid confirming specific details on what the bureau’s investigation into alleged Russian interference had uncovered on the grounds that the probe is “open” and “ongoing.”