WASHINGTON: FBI Director James Comey sent US politicians scrambling yesterday after an unusual hearing in Congress, uncovering an official intelligence investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election and into potential ties to Donald Trump’s campaign.
Comey, testifying alongside National Security Agency (NSA) Director Mike Rogers, openly contradicted Trump’s allegations of being the victim of wiretapping by his predecessor Barack Obama. “I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey said.
The more-than-five-hour hearing at the House Intelligence Committee sent shockwaves across Washington yesterday.
Comey for the first time announced that the FBI is conducting an investigation into alleged Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US election.
“I have 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 the committee.
He went a step further, saying: “It 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... and whether any crimes were committed.”
This is a significant and unusual announcement to be made by the head of the FBI, said James Miller, managing editor of The Interpreter, a publication that focuses on Russia.
“Prior to Comey’s testimony, we only knew that there was an ongoing investigation because of articles published by the Washington Post, New York Times and others that relied on leaks and unnamed sources,” Miller told Arab News. Now “we know those leaks may have been telling the truth.”
Also of significance was Comey’s refusal to comment on or deny statements that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the election.
Comey identified three goals for Russian meddling in the election: “Undermine US democracy, help him (Trump) and hurt her (Hillary Clinton).” These goals were confirmed by the FBI “at least by December.”
Miller said if the FBI investigation obtains evidence that the “Trump campaign had direct or indirect ties to the Kremlin, or that Trump himself was compromised because he was being blackmailed by the Russian government,” it would constitute “a massive national security threat.”
Miller added: “We could be talking treason if some of these allegations are true. While we still have no proof that the allegations are true, we know the FBI has been investigating these claims since at least last summer.”
NSA and FBI: No wiretapping
Asked about Trump’s tweets two weeks ago that Obama wiretapped him, Comey said he has “no information that supports those tweets,” adding that both the FBI and the Justice Department “have looked” internally and could not confirm it.
Miller said those statements, and that the FBI, the Justice Department and the NSA “are now on record saying there’s no substance whatsoever to Trump’s claims that Obama ordered a wiretapping of Trump Tower, or that British intelligence was spying on Trump,” imply that he “lied about our former president and about our most important ally for political reasons.”
Politically, this will “diminish trust with US allies, and raise questions if the president is going to publicly throw them under the bus for political gain,” Miller added.
Perhaps the biggest political wedge between Trump and the heads of US intelligence was how each viewed Russia. Asked by the committee if Russia “was our adversary,” both Comey and Rogers said: “Yes.”
In terms of policies, Miller said: “The interests of the Putin regime and the US government almost never align.”
Hence “the US should be highly suspicious and alarmed when a president, with ties to the Kremlin, is excited about working with (Vladimir) Putin while at the FBI has his campaign under investigation.”