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Comey Testifies On FBI's Russia Probe

Mar 20, 2017
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The director of the FBI, James Comey, told lawmakers this morning that his agency is investigating possible links between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.

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JAMES COMEY: 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. And that 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. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

GREENE: All right. That was FBI director Comey in his opening statement before the House Intelligence Committee, which is holding its first public hearing on these issues. Covering this hearing, NPR's Scott Detrow, and he's in the studio with us this morning. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Careful, here, I know we really need to be. No conclusions yet, Comey is mentioning, but at least saying that this investigation is happening. How significant is that?

DETROW: I think it's a very big deal. I mean, there's been a lot of speculation about whether this investigation was underway, a lot of assumption on Democrats' parts that it was underway. But remember, when Jeff Sessions recused himself from making any decisions on this investigation...

GREENE: The attorney general, yeah.

DETROW: ...A few weeks ago, he was very careful to not even confirm whether or not it was happening. So it's a big deal that James Comey is saying, yes, we are investigating. And not only are we investigating Russian action; we're investigating any sort of collaboration with the Trump campaign. Remember, this is something that President Trump has been very sensitive about. He tweeted several times defensively about it this morning again, saying that the entire story was made up by Democrats. Now we have an FBI director not only saying, as he did last year, that he thought it was clear that Russia tried to act, but that the FBI is investigating this.

GREENE: This hearing, I mean, still ongoing - but have we heard from lawmakers responding to this and speaking this morning?

DETROW: A lot of the early testimony and early statements has been kind of recapping what we know so far. That's something that Democrat Adam Schiff did in his opening statement, kind of laying out the increasingly complicated timeline of events here.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with the Russian ambassador, not only at the convention but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians? Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian ambassador, Kislyak, about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke, U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump?

DETROW: Now, it's important to say that so far, there is nothing other than coincidence in terms of those events. But it's important to note that Flynn was forced to resign. And Sessions made a decision to recuse himself. So those are pretty notable reactions to this information becoming public.

GREENE: The attorney general and the president's former national security adviser, you're talking about there. One of the other topics that was supposed to come up in this hearing, President Trump's claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. There's been no evidence that we have seen, a lot of people saying - in Congress saying they've seen no evidence of this. Has that come up this morning? Have we learned anything new?

DETROW: Just a few moments ago, actually, FBI Director Comey said the FBI and the Justice Department say there's no evidence to support that claim. And Comey is now the latest in a long line of informed officials to bat down Trump's claim, and that includes the top Republican and Democrat on both the House committee holding the hearing today and also the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating all of this.

GREENE: Scott, there seem to be so many competing agendas here. Republicans have been interested in who leaked some of these things. Democrats have been interested in Donald Trump and disproving his wiretapping claim. Can we call this bipartisan?

DETROW: So far, the Republicans and Democrats on the committee have been working very hard to present a bipartisan front. But I think it's telling what they're focusing on in their questions. A lot of the Republican questions from Chairman Nunes and others are focused on the fact that this information is being leaked to the press, a lot of follow-ups on the leaks. Democrats are much more interested in knowing, are there any connections between Trump officials and Russian officials.

GREENE: OK. Again, the hearing at the House - on the House Intelligence Committee ongoing this morning. And that was NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.