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James Comey Could Shed Light on Russia, Trump's Wiretap Charge

19 Mar 2017 8:09 pm
By Janet Hook and Shane Harris 

WASHINGTON -- FBI Director James Comey will be called before lawmakers Monday as part of an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated accusation that he had been wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign.

In advance of Mr. Comey's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, a number of lawmakers of both parties have said they have seen no evidence to support Mr. Trump's allegation about then-president Barack Obama . Mr. Trump in early March tweeted that Mr. Obama had tapped the phones at Trump Tower, the New York building where Mr. Trump lived and worked during the campaign, an extraordinary claim of illegal activity by a president.

"Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No. It never happened," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) said Sunday on Fox.

National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers is also scheduled to testify before the panel Monday, marking the first time both he and Mr. Comey have publicly testified before Congress since Mr. Trump was inaugurated.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel who received a classified briefing on the issue Friday, said on NBC that he expected Mr. Comey to rebut the president's claim at Monday's hearing.

"I hope that we can put an end to this wild goose chase because what the president said was just patently false," Mr. Schiff said.

Republicans, too, seem to be wearying of the two-week-long imbroglio, some even urging Mr. Trump to apologize to Mr. Obama and to the British, whom he suggested had conducted wiretapping of Trump Tower at the Obama administration's request.

"It never hurts to say you are sorry," said Rep. Will Hurd (R., Texas) on ABC. Mr. Hurd, also a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the continuing controversy about Mr. Trump's accusations "takes away from the rest of his agenda."

In a statement, GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, said any claim that it was asked to conduct surveillance on Mr. Trump is "utterly ridiculous."

Republicans are also hoping that Mr. Comey's testimony could put to rest another persistent set of allegations -- of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russians before the election. The U.S. intelligence community has said Russia worked to influence the election outcome to Mr. Trump's benefit, something that Russia has denied.

"There's no fire here, not a camp fire, not a candle, not even a little spark of any kind of collusion," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) on CNN.

"I think ultimately that matters more to most Americans given the nature of the allegations that have been made in the past several months about Donald Trump and his campaign and some of his associates," Mr. Cotton said.

It isn't clear how much Mr. Comey would be able to say in the Intelligence Committee's public session because of a Federal Bureau of Investigation policy of not commenting on matters under active investigation.

A dossier commissioned by political opponents of then-candidate Trump alleged outright collusion between his business associates and hackers who were stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. None of those allegations have been substantiated.

Intelligence committees in both the House and Senate have said they would look into the Mr. Trump's accusations about Mr. Obama as part of their wider probes of election meddling.

On Thursday, the top Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said in a joint statement, "Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016."

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer has continued to say that Mr. Trump had been surveilled, going so far as to repeat the unsubstantiated claim by a Fox News analyst that Mr. Obama had enlisted the British intelligence service to monitor Mr. Trump for him.

U.S. officials are investigating some of Mr. Trump's closest aides and associates as part of a broad counterintelligence inquiry. Under scrutiny are the activities and contacts of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page, owing to their known ties to Russian interests or their public statements, according to people familiar with the matter.

Write to Janet Hook at janet.hook@wsj.com and Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 19, 2017 16:09 ET (20:09 GMT)

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