WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Despite hearings on President Trump’s pick for the Supreme COurt and a key vote on his healthcare plan, the focus Monday was on extraordinary testimony from the head of the FBI.
Director James Comey confirmed the bureau is probing possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, and he refuted Trump’s claim that he’d been wiretapped by former President Obama.
Speaking Monday night in Louisville, President Trump didn’t say a word about the earlier intelligence committee hearing.
But tweets sent out earlier in the day made clear he was watching Comey’s testimony, highlighting the director’s refusal to say whether he briefed President Barack Obama on a Trump adviser’s contacts with Russia.
Trump tweeted a video clip of Comey being asked if he informed Obama about calls made by Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser. Comey says he won’t discuss that case or any other discussions he had with Obama.
The tweet appears to suggest that the Obama administration was behind leaks about Flynn’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Flynn was fired after news reports revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his discussions with the envoy.
Earlier, Comey said the FBI is investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, adding he also has “no information” to support Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by the previous administration before the election.
Comey was testifying before Congress and said he was authorized by the Justice Department to make the disclosure. Typically, the FBI does not discuss or even confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.
“The FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election 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 said in his opening statement.
Comey said the investigation will also look at whether crimes were committed, but said he can’t provide details about the investigation.
“Because it is an open, ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we’re doing or whose conduct we are examining,” he said.
Also of interest to the House Intelligence Committee are Trump’s claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.
“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 and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said. “The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all of its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.”
Leaders of Senate and House committees investigating the claim have also said there’s no evidence to support the president’s accusation.
Also testifying Monday was National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, who denied that the British intelligence community was ever asked to conduct electronic surveillance on Trump at the behest of Obama.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if the president is prepared to withdraw his accusation.
“No, we started a hearing,” he said during his daily press briefing. “It’s still ongoing. It’s a question of where we get answers. You look at someone like Michael Flynn and you ask the question, how does an American citizen who should be protected by law from having his identity unmasked, how does that happen?”
Earlier this month, Spicer referred to unsubstantiated allegations made by a Fox News analyst that GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence agency, had helped Obama wiretap Trump.
The British intelligence agency flatly denied it happened.
The ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, asked Rogers if he thought it was “utterly ridiculous” that anyone in the U.S. would ask British spies to do surveillance on a presidential candidate.
Rogers said it was and added that he had seen nothing at the NSA that would indicate that happened.
Earlier, Rogers said the intelligence community stands behind its January assessment that it is highly confident Russia interfered in the election with the goal of electing Trump.
Trump has repeatedly denied any alleged collusion with the Russians during the campaign, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
In a Monday morning tweet, Trump blamed Democrats for the investigation into his contacts and said the committee should be focused on investigating leaks.
“The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
“The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information,” he said in another tweet. “Must find leaker now!”
A separate earlier tweet referenced James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, who has said that Trump’s allegation that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower is false.
“James Clapper and others stated there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it.”
The president had to fire his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, saying he lied about conversations he had with the Russians during the transition.
Rogers said that his agency is working to provide Congress the material it needs to investigate the intelligence agencies’ findings, which concluded the Russian government did aim to influence the 2016 campaign by harming Hillary Clinton’s electability.
WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell spoke with former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, who says Monday’s hearings make for great theater, but they might not be good for justice.
“We always have to make a judgement on these circumstances,” he said. “Whether the public hearings that are being conducted by the House and the Senate can compromise a criminal investigation.”
He adds there’s a reason that investigations are conducted quietly.
“We do that so witnesses don’t get information about what other witnesses might be saying,” Fishman said. “They don’t know where the investigative leads are.”
Fishman says that discretion is critical if Russia did in fact try to undermine the 2016 election.
The Russians are not accused of meddling with voting booths or vote tallies. Both Comey and Rogers said they had no evidence that any vote tallies were changed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina or Ohio. They are accused of other actions, such as hacking the Democratic National Committee and giving WikiLeaks a trove of damaging emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s account.
Hearings also began Monday for the president’s pick for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. In a play for Democratic votes, Republicans asked a former top Obama administration lawyer to introduce Gorsuch.
That lawyer called Gorsuch a “first rate intellect and a fair and decent man.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)