The White House stood its ground Monday after FBI Director James Comey confirmed the bureau is probing possible “links” between the Russian government and Trump campaign associates, and knocked down President Trump’s claim that his predecessor wiretapped him.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer, in response, maintained there’s “no evidence” of collusion with Russia – and said Trump is not withdrawing his allegation against former President Barack Obama, either.
The pushback followed a daylong House intelligence committee hearing where Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers testified. Comey used the forum to confirm for the first time that the bureau is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, including possible Trump team ties.
As Trump himself joined the fray on Twitter, Spicer said “nothing has changed” with regard to allegations of Trump-Russia connections.
“Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there’s no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion … and we take them at their word,” Spicer said.
Spicer said that while the FBI is investigating the circumstances of the 2016 campaign, “there is no evidence, according to the people that have been briefed, of any collusion or activity that leads them to believe that that exists.”
He added, “My point to you is that despite the narrative that gets played over and over again …every person Republican and Democrat that has been briefed on it has come to the same conclusion, that there is no collusion and that that’s over.”
At the same time, Spicer said Trump was not prepared to withdraw and apologize for his controversial allegation that Obama directed wiretapping against him.
“This is one in a series of hearings that will be happening,” Spicer said. “There’s a lot of areas that still need to be covered.”
At the hearing, Comey said he has “no information” to support the series of tweets Trump put out earlier this month alleging wiretapping by the Obama administration.
As for the Russia probe, Comey was careful in his testimony not to confirm any details of what the bureau’s Russia investigation has uncovered or dismissed, saying he could not comment further since the probe is “open” and “ongoing.”
But he used his opening statement to address head-on the probe that has been the subject of news reports for months. He noted while the FBI normally would not confirm ongoing investigations, he could make an exception for such “unusual” circumstances.
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey said. “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.”
He added that this probe will “include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
The White House swiftly pushed back on Twitter, with the official @POTUS account used to highlight one section of the hearing where Rogers and Comey both said they have no evidence that Russian cyber-actors changed vote tallies in swing states.
“The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process,” the presidential account tweeted.
Republican lawmakers at the hearing repeatedly drew attention to ex-Obama intelligence director James Clapper’s past statement that they found no evidence of Trump campaign-Russia collusion. Comey, asked about that statement, said “I think he’s right” to characterize the intelligence community’s findings that way.
The @POTUS account then highlighted Comey’s response, tweeting a clip of his answer.
Echoing the White House, committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., also closed Monday’s hearing by saying they also “don’t have any evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia officials.
But Democrats maintained throughout Monday’s hearing that various Russian contacts with associates of the Trump campaign raise troubling questions, not the least of which was former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador; revelations that he misled Vice President Pence on the matter led to his resignation earlier this year.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said after the hearing that it’s in the “public interest” for the FBI to be conducting a criminal probe of Russian meddling in the election
In his opening statement, Schiff said, “If the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.”