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Demirjian writes: "FBI Director James B. Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, are scheduled to appear Monday before the House Intelligence Committee to speak about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, including potential connections between President Trump's inner circle and the Kremlin."

FBI Director James B. Comey leaves a closed-door meeting with senators at the Capitol on March 15. (photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
FBI Director James B. Comey leaves a closed-door meeting with senators at the Capitol on March 15. (photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Under Pressure Comey Briefs Congress on Trump and Russia Today, 5 Things to Watch

By Karoun Demirjian, The Washington Post

20 March 17


BI Director James B. Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, are scheduled to appear Monday before the House Intelligence Committee to speak about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, including potential connections between President Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin.

It is the first time Comey and Rogers will testify publicly since Trump took office two months ago — a period during which Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Trump-related investigations involving the campaign. The hearing was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Monday.

In recent weeks, Trump joined the fray with counter-accusations of his own, such as his unfounded charge that the Obama administration conducted a wiretap of his phones at Trump Tower in New York.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee confirmed on “Fox News Sunday” that there was no evidence to suggest that Trump was wiretapped. Rep. Devin Nunes ­(R-Calif.) said he has seen Justice Department documents requested by the panel confirming that information; they were turned over to his committee Friday.

“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was, and the information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction,” Nunes said.

The Intelligence Committee hearing is the opening foray into getting public answers on these topics. On March 28, former spy chiefs and administration officials are set to appear before the panel to give their views on what, if anything, transpired between Trump’s team and Russian officials during the heat of the presidential campaign.

Even as intelligence officials publicly answer lawmakers’ questions, political jockeying is casting a cloud over attempts to look into how deep the counterintelligence investigation involving the president’s inner circle goes.

Here are five things to watch at Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing, which is to begin at 10 a.m.:

1. Can Republicans stop the bleeding? Can Democrats unearth a smoking gun?

Republicans have been scrambling to help the president avoid the specter of scandal since allegations about contacts between Trump’s team and Russian officials first surfaced.

Nunes has repeatedly said he thinks there is no evidence of improper contact, taking pains to shift the focus of the investigation toward ferreting out who leaked information about such contacts to the news media — saying that the leaks are the only “major crimes” that occurred.

But Trump complicated Republicans’ efforts with his insistence that the Obama administration wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower — an assertion that GOP leaders could not and did not try to defend. In recent days, some influential Republicans have even called on Trump to apologize to former president Barack Obama.

Democrats have yet to find a smoking gun firmly establishing that the president, or his top surrogates, colluded with Russian authorities to swing the election in Trump’s favor. That is a tall order, based on the conversations thus far disclosed: Flynn and Sessions bowed out of their roles because they had misled the vice president and lawmakers, respectively, not because they admitted to discussing anything improper with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Expect Democrats to focus on links not just between people who served in Trump’s administration and Russian authorities, but also between top campaign surrogates such as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and adviser Carter Page, who have had financial and business ties to Russians and their allies.

2. Will Comey admit to an investigation?

News outlets have reported that the FBI and the Justice Department are conducting probes into the allegations surrounding Russia, the 2016 elections and the Trump team, but Comey has yet to acknowledge this publicly on Capitol Hill.

His silence — predicated on his insistence that he never comments on ongoing investigations — has irked members of both parties and invited bipartisan charges that Comey is stonewalling Congress.

Democrats allege that perhaps Comey is biased: They say he was perfectly willing to talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails — though Comey says he commented in that case because it was a closed investigation. Others have said the director is simply being uncooperative.

Some of that vitriol has lessened in recent days, after Comey arrived on Capitol Hill to brief the Gang of Eight — senior lawmakers who receive Congress’s highest-level intelligence briefings — on matters related to Russia. Members also secured a promise from the intelligence community that committee members will be privy to the same information provided to the Gang of Eight, a concession lawmakers say is necessary for them to conduct their investigation.

Still, many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have been clamoring for Comey to publicly state that the investigation exists and is ongoing — and members of the House Intelligence Committee are likely to use Monday’s forum to challenge him to answer that question.

3. Is it just about wiretapping — or could there be other surveillance involved?

We now know that the Justice Department had no information to back up Trump’s claim that the Obama administration was tapping his phones in Trump Tower. Comey had been pushing the Justice Department to come clean about that for a while.

What we still do not know, though, is whether there were wiretaps of Trump’s affiliates outside the tower — or, in the course of other investigations, whether the intelligence community picked up on communications the president or his team had with Russia during the campaign or the transition period.

This sort of “incidental collection” has already helped to take down one member of Trump’s team — Flynn, caught on tape speaking with Kislyak, whose communications were being watched. Nunes has suggested there could be others popping up in such indirect surveillance — possibly even the president himself.

The House Intelligence Committee is waiting on answers to a request for a complete list of names of people who have been “unmasked” during surveillance operations. Committee leaders said Friday that the NSA “partially” responded to their request for that list. But the FBI and CIA have not. A complete list is not likely to make it to lawmakers’ hands before Monday morning, so expect a few questions on this subject.

And remember: Though Nunes has laid to rest speculation the government bugged the phones of Trump Tower, he has not yet commented on whether there were wiretaps of others connected to Trump, outside the tower. The committee’s request covered a very wide range of individuals — including Trump’s business associates, his relatives and his friends. Look for members to grill Comey and Rogers for a fuller reckoning.

4. Will Republicans cross the White House?

An investigation that began as a probe focused on allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections has expanded — and not just to include whether Russian authorities had direct contacts with campaign officials. The investigation now encompasses going after leakers in the administration for publicizing the information linking Trump surrogates to Kremlin officials. It also includes the query about incidental collection, to see whether the intelligence community adhered closely to the law as it was doing its job.

In this highly charged atmosphere, where members choose to direct their questions for Comey and Rogers could reveal a great deal about where they stand.

Democrats will undoubtedly focus on the potential connections between the Trump team and Russia. But watch Republicans: Those who pursue similar questions will be knowingly and openly crossing the White House. It is far safer for Republicans to focus on questions about leaks, which are what the Trump team — and Nunes — say are the real crime.

Still, the GOP is not united around Trump here. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said a month ago, “All of us know that leaks happen in this town, and we all don’t like it — but the fact is that you now have a much larger issue to address.”

5. Where do we go from here?

The pomp and circumstance surrounding this hearing is considerable — and understandable, given the investigation, the politics surrounding it and the guest list. But how much new information will we really learn? The answer may be not much at all.

Comey has been very careful about what he says publicly and privately on this matter. More than once, he has come to the Hill for closed-door briefings and members have emerged frustrated — in a public hearing, the FBI director is even less likely to cut loose. Rogers is a bit chattier — but also not likely to divulge state secrets or say anything revealing how the investigation is being conducted, for fear of unmasking sources, methods and classified procedures central to the investigation.

It is unlikely that lawmakers will succeed in getting something shocking, or damning, or even conclusive out of the duo. But as we have seen, the investigation can turn dramatically on unsubstantiated tweets from the president, and anything could happen. your social media marketing partner


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0 # RLF 2017-03-20 09:50
1)These guys clearly have right wing sympathies and should be under oath.
2)Mr. Comey...did you ever have contact with anyone in the Trump campaign before the election? Duhhh!
0 # Cassandra2012 2017-03-20 18:32
And Mr. Comey, have you ever heard of the Hatch Amendment?
Did you deliberately violate it?
+10 # librarian1984 2017-03-20 10:03
#5 is the most important. I hope this hearing spawns investigations into the CIA and especially into the integrity of American elections.

I don't care if they blame Russia or Wikileaks or ninja cheerleader demon slayers ... but let's move to paper ballots and unpurge the voting rolls.

Why aren't Democraps fighting vote suppression NOW, so we have fairer elections next time? What the hell are these people waiting for?

-2 # lfeuille 2017-03-20 20:11
I do care if they blame Russia. They have nukes and the whole thing is just so dishonest.
+3 # Saberoff 2017-03-20 10:55
Bread and circuses.

Repulicorps, Demosaurs, 99% of US media, complicit carnival barkers, kleptocrats.

NPR lashing-up live coverage.

So-called progressives, allies, turning their backs on Truth.

Our lives are reduced, filled with lies - alpha to omega!

Believe your own sensibilities.
0 # chemtex2611 2017-03-20 11:32
And which of Trump's lines are the Russians tapping and monitoring? White House, Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower, or Mr.T's myriad family cell phones?
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-03-20 19:02
New here. Quite a scandal, this is. The Post writer is playing coy. He knows more than he's saying. He thinks we are dupes. The whole hearing is a command performance. The questions are carefully worded so that they can be answered truthfully on one level but dishonesty on another level. This is not how a criminal investigation works. The Post only would like to see this story go on and on and on.
-1 # ericlipps 2017-03-21 04:44
Democrats allege that perhaps Comey is biased: They say he was perfectly willing to talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails — though Comey says he commented in that case because it was a closed investigation. Others have said the director is simply being uncooperative.
Closed investigation? Evidently not that closed, since--eleven days before the November voting--Comey suddenly announced that potentially incriminating emails had been found on Anthony Weiner's computer . . . only to announce, once enough damage had been done to her campaign, that there was no "there" there. Mr. Comey appears to have been all too eager to find dirt on HRC, while oddly reluctant even to admit that there was any sort of ongoing investigation of Donald Trump until after he'd been safely sworn in.

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