Rep. Mike Turner hinted Monday that the intelligence community may have inadvertently spied on President Donald Trump last year, wiretapping the conversations of those overseas only to find that those people were talking with Trump and his associates.
Hours after FBI Director James Comey confirmed he had “no information” confirming President Donald Trump’s tweets alleging that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election, Turner questioned Adm. Mike Rogers, National Security Agency director and U.S. Cyber Command Commander and FBI director James Comey whether it was possible that the intelligence community picked up Trump’s conversations because of their surveillance with others.
“The reason why this is important is because intuitively we would all know the incoming administration would have conversations with those that the intelligence community may be collecting against either by making phone calls to them or receiving phone calls from them,” Turner said.
Rogers said that the agencies would “not automatically” stop recording those conversations if they discovered that the conversations involved Trump or a member of his team.
Turner also questioned whether former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ever briefed Obama “concerning the possible inadvertent or incidental collection or interception by the U.S. intelligence community of any communication of members of the incoming Trump administration.”
“That’s not something I can comment on,” Comey said.
The exchange occurred during a rare open hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in which Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign and administration.
Earlier Comey said any wiretapping of Trump would have had to go through an application process and be approved by a judge. “No president could” order such surveillance unilaterally, he said.
“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said during a rare open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee.
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Comey also said the investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign will include an assessment of whether any crimes have been committed.
But he didn’t say who they were investigating, how they were conducting the investigation or provide other details, saying that such information is classified. Comey was authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm the investigation, saying that Justice had deemed the information in the public interest.
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” he said.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., asked Comey and Rogers whether they had evidence that Russia had tampered with vote tallies in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states. Both witnesses said they had no evidence.
In their opening statements, both Nunes and ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California dismissed Trump’s claims that Obama had wiretapped him, with Nunes saying there was “not physical wiretapping of Trump Tower,” and Schiff saying there was “no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous claim.” Nunes, however, did not rule out “other methods of surveillance” being used on Trump or his associates.
Trump weighed in via Twitter throughout the day, encouraging Republicans to look into the leaking of classified information and saying “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign” and arguing “there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia.” He also weighed in via his “POTUS” Twitter account, posting clips underscoring his arguments that Russia did not weigh in.
Disparities between the parties became apparent early on, with Nunes focusing his attention on whether or not classified information had been leaked and Schiff questioning links between Trump aides and Russia.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questioned whether reporters should be prosecuted for publishing classified information. “Is there an exception in the law for reporters who want to break a story?” he asked Comey. Comey replied that he didn’t think a reporter had been prosecuted for publishing classified information “during my lifetime.” Still, he admitted, the only way that the media would get classified information is if someone told them who shouldn’t have, he said.
Neither side dismissed the idea that Russia had tried to intervene in the electoral process, be it via hacking or sending out misinformation. Schiff said while it would be no crime for the Trump campaign to be in contact with the Russians, “if the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetta Russia, not only would it be a serious crime, it would represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history. “
Schiff called for an independent commission, complementary of the committee’s and the intelligence agencies’ work that would be “completely removed from any political considerations.”
“We cannot do this work alone,” he said.