Politics

House Intel Seeks Clarity From Comey on Wiretap Claims

Lawmakers want answers on investigation into Russian meddling, surveillence

Nunes, right, and Schiff, left, will hold a public hearing on the panel’s widespread investigation on Russia. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Intelligence Committee members are looking for FBI Director James Comey to put an “exclamation point” on Monday to unfounded claims made by President Donald Trump alleging the Republican president was wiretapped by his Democratic predecessor.

The panel will hold its first public hearing on a widespread investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year.

The breadth of the probe also includes looking into whether Trump or any of his associates had any connections to the Kremlin and what federal agencies unmasked names of U.S. citizens who were picked up via incidental collection of surveillance.

Podcast: From Russia With Love

The House Intelligence Committee has received documents from the Department of Justice in response to the panel’s request for material related to Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretapping of Trump Tower. A spokesman for the committee said the panel is reviewing the documents but had no further comment.

Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, will testify before the panel along with Comey.

Ranking Member Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat, said last week the hearing would be one of many — in public and behind closed doors — to determine the extent of Russia’s involvement in the election.

Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, said that would include looking into ties to both the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns.

The top lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees last week said there was no proof thus far that Trump Tower had been wiretapped by Obama, which Trump alleged earlier this month in a series of tweets and has continued to allege.

Still, lawmakers suggested it may still be one line of questioning that comes up in the meeting.

“The director will have the opportunity to put a final exclamation point on that and hopefully put this to rest,” Schiff said. “Then it will be up to the president to explain why he would make such a baseless accusation.”

Despite agreeing there was “no physical wiretap” at Trump Tower Nunes said it was unclear what other surveillance evidence there might be on Trump or any of his associates. Nunes cited reports that conversations between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak appear to have been picked up through incidental collection.

In response to top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee finding “no indications” that Trump Tower “was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government” Nunes said that was impossible to determine at this stage of the investigation. 

“We don’t know how anybody would have that information unless they have different information than me because we know that Flynn was picked up on incidental collection,” Nunes said. “We don’t know the extent of that, how widespread that was.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the Intel committee, told Roll Call he wants answers to the extent of Russia’s meddling in the election, whether any Americans were involved and how to prevent that from happening in the future.

“Unfortunately, the president has rolled a smoke bomb into this investigation with his reckless claim,” Swalwell said of Trump’s wiretapping allegation.

Former Obama administration officials including Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general, James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence and John Brennan, the former CIA director, have also been invited to testify.

They were among a list of names intended to speak at Monday’s hearing but due to scheduling conflicts, that panel of witnesses is expected to appear March 28, Nunes said.

Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team, said he expects Comey to answer questions about what he knows about the agencies’ involvement but was scant on details on what he may seek to find out in the public hearing.

 “We’re not here to listen to speeches,” Nunes said. “This is an investigation.”

Ryan Lucas contributed to this reportContact Rahman at remarahman@cqrollcall.com or follow her on Twitter at @remawriter

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