A congressional inquiry into Russian interference in the presidential election that has so far unfolded behind closed doors moves into the open with a public hearing featuring FBI Director James Comey.
A hearing Monday before the House Intelligence Committee, one of several congressional panels probing allegations of Russian meddling, could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations that have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months.
Comey, whose agents have been investigating, has been invited to testify along with Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the committee, told The Associated Press that there would be plenty of time for questions and answers.
The committee is investigating, among other things, Russian hacking that intelligence officials have said was meant to influence the election. Also of interest to the committee are any connections between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump and whether any surveillance was conducted for political reasons.
The top two lawmakers on the House intelligence committee said Sunday that documents the Justice Department and FBI delivered late last week offered no evidence that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, the president’s New York City headquarters, but the panel’s ranking Democrat says the material offers circumstantial evidence that American citizens colluded with Russians in Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the presidential election.
“There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”There’s certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation.”
Nunes said: “For the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses.”
“We know that the Russians were trying to get involved in our campaign, like they have for many decades. They’re also trying to get involved in campaigns around the globe and over in Europe,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a similar hearing for later in the month.
It is not clear how much new information will emerge Monday, and the hearing’s open setting unquestionably puts Comey in a difficult situation if he’s asked to discuss an ongoing investigation tied to the campaign of the president.
At a hearing in January, Comey refused to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation exploring possible connections between Trump associates and Russia, consistent with the FBI’s longstanding policy of not publicly discussing its work. His appearances on Capitol Hill since then have occurred in classified settings, often with small groups of lawmakers, and he has made no public statements connected to the Trump campaign or Russia.
But Comey may feel compelled to respond to Trump’s unproven Twitter assertions that President Barack Obama ordered a wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign. Congressional leaders briefed on the matter have said they’ve seen no indication that that’s true, and Obama’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, has publicly called the claims false.
The Justice Department’s disclosure Friday that it had complied with congressional demands for information regarding Trump’s tweets could allow Comey to avoid questioning by simply saying that the lawmakers already have the information they requested.
Yet any lack of detail from Comey will likely be contrasted with public comments he made last year when closing out an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices and then, shortly before Election Day, announcing that the probe would be revived following the discovery of additional emails.