Skeptical lawmakers press Comey over Trump wiretapping claim

© Reuters. House Intelligence Select Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Rank Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speak to the media about the ongoing investigation into Russia on Capitol Hill.

By Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A key Republican lawmaker said on Wednesday that he did not believe the Obama administration would intervene in Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign, increasing pressure on FBI Director James Comey to provide evidence that support or discredit the claim of Republican President Donald Trump.

“We don’t have any evidence that that happened,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said at a news conference. “I don’t think there was a real coup on Trump Tower.”

Trump made the claim on Twitter on March 4 without providing proof. Nunes’ congressional committee is one of at least four that have added the alarming indictment to investigations of possible Russian meddling in the election campaign and Russia’s ties to Trump and his associates.

James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, has said he was not aware of any court order to intervene at Trump Tower.

Nunes said that if Trump’s tweets were taken literally, then “clearly the president was wrong.”

With his remarks, Nunes, who was part of Trump’s transition team, joined other lawmakers, including some of his fellow Republicans, who have been skeptical of the president’s claim and frustrated with what they see as the lack of information. by the forces of federal order.

The top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, Adam Schiff, said at the press conference with Nunes that Comey would be asked about the wiretapping evidence in a rare public hearing Monday. “I am deeply concerned that the president is making such a baseless accusation,” Schiff said.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia carried out cyberattacks against Democrats in an effort to influence the 2016 US elections on behalf of Trump. Russia has denied it.

At the same time, Trump has been dogged by allegations that his advisers or associates had ties to Russian officials. Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, last month after he did not disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office on January 20.

Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, agreed to testify before the House committee on issues related to Russia’s role in the elections.

Schiff and Nunes said they sent a letter asking Comey, Rogers and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to provide information on leaks of classified information, including the names of Americans who may have been collected, by Friday. Noting that this is how the Flynn name came up, Nunes said they were concerned about exposing Americans for political purposes.

Schiff said he hoped the Federal Bureau of Investigation would cooperate. Committee leaders said they were willing to issue subpoenas if they didn’t.

In Richmond, Virginia, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters that he never gave Trump any reason to believe that the previous administration intercepted him, according to a transcript provided by CBS News.

CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS NOT CONVINCED

While White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump was “extremely confident” that the Justice Department would present evidence to back up the wiretapping claim, several of Trump’s Republicans in Congress were not. convinced.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he had no reason to believe that a judge issued a warrant, which would have reflected probable cause that the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Russians.

If it’s not true, he said, the FBI should confirm it.

Graham and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, chairman and senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism, asked Comey two weeks ago to provide information on Russian activities and wiretaps by Wednesday.

Graham said Wednesday that the FBI had responded that it would provide an answer to him and Whitehouse at a future classified briefing.

“The bottom line is that many Americans are wondering what is going on here,” Graham told a subcommittee hearing, titled “The modus operandi and toolbox of Russia and other autocracies to undermine democracies around the world.”

Whitehouse said he would prefer an unranked briefing.

Comey met with Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and his top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, on Wednesday. A law enforcement official said the meeting was an opportunity for senators to ask Comey about issues that concern them, which is expected to focus on the FBI’s investigations into Trump and his associates’ contacts in Russia, as well as the claim of wiretapping.

Separately, Grassley accused federal law enforcement officers of lying to members of Congress about his willingness to share information with them.

“Every time they come here for their nomination hearing and I ask them, are they going to answer phone calls and our letters and give us the documents they want? And every time we get a really positive yes! They end up being liars!” Grassley told the Washington Post.