House committee grills Comey and Rogers on Trump and Russia: key points

FBI director confirms investigation of Trump campaigns ties to Russian government and smacks down several of the presidents tweets

The House intelligence committee hearing on Russian tampering in the US election has wrapped, as has day one of judge Neil Gorsuchs confirmation hearings. Heres what happened.

  • FBI director James Comey announced for the first time that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian governments 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 Russias efforts.
  • Trump campaign figures mentioned at the hearing included Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, JD Gordon, Jeff Sessions and Kellyanne Conway. Comey declined to say whether the president was or is being personally investigated.
  • Comey knocked down Trumps assertion on Twitter that Barack Obama had wire tapped him. We do not have any information that supports those tweets, Comey said.
  • Republican chairman Devin Nunes admitted: We know there was not a physical wiretap at Trump Tower. However it is possible that other surveillance technology was used against President Trump and his associates.
  • Tweets sent from the @potus account during the hearing mischaracterized Comeys testimony and that of NSA director Michael Rogers. One tweet said the witnesses had told Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.
  • Comey was asked about the tweet. Weve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact, because its not something weve looked at, Comey said. It certainly wasnt our intention to say that today.
  • Rogers denied a White House claim that the Obama administration asked GCHQ to conduct surveillance on Trump, saying it would have been a violation of US law to ask the British to conduct such an operation.
  • Republicans called for punishment for anyone who leaked classified information to the press, concerning Flynns contacts with Russian operatives or other issues.One member promised to grill former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper about leaks next week.
  • It emerged that the FBI investigation of Russian tampering was launched in late July, although the public did not learn of the investigation for months, well after the FBI saw fit to announce its investigation of Hillary Clintons emails.

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James Comey refuses to tell Senate if FBI is investigating Trump-Russia links

FBI director says I would never comment on investigations in an open forum but response stuns senators after his public remarks on Clintons email case

The director of the FBI whose high-profile interventions in the 2016 election are widely seen to have helped tip the balance of against Hillary Clinton has refused to say if the bureau is investigating possible connections between associates of President-elect Donald Trump and Russia.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, James Comey said he could not comment in public on a possible investigation into allegations of links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

I would never comment on investigations whether we have one or not in an open forum like this, so I really cant answer one way or another, said Comey, at a hearing into the US intelligence agencies conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to benefit Trump.

Comeys reticence stunned several senators who pointed to his repeated public discussions of FBI inquiries into Clinton during the campaign.

It was his first public appearance since an election that saw his reputation for integrity seriously tarnished, after his repeated public statements on the bureaus inquiry into Clintons private email server. Clinton reportedly blames Comey for her unexpected loss to Trump.

Asked by the Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden if he would provide an unclassified answer about any FBI inquiry into Trump-Russia connections before Trumps inauguration on 20 January, Comey said: I will answer any question you ask but the answer will likely be the same as I just gave you. I cant talk about it.

Wyden said he was troubled by Comeys silence. I think the American people have a right to know this, he said.

Other senators went further. Democrat Kamala Harris of California suggested that a new standard for discussing FBI investigations publicly had been created in the months before the election.

Angus King, a Maine independent, told Comey: The irony of your making that statement here I cannot avoid.

Responding to King, Comey suggested sometimes we think differently about [discussing] closed investigations.

But the FBI had not technically closed its inquiry into the email server when Comey wrote to Congress on 28 October just 11 days before the general election to say that the agency was reviewing newly discovered electronic communications for potential relevance to the Clinton case.

Those materials arose from another active FBI investigation, into disgraced former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. Comey eventually announced that the new material was ultimately irrelevant to Clinton, on the day before the election.

Comeys intervention into the presidential election contravened justice department protocols and earned rebuke from the former attorney general Eric Holder.

Trump has not publicly committed to retaining Comey, whose term extends to 2023, and Comey has receded from public view following the election. At one point in the hearing he attempted to joke: I hope Ive demonstrated by now Im tone deaf when it comes to politics and thats the way it should be.

The hearing was the intelligence committees first since the FBI, National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency released a declassified assessment finding that Russia orchestrated a wide-ranging influence operation during the US election, to include digitally breaking into Democratic National Committee servers and Clinton aide John Podestas email and providing the materials to outlets that published the information online.

James Clapper, the outgoing director of national intelligence, placed Russian interference in the US election in the context of Moscows attempted subversion of elections in what he estimated was a couple dozen foreign countries.

FBI director James Comey (left), and National Intelligence Director James Clapper, testify before the Senate hearing on Russian intelligence activities. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Clapper reiterated that he had no evidence that Russia had manipulated the voting process itself. But he said there was evidence of Russian reconnoitering, intrusion on certain voter rolls in unnamed American states.

Comey also said that there was evidence that Russia had penetrated an outdated Republican National Committee data hoard and harvested old stuff but not that it had accessed any current RNC material or the national Trump campaign.

There was evidence that there was hacking directed at state-level organizations, state-level campaigns, and the RNC, but old domains of the RNC, that is, email domains they were no longer using, Comey said.

The FBI director added that it was potentially possible that a hacker could access and manipulate voter information contained in county databases, possibly without election officials knowing about the manipulation.

Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, pledged a thorough and bipartisan staff review into the finding, which Trump has yet to publicly accept and which has led him to denigrate the intelligence agencies he is set to inherit.

Burr said he had no reason to doubt the findings and promised to follow the intel wherever it leads. His Democratic counterpart, Virginias Mark Warner, said he believed the committee inquiry ought to include a focus on contact between the Russian government and its agents, and associates of any campaign and candidate.

Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico added: Russia didnt do this to help the Republican candidate. Russia did this to help Russia and to weaken America and therein lies the heart of why this is so important. In the next election the shoe could easily be on the other foot, and a foreign power could easily decide it wants the Democrat could win this time.

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