FBI Director James Comey said today that his department is investigating “any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and any attempts to coordinate.”

But he added, in opening comments to a House Intelligence Committee hearing looking at the matter, that “because it is an open ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more.”

What’s more, he says, “it isn’t fair to draw conclusions simply because I say I cannot comment.” But “I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they may lead.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s tweets accusing former President Barack Obama of ordering wiretaps of Trump Tower and his phones, Comey said that he has “no information that supports those tweets” and added that the Justice Department “has no information that supports those tweets.”

He added later that agency officials had made “a fairly easy judgment” that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to interfere with the U.S. election to help Trump and hurt his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had been a vigorous critic.

Putin “had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much,” Comey said.


National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers also disputed the President’s suggestion that his agency might have encouraged Britain’s intelligence agency GCHQ to eavesdrop on him. He didn’t do so “nor would I.” He agreed with the British government’s characterization of the charge as “utterly ridiculous” adding that it “frustrates a key ally of ours.”

The officials described Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as unusual.

It was “very loud,” Comey said, “almost as though they wanted us to know.” The plan might have been to “undermine the credibility of our entire enterprise” by “freaking people out.”

He added that the Russians will “be back in 2020 — maybe in 2018” having concluded that their efforts paid off.

“They want to mess with us in a continuing and general way,” he says. “Their next opportunity to mess with our election is two years from now and four years from now.”

Rogers agreed, saying that he has never seen “in previous presidential elections information published on such a massive scale that had been illegally removed.”

Later, in response to a question, he added that “absent some change in the dynamic, this is not the last time we’ll be having this discussion.”

Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) kicked off the hearing saying that Russian interference in the election “comes as no shock to this committee” but remains “deeply troubling.”

He added that “we know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower” — but held that it’s “possible” there were other forms of surveillance.

Several Republicans including Trey Gowdy (SC) and Peter King (NY) quizzed the officials about leaks of classified information. Comey said that they’ve been “unusually active” and “should be prosecuted.”

In response to a question, he also said that leaks didn’t necessarily come from intelligence agencies. They “could come from lots of different places….It’s often coming from places you didn’t anticipate.”

Ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said that if evidence shows the Trump campaign aided or abetted the Russians it would be “one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.”

It’s “possible,” he added, that it’s a coincidence that a string of connections between the President’s camp and the Russians was followed by its leaks designed to hurt Clinton’s campaign, as well as Trump’s efforts to quash criticism of the country’s invasion of the Ukraine and intensify criticisms of NATO.

“But it is also possible, maybe more than possible” that it isn’t a coincidence, Schiff said.

Comey frequently declined to discuss specific meetings or investigations. The President noted in a tweet from his White House account during the hearing that the FBI director “refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls” made by Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to Russia.

Comey and Rogers said the Russians felt that their election year leaks had been effective, but Comey added that the FBI “made no judgment as to whether the Russians were successful” in influencing the outcome of the election.

Although “late in the summer they concluded that Mr. Trump didn’t have a chance,” the Russian government still felt it was worthwhile “to undermine her,” meaning Clinton, especially with European allies, the FBI director said.

The President said that the officials told Congress that “Russia did not influence electoral process.”

Asked about the tweet, Comey said that his agency didn’t look at whether Russian actions affected the outcome of the election.

Prior to the hearing, Trump fired off several tweets from his personal account attacking the investigations of Russian interference in the election.

One questioned “all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians.”

Another tweet charged that Democrats “made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign.”