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Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 6:44 AM
In the start of Congressional hearings on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed for the first time that a formal counter intelligence investigation is underway into any Russian actions, and that the probe is also looking at possible links to associates of President Donald Trump and his campaign. The President responded by again pointing the finger at his predecessor.
"I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian Government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election," the FBI Director said.
"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," Comey added.
Comey later said that the investigation began in late July of 2016.
It was the FBI Director's first public comments about the matter since President Trump tweeted on March 4 that he had been wiretapped, a charge that the White House had never backed up with any evidence.
The FBI Director made clear there was no evidence to back up that charge.
"I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said, adding the same assurance about the activities of the Department of Justice.
Before that Comey declaration, top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee began the hearing by once more knocking down that charge from Mr. Trump.
"I have been saying this for several weeks, we know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower. However, it is still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), leaving open the possibility of a broader investigation related to Russia.
"We have also reviewed whether there is any evidence to support President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower, and finds no evidence to support that slanderous accusation," said Rep. Adam Schiff (R-CA), the top Democrat on the intelligence panel.
Hours later at the White House, officials refused to back down on his early March series of tweets that raised questions about President Obama.
As for the President, he began his day with a series of tweets that raised questions about the investigation.
But while the President denounced such claims as "FAKE NEWS," the FBI Director made clear that those links were being investigated.
Even before the hearing had ended, the President's official Twitter account was actively pushing back, seemingly raising the possibility that President Obama had personally leaked out information related to Mr. Trump's National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.
The POTUS Twitter account soon continued: "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process."
At the hearing, Republicans asked few questions about the specifics of how the Russians may have meddled in the 2016 elections, as they instead focused on leaks of information from the Intelligence Community.
While not commenting on any specific leaks, the FBI Director did say he was worried by what he labeled an "unusually active" period of leaks in recent months, though he said the leaks did not always contain correct information.