WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday accused Democrats of making up allegations that Russia interfered in last year’s election, and said Congress and the FBI should be going after media leaks instead.
His tweets came just hours before a potentially politically damaging hearing in which FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers planned to testify on allegations of Russian hacking and whether there were any connections between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.
“The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” Trump tweeted early Monday, as news coverage on the Russia allegations dominated the morning’s cable news.
The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017
Monday’s hearing 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.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. The FBI has also been investigating ties between Russia and Trump advisers and associates during the campaign.
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.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the committee, 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 wiretapping 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.