FBI's Comey says no evidence of Trump wiretap claim, confirms probe


Reuters

UPDATE 7-FBI's Comey says no evidence of Trump wiretap claim, confirms probe


(Adds Comey quote, background)
    By Patricia Zengerle and Warren StrobelWASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - The head of the FBI
publicly challenged U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday,
denying the Republican's claim that former president Barack
Obama wiretapped his 2016 election campaign and confirming his
agency had launched a criminal investigation into any collusion
between Trump's campaign and Russia.
    FBI Director James Comey told a congressional hearing he had
seen no evidence to support a claim by Trump that Obama had
wiretapped his campaign headquarters in Trump Tower in New York.
    The president created a controversy in early March when he
tweeted without giving evidence that Obama had wiretapped the
campaign as the Republican businessman took on Democrat Hillary
Clinton in the presidential race.
    "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," Comey told the House
of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing.
    "And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department
of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the
same for the Department of Justice and all its components: the
department has no information that supports those tweets," he
said.
    The committee is investigating accusations that Russia tried
to influence the 2016 election by hacking Democratic operatives
and releasing embarrassing information. Russia denies the
allegations.

    RUSSIA PROBE
    Comey confirmed the FBI has been investigating since last
July possible Russian government efforts to interfere in the
election, including any links between Trump's campaign and
Moscow.
    "Because it is an open, ongoing investigation and is
classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose
conduct we are examining," Comey said. He said the fact that
there is an investigation does not mean charges will be filed.
    Trump's tweet about wiretapping, which was made without
supporting evidence, pulled attention away from the claims of
Russian interference.
    He sent his tweet on Saturday, March 4, two days after
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had met with Russia's U.S.
ambassador last fall, said he would remove himself from any
investigation of Russian interference in the election.
    U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia tried
to help Trump by hacking leading Democrats' emails. Comey said
Moscow had long been opposed to Trump's election rival, former
secretary of state Clinton.
    "I think that was a fairly easy judgment for the
(intelligence) community," he said. "Putin hated Secretary
Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was he had a
clear preference for the person running against the person he
hated so much."
    The hearing on Monday was a rare open congressional
intelligence committee hearing and it revealed a stark partisan
divide in focus. Majority Republicans concentrated their
questions on leaks of classified information - a concern that
Trump frequently mentions - and media reports on issues such as
contacts between former Trump national security adviser Michael
Flynn and Russian officials.
    Democrats sought to highlight such links, and shoot down
Trump's wiretapping claim.

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FACTBOX-Congress investigates links between Trump and Russia
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 (Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Writing by Alistair
Bell; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott)
 ((patricia.zengerle@thomsonreuters.com,
www.twitter.com/ReutersZengerle; 001-202-898-8390; Reuters
Messaging: patricia.zengerle.reuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: USA TRUMP/RUSSIA (UPDATE 7, PIX, TV)



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