Monday, March 20, 2017

Comey Confirms F.B.I. Investigation of Russian Election Interference, Links to Trump Campaign

RIGHT NOW The House intelligence committee has begun its hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
■ The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, publicly confirmed an investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election and whether associates of the president were in contact with Moscow.
■ The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence convened on Monday for the first public hearing on Russia’s efforts to influence the election.
■ The hearing’s featured witnesses: Mr. Comey and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency.
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Watch Live: Hearing on Russian Interference in the Election

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is holding the first public hearing on Russia’s efforts to influence the election.
 Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

Comey confirms F.B.I. Investigation into Russian Election Interference

The F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination, Mr. Comey said.
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Mr. Comey said that it is unusual for the F.B.I. to confirm or deny the existence of any investigations, but in unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest, the bureau sometimes will discuss such matters.
“This is one of those circumstances,” he said.
“The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investing the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” he continued, adding that the investigation included looking at whether associates of Mr. Trump were in contact with Russian officials, and colluded with them.

Nunes: “There was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower”

The first hearing of the House intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election opened on Monday with Representative Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s chairman and a Trump ally, trying to split the difference between his hawkish view of Russia and his desire to deflect accusations that President Trump’s campaign benefitted from Russian interference in the election — or worse, possibly colluded with Moscow.
Shortly after Monday’s witnesses — Mr. Comey and Adm. Rogers — took their seats, Mr. Nunes opened by stating that Russia had a long track record of taking aggressive actions against its neighbors, and “its hostile acts take many forms aside from direct military assaults.”
Russia “has a long history of meddling in other countries’ election systems and launching cyber-attacks on a wide range of countries,” he said. “The fact that Russia hacked U.S. election-related databases comes as no shock to this committee.”
But in a nod to a claim pushed by Mr. Trump that he was wiretapped, Mr. Nunes said he wanted to know if there was improper surveillance of campaign officials. And he said it was important to find out “who has leaked classified information.”
“Numerous current and former officials have leaked purportedly classified information in connection to these questions,” Mr. Nunes said. “We aim to determine who has leaked or facilitated leaks of classified information so that these individuals can be brought to justice.”

Schiff: Collusion with Russia would be ‘most shocking betrayals of our democracy’

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, laid out the case that the Trump campaign was, at best, far too close to Russia — and far too eager to appease Moscow on Ukraine and other issues.
“If the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history,” he said.
Mr. Schiff said the committee also plans to examine whether the raw intelligence substantiates intelligence officials’ assessment and whether the government reacted quickly and appropriately to revelations of Russia’s attack on the election.
It is “unknowable” whether Russian meddling altered the outcome of the election, Mr. Schiff said, emphasizing that it mattered more that Moscow succeeded in intervening and will do it again.
“If we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future,” he said, “we will have only ourselves to blame.”

The president doth protest.

With the House intelligence committee set for the first public hearing on Russian election meddling, the president is posting his protests on Twitter — again.
The search for the real “leaker” is likely to be part of the questioning of the F.B.I. director, since Mr. Nunes has seconded the president’s opinion.
But Mr. Schiff asserted on Sunday that there was circumstantial evidence of collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump associates during the campaign. So protest as he might, Mr. Trump is not going to head off that line of questioning.
None of that is sitting well with the president of the United States. In a later offering, he went back to an oldie but goodie: Hillary Clinton.

Here’s what to watch at the Intel Committee hearing.

■ Will Mr. Comey say definitively what he wanted the Justice Department to say for him, that Trump Tower was not wiretapped during the presidential campaign?
■ How hard will Republicans push Mr. Trump’s effort to unmask the leakers bringing Russia news to the media and thus to the public?
■ Will Democrats divert attention from the central issue of Russian election interference to demand a public explanation from Mr. Comey for why he publicly chastised Hillary Clinton for her handling of emails on her private server while keeping the Russia investigation hush-hush?

Another Republican to Trump: Just apologize.

While the president tweets, lawmakers from his own party are pleading with him to apologize for saying he was wiretapped — and move on.
The latest was Representative Will Hurd of Texas, a former intelligence officer, appearing on ABC.
It’s not as if Mr. Trump has nothing else to concern himself with. Beyond the intelligence committee, his nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil M. Gorsuch, begins his confirmation hearings on Monday; and as early as Thursday, the House will vote on its bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The fate of that effort will go a long way to determine the rest of Mr. Trump’s bold legislative agenda.