FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI is investigating Russia's interference in the presidential election and any ties to Donald Trump's campaigns, but cautioned that no conclusions should be drawn.
Comey noted that the FBI is not in the practice of confirming ongoing investigations, but in the "public interest" had decided to break protocol and confirm the probe.
The committee is looking into Russian meddling and also allegations by Trump that former President Obama "wiretapped" Trump Tower and his campaign.
Democrats and Republicans have roundly dismissed Trump's claims about Obama, noting that there was no evidence to support them. Over the weekend Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., reiterated that stance.
And during his testimony, Comey eschewed them as well. "With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets," he said. "And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to assure you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components."
Likewise, National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers said his agency hadn't divined any truth to the president's tweets. “I've seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity, nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity,” he said.
Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on Meet the Press Sunday had been even more blunt. "I hope that we can put an end to this wild goose chase because what the president said was just patently false, and the wrecking ball it created now has banged into our British allies and our German allies," he said.
Justice sends docs to congressional committees probing Trump wiretap claims
On Sunday, Nunes also said he saw no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to sway the election. "I'll give you a very simple answer: No," he said during a Fox report.
But Comey's testimony revealed an active probe into potential collusion. "The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 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."
Trump took to Twitter early Monday morning to dismiss the claims. "James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!" he tweeted early Monday, claiming that the Democrats advanced the Russian narrative "as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!"
The Trump administration has come under fire after several members have been found to have ties to Russia after claiming otherwise. After revelations that then acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates warned the White House in late January that Michael Flynn had misrepresented the content of his calls with a Russian diplomat and could be vulnerable to blackmail, Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor in mid-February.
Speculation had long swirled that Flynn discussed sanctions leveled against Russia by former President Barack Obama for its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election, but Flynn denied wrongdoing and the White House stood behind the former three-star general, until the Washington Post, citing U.S. officials, revealed Yates was so concerned that Flynn might have been compromised that she contacted the White House. Yates was fired by President Donald Trump shortly thereafter for not enforcing the president's controversial immigration ban.
When rumors first surfaced that Flynn had discussed the sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Vice President Mike Pence said the National Security Advisor had assured him that the calls were innocuous, including well wishes for Christmas.
In his resignation letter, Flynn said he'd apologized to both the president and vice president and claimed to have "inadvertently briefed the Vice President-elect and others with incomplete information” about the calls.
Russian operatives were believed to have hacked the Democratic National Committee last year and a steady stream of emails from Hillary Clinton and those affiliated with her campaign by WikiLeaks to cause damage to her campaign.
While Nunes said there was no evidence of collusion, Schiff said Sunday, that “there is circumstantial evidence of collusion. There is direct evidence, I think, of deception and that's where we begin the investigation."
As Comey and Rogers were testifying before the intelligence committee, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was downplaying the revelations at the daily White House press briefing. “Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things,” Spicer said in response to queries about Comey's testimony and the roles of Paul Manafort and others in the Trump campaign. “There is a point in which you continue to search for something that everybody has been briefed hasn't seen or found. I think it's fine to look into it. But at the end of the day, they're going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else has had. So, you can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn't exist, doesn't matter.”
Murshed Zaheed, political director of CREDO, a network of more than five million activists, demanded a comprehensive investigation. “Today's blockbuster revelation from Director Comey should be a wake-up call to every member of Congress and all Americans,” said Zaheed said in a statement. “Trump's Republican lapdogs in Congress must stop playing games and get to the bottom of whether the Trump campaign and its associates colluded with Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.”
Noting that “the American people deserve answers,” he said until they "can be assured that the Trump campaign wasn't involved, all Trump-related business in Congress must grind to a halt.” That means, he explained, “no confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch, no Trumpcare and no massive tax breaks for Republican campaign contributors.”
Nunes called investigators to find answers quickly.
"There is a big, gray cloud that you've put over people who have very important work to do leading this country," he said. "The faster you can get to the bottom of this, it's going to be better for all Americans."
UPDATE: The original story has been updated to include additional testimony from FBI Director James Comey.
UPDATE #2: This story has been updated to included comment by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, CREDO Political Director Murshed Zaheed, Fidelis Threat Manager John Bambenek and NSA Director Mike Rogers.