FBI investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia, says chief

James Comey raises pressure on US president to clarify relationship with Kremlin

FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers have refuted President Trump’s claims about President Obama wiretapping him during the presidential election. Video: REUTERS

 

The FBI is investigating contacts between US president Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, its director confirmed on Monday, in a development that has increased political pressure on the US president to clarify his relationship with the Kremlin.

In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, FBI director James Comey said the investigation into Russian interference in last year’s US presidential election included an inquiry into possible links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and “whether any crimes were committed”.

It marked the first time the FBI has confirmed an investigation into the sitting US president’s campaign team is under way.

Mr Comey admitted it was unusual for the FBI to confirm or deny reports of an investigation, but that the bureau did so sometimes in “unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest”.

“This is one of those circumstances,” he said.

No evidence

Mr Comey also said he had no evidence to support allegations by Mr Trump that his predecessor as US president, Barack Obama, had ordered the wire-trapping of Mr Trump during the campaign.

“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets,” Mr Comey said, adding that neither did the department of justice.

The White House immediately hit back, with press secretary Sean Spicer telling reporters that Mr Comey’s testimony had shown that “nothing has changed” and that people were continuing to look for something “that doesn’t exist”.

Even before the five-hour hearing commenced, Mr Trump – who was due to fly to a “Make America Great Again” rally in Kentucky last night – sought to undermine the hearing. “The real story that Congress, the FBI and others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!” he tweeted on Monday morning.

This focus on leaks by the intelligence community was also picked up by Republicans during the hearing, with Republican questioners repeatedly trying to tilt the focus of the hearing to the leaks that gave rise to reports of the Trump administration’s links to Russia, rather than the issue of Russian interference in the election.

Limited role

With Mr Comey declining to name the Trump associates who are the focus of the inquiry, Mr Spicer noted that many people involved in the campaign had a limited role in the presidential campaign.

In the last few months a number of senior Trump administration officials who were centrally involved in his presidential campaign have been found to have had previously undisclosed links to Russia.

Mike Flynn was forced to resign as national security adviser over his dealings with Russia after just 24 days in the job. Similarly, attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations into Russian interference in the election.

Mr Comey also revealed during his testimony that the investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia commenced in July – just before he closed an initial investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Asked whether Russian interference could be expected in US elections in the future, Mr Comey answered in the affirmative.

“They’ll be back. They’ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018, and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful, because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sowed doubt in this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.”