House intel chairman: No evidence of wiretapping claim
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of his phones ran into headwinds on several fronts Wednesday, as three top Republicans said they’d seen no evidence of the assertion.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he does not believe Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped him, but said it’s possible Trump communications may have been gathered in “incidental” intelligence collection.
“I don’t believe Trump Tower was tapped,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday.
“We don’t have any evidence that that took place and, in fact, I don’t believe — just in the last week of time, the people we’ve talked to — I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes said at a news conference in reference to the baseless claim originally made by Trump several weeks ago.
Nunes and Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said they want to see any evidence of wiretapping by their March 20 hearing or they may issue a subpoena for the records.
Asked if he had seen any evidence that Trump aides spoke with Russian officials other than Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, Nunes said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
But Schiff then said, “I wouldn’t answer that question as categorically as my colleague. We’re not privileged to talk about the contents of the investigation but, you know, I think we need to be very precise when we talk about this. And I just don’t think that we can answer it categorically in this forum.”
FBI Director James Comey will testify at their March 20 hearing and there will be a second hearing in the committee March 28.
Nunes and Schiff also sent a letter to the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency demanding information on the leaks regarding Russia’s contact with Trump advisers by Friday.
The two leaders of the House investigation said their work has been stalled so far by trouble accessing computers used by the director of national intelligence — Schiff said he has been taking handwritten notes when he views evidence.
The two have not yet interviewed former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn and declined to say whether he would appear in a public hearing. Schiff added that he is very concerned about Trump adviser Roger Stone’s admission that he communicated with “Guccifer 2.0,” — who was later determined by intelligence to be a Russian hacker or group of hackers.
Stone has described his contact with Guccifer as limited to a “brief exchange with him on Twitter” and any suggestion otherwise, he told CNN, is “a fabrication.”
The Judiciary Committee also wants Comey briefing
The FBI will also brief the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon, an aide to Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley told CNN Wednesday.
The FBI briefing comes after Grassley threatened to not schedule a vote for Rod Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general unless the committee got the FBI briefing Grassley and the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, requested weeks ago.
Two senators on a key Senate Judiciary subcommittee were at odds over whether Comey privately assured them that he would confirm by Wednesday whether there’s a criminal investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Comey privately told him and Sen. Lindsey Graham that he would let them know by their Wednesday afternoon hearing on Russia whether there’s an active probe into the matter.
“Yes, he said he will have an answer for us by the hearing” Wednesday, the Rhode Island Democrat told CNN Tuesday.
But Graham disputed Whitehouse’s claim Wednesday, telling CNN’s Kate Bolduan that the FBI director made no assurances to make the March 15 deadline.
Asked if he thought he’d get an answer by Wednesday, the South Carolina Republican responded, “I have no idea.”
When asked about Graham’s comments Wednesday, Whitehouse stood by his initial remarks.
According to an FBI official, Comey has no plans for any public comments or announcements Wednesday.
Whitehouse said Comey made the promise in a March 2 meeting with him and Graham. Whether Comey gives them the information they’re seeking, both Graham and Whitehouse are insisting they need answers from the FBI.
Whitehouse and Graham both asked the Justice Department last week to provide any evidence that would support Trump’s claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. The two are leading one of three congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the US elections.
“We wrote a letter — Sen. Whitehouse and myself — wanting to know if there’s evidence of a warrant issued by the Trump campaign,” Graham told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day. “He hasn’t answered that letter or confirmed if there’s a real investigation of the Trump campaign.”
According to Whitehouse, Comey assured them he would confirm if an investigation exists “and the scope of their Russia/Trump investigation because he had not been able to at that point say that there was one.”
The White House response
The White House has vacillated on Trump’s claims in the last two days. Press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that Trump did not mean literally that Obama personally wiretapped him. But on Tuesday, Spicer said Trump was “extremely confident” he would be vindicated by the evidence.
“I think there’s significant reporting about surveillance techniques that existed throughout the 2016 election,” Spicer said, without providing any examples.
“He feels very confident that what will ultimately come of this will vindicate him,” Spicer said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday he never gave Trump any reason to believe the GOP candidate had been wiretapped by the Obama administration during the campaign.
Asked by a reporter at an event on crime in Richmond, Virginia, if he ever briefed Trump on “investigations related to the campaign or did you ever give him any reason to believe that he was wiretapped by the previous administration,” Sessions replied, “Look, the answer is no.”
Sessions went on to reiterate that he has recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign and transition and said he was not speaking with the President or the people who are investigating the case. He added that he was “unable to comment on any of these details.”
Senate intelligence committee
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said Monday that he has asked the “appropriate people” for information about Trump’s wiretap claims and said their answers have been “sufficient.”
But Senate Democrats on the Intelligence Committee said they have not seen any evidence yet.
“I’ve heard nothing. But I’m strongly of the opinion there was no wiretapping,” said Feinstein, a veteran member of the panel.
Sen. Mark Warner, who also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also said he was not satisfied with the response to requests for information from the administration, saying, “I’m not sure why this is taking any time.”
Burr said Wednesday he did not have an update on when his committee would have their first public hearing on Russia.