Pressure mounts on FBI director over Trump claim of wiretap

Republican congressman says he has seen no evidence Obama wiretapped Trump Tower

US House intelligence committee members Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff speak to the media about the committee’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election, in Washington  on Wednesday. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

US House intelligence committee members Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff speak to the media about the committee’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election, in Washington on Wednesday. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

 

A key Republican congressman said on Wednesday he had seen no evidence that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, adding pressure to FBI director James Comey to provide evidence supporting or debunking President Donald Trump’s claim.

“We don’t have any evidence that that took place,” said House of Representatives intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”

Mr Trump made the claim on Twitter on March 4th without providing evidence, and representatives of former president Barack Obama have denied it. A number of congressional committees added the startling accusation to their wider investigations of possible Russian meddling in the election campaign and Russian ties to Trump and his associates.

The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, said Mr Comey would be asked about wiretap evidence at a rare public hearing next Monday. “It deeply concerns me that the president would make such an accusation without basis,” he said.

Mr Nunes said if Mr Trump’s tweets were taken literally, then “clearly the president was wrong”.

Cyber attacks

US intelligence agencies have concluded Russia conducted cyber attacks on Democrats in an effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election on Trump’s behalf. Russia has denied this.

At the same time, Mr Trump has been dogged by allegations that his advisers or associates had ties to Russian officials. Mr Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, last month after he failed to disclose contacts with Russia’s ambassador before Mr Trump took office on January 20th.

Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, have agreed to testify before the House committee on issues related to Russia’s role in the election.

Mr Schiff and Mr Nunes said they sent a letter asking Mr Comey, Mr Rogers and CIA director Mike Pompeo to provide by Friday information on leaks of classified information, including names of any Americans who may have been picked up during routine intelligence collection. Noting that this was how Mr Flynn’s name had surfaced, Mr Nunes said they were concerned about the unmasking of Americans for political purposes.

Mr Schiff said he expected the FBI to co-operate and was “prepared to support the use of the coercive process” if they did not, referring to the issuing of subpoenas.

In Richmond, Virginia, attorney general Jeff Sessions told reporters he had never given Mr Trump any reason to believe he had been wiretapped by the previous administration, according to a transcript provided by CBS News.

Later on Wednesday, Mr Comey was expected to brief leaders of the Senate judiciary committee about any FBI investigation of Russian election-related activities, according to media reports citing the committee’s Republican chairman, Charles Grassley. Mr Grassley had threatened to hold up Mr Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, until Mr Comey briefed them.

Unconvinced

While White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that Mr Trump was “extremely confident” the justice department would produce evidence to support the wiretap assertion, a number of Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress remained unconvinced.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham said he had no reason to believe a judge had ever issued a warrant, which would have reflected there was probable cause that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians.

If it is not true, he said, the FBI should confirm that.

“The longer it takes to answer that question, the more suspicious I get,” Mr Graham said on MSNBC.

Mr Graham and Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse, both judiciary committee members, asked Mr Comey two weeks ago to provide information on Russian activities and the wiretapping by Wednesday. Mr Graham said he was prepared to issue subpoenas for that information.

“Congress is going to flex its muscles,” Mr Graham said on CNN.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under Mr Obama, has told NBC he knew of no warrant to wiretap Trump Tower.

Congressional Democrats want a special prosecutor or nonpartisan select committee to investigate any Russian ties. But Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans, who control majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, say the probes by congressional committees are sufficient.

Democratic senator Tim Kaine, a member of the foreign relations committee, said he believed Mr Comey would say the FBI was “looking at” Russia connections to Mr Trump.

“We have to understand everything about the ties between Russia, the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, the Trump administration,” Mr Kaine, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s running mate, said on CNN. “Especially the degree to which Russia tried to invade the American election, because we have to protect future elections.” – (Reuters)