Updated on March 20 at 1:53 p.m. ET
FBI Director James Comey on Monday confirmed for the first time that the bureau is investigating whether Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Russian government last year as part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“I’ve 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 told members of the House Intelligence Committee in a prepared opening statement. “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.”
Though it was not surprising, Comey’s decision to publicly confirm a criminal investigation of possible collusion between the sitting president and a foreign power was a stunning revelation. Under questioning, he said that the FBI began the investigation in late July, a disclosure that likely will inflame criticism from Democrats that Comey chose to publicly discuss the bureau’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the campaign but did not reveal it was also investigating the Trump campaign and Russian meddling.
The FBI director warned that he would not be able to discuss the specifics of the probe, including which officials in the Trump campaign or administration might be under surveillance.
“Because it is an open, ongoing investigation, and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining,” Comey said. “I can’t go into those details here. I know that is externally frustrating to some folks, but it is the way it has to be.”
Yet the FBI director was willing to directly rebut President Trump’s tweeted claims that former President Barack Obama “wiretapped” him at Trump Tower. Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, read aloud to Comey several of Trump’s tweets over the last several weeks, including the wiretap charge. “I have no information that supports those tweets,” the director said. He then explained that he had surveyed the entire Justice Department and that the department more broadly “has no information to support those tweets.”
Schiff asked Comey to comment on Trump’s accused that Obama’s alleged surveillance was akin to “McCarthyism.”
“Were you engaged in McCarthyism?” Schiff asked.
“I try very hard not to engage in any ’isms of any kind, including McCarthyism,” Comey replied, to laughter from the hearing room.
Hours before Comey’s testimony, President Trump vented his frustration with the scrutiny of his campaign’s contacts with Russia in a series of tweets. “James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia,” he wrote, referring to the former director of national intelligence. “This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”