After weeks of speculation, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that the agency is investigating allegations the Russian government interfered with the 2016 election. That investigation is also looking at whether members of Donald Trump’s campaign apparatus coordinated with Russian agents.
“That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey told the House Intelligence Committee during a hearing Monday. “As with any counter investigation, there will also be an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
Ordinarily, the FBI doesn’t comment on the existence of ongoing investigations, Comey said. But he had received permission to take this “extraordinary step.” Comey later added that the investigation into Russian interference originally began in July 2016.
However, during his initial address, Comey declined to give any more information since the investigation is ongoing and concerns classified information. “We need to protect people’s privacy, we need to make sure we don’t give other people clues as to where we’re going, we need to make sure that we don’t give information to our foreign adversaries,” he said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a ranking member of the intelligence committee, said that the American people could never know for sure if the Kremlin’s interference swung the election in Trump’s favor. “What does matter is this: The Russians successfully meddled in our democracy and our intelligence agencies have concluded they will do so again,” he said.
Both Schiff and Texas Republican Rep. Mike Conaway grilled Comey on whether the Russians had just wanted to make sure that Hillary Clinton — whom Russian President Valdimir Putin publicly hated — would lose the presidency, or if they specifically wanted Trump to win.
Schiff asked, “They also had a positive preference for Donald Trump. Isn’t that correct?”
Comey confirmed that they did. However, both Comey and Rogers declined to answer whether Russians generally preferred Republican presidents over Democratic ones, though Rogers said their agencies had done “some analysis that discusses this.”
Comey called the Russians’ interference into the U.S. election “unusually loud,” while Rogers said that they’d never seen people’s information being published on such a scale before.
“It’s almost as if they didn’t care that we knew,” Comey said, adding, “Their number one mission is to undermine the credibility of the entire democracy enterprise. Of this nation. Their loudness in a way would be counting on us to amplify… and freaking people out.”
And because Americans are now “freaking” out, Comey testified, the Russians likely believe that their efforts were successful.
“They’ll be back,” he said. “They’ll be back in 2020; they may be back in 2018.”
This hearing is only Congress’ first look into the allegations of Russian meddling. The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a hearing on the topic for March 30.