FBI Director James Comey met with senators Wednesday amid demands for him to answer a question that’s preoccupying Congress: Is there any evidence at all that President Donald Trump’s campaign was wiretapped at the behest of his predecessor as he’s claimed?
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s top Democrat, declined to disclose details of the meeting to reporters after the closed-door briefing.
“The chairman and I had written a letter asking for a briefing on certain topics which I’m not going to go into, and because of the strength of the chairman’s, um, tough language, we were able to have a briefing," Feinstein told reporters later. "This briefing was all on sensitive matters and highly classified and it’s really not anything we can answer any questions about."
Lawmakers have been increasingly vocal in demanding that Comey answer questions about Trump’s wiretap assertion and also about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails during last year’s presidential campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies, including the FBI, have found Russia’s meddling was intended to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help Trump win.
Comey to Testify
Comey will testify in public on March 20 before the House Intelligence Committee, according to the FBI. Other senators have been demanding he respond as well, including Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who threatened Wednesday to issue a subpoena in the matter.
Questions about possible ties between Trump’s campaign and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin have transfixed Congress, where Wednesday alone featured separate hearings on the efficacy of Russian sanctions lodged since 2014 and Graham presided over a hearing focusing on the country’s attempts to disrupt European elections.
Despite Trump’s charge in Twitter postings that then-President Barack Obama had Trump Tower “wiretapped” before the November election, the administration has yet to offer evidence to back up the claim.
Administration officials have said Trump’s assertion shouldn’t be taken literally, and the president now has said as much in an interview.
“Wiretap covers a lot of different things," Trump said in an interview set to air on Fox News’ "Tucker Carlson Tonight" Wednesday. "I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
Hours before, the Republican chairman of the the House Intelligence Committee said his panel hasn’t found evidence so far to back up Trump’s initial wiretap allegation.
"We don’t have any evidence that took place," Chairman Devin Nunes of California said at a news conference Wednesday in Washington. "I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower."
The Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, said at the news conference, "to date I see no evidence" that supports the claim by Trump. “I think to put that forth was irresponsible by the president and his spokesman," Schiff said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked by reporters after a speech in Richmond, Virginia, Wednesday if he ever briefed Trump on investigations related to the campaigns or gave him any reason to believe he was wiretapped by the previous administration. Sessions replied, “The answer: No.”
Nunes and Schiff also said the Intelligence Committee has asked the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency to turn over the names of any U.S. citizens who may have been ensnared by surveillance eavesdropping and then had their names leaked.
Nunes said the request was made because of concerns over the legality of the U.S. intelligence community’s interception and use of communications involving General Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s initial national security adviser.
Flynn resigned Feb. 13 after revelations that he didn’t disclose that he had discussed sanctions against Russia with the country’s ambassador to the U.S. before Trump took office. Nunes has questioned why intelligence officials eavesdropped on Flynn’s calls with the ambassador and later leaked information on those calls to the press.
Intelligence agencies are known to listen in on communications by ambassadors, but the contents of those calls aren’t normally disclosed.
Nunes and Schiff wrote to NSA Director Michael Rogers, FBI Director James Comey and CIA director Mike Pompeo asking them to provide the names of "unmasked" American citizens caught in surveillance over the last six months.
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