Skeptical U.S. lawmakers pressure Comey on Trump wiretap claim

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By Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Landay | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON A key Republican lawmaker said on
Wednesday he did not believe the Obama administration wiretapped
Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign, adding to
pressure on FBI Director James Comey to provide evidence
supporting or debunking Republican President Donald Trump’s
claim.

“We don’t have any evidence that that took place,” House of
Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told
a news conference. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of
Trump Tower.”

Trump made the claim on Twitter on March 4 without providing
evidence. Nunes’ congressional committee is one of
at least four that have added the startling accusation to
investigations of possible Russian meddling in the election
campaign and Russian ties to Trump and his associates.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under
Obama, has said he knew of no warrant to wiretap Trump Tower.

Nunes said if Trump’s tweets were taken literally, then “clearly the president was wrong.”

With his statements, Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition
team, joined other lawmakers, including some of his fellow
Republicans, who have been skeptical about the president’s
claim, and frustrated with what they see as federal law
enforcement’s failure to provide them with information.

The top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, Adam
Schiff, said at the news conference with Nunes that Comey would
be asked about wiretap evidence at a rare public hearing on
Monday. “It deeply concerns me that the president would make
such an accusation without basis,” Schiff said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia conducted cyber attacks on Democrats in an effort to influence
the 2016 U.S. election on Trump’s behalf. Russia has denied
this.

At the same time, Trump has been dogged by allegations that
his advisers or associates had ties to Russian officials. Trump
fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, last month after he failed to disclose contacts with Russia’s ambassador
before Trump took office on Jan. 20.

Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National
Security Agency, have agreed to testify before the House
committee on issues related to Russia’s role in the election.

Schiff and Nunes said they sent a letter asking Comey,
Rogers and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to provide by Friday
information on leaks of classified information, including names
of any Americans that might have been gathered. Noting that this
was how Flynn’s name surfaced, Nunes said they were concerned
about the unmasking of Americans for political purposes.

Schiff said he expected the Federal Bureau of Investigation
to cooperate. The committee leaders said they were prepared to
issue subpoenas if they did not.

In Richmond, Virginia, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told
reporters that he never gave Trump any reason to believe he was
wiretapped by the previous administration, according to a
transcript provided by CBS News.

CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS UNCONVINCED

While White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that
Trump was “extremely confident” the Justice Department would
produce evidence to support the wiretap assertion, a number of
Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress remained unconvinced.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he had no reason to
believe a judge ever issued a warrant, which would have
reflected there was probable cause that the Trump campaign was
colluding with the Russians.

If it is not true, he said, the FBI should confirm that.

Graham and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the
chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s
subcommittee on crime and terrorism, asked Comey two weeks ago
to provide information on Russian activities and the wiretapping
by Wednesday.

Graham said on Wednesday that the FBI had responded that it
would provide an answer to him and Whitehouse at a future
classified briefing.

“The bottom line is a lot of Americans are wondering what’s
going on here,” Graham said at a subcommittee hearing, titled “The Modus Operandi and Toolbox of Russia and Other Autocracies
for Undermining Democracies Throughout the World.”

Whitehouse said he would prefer an unclassified briefing.

Comey met on Wednesday with the Judiciary Committee
chairman, Chuck Grassley, and its top Democrat, Dianne
Feinstein. A law enforcement official said the meeting was an
opportunity for the senators to ask Comey about subjects that
concern them, expected to center on FBI investigations of Trump
and associates’ Russia contacts, as well as the wiretap claim.

Separately, Grassley accused federal law enforcement
officials of lying to members of Congress about their
willingness to share information with them.

“Every time they come up here for their nomination hearing
and I ask them are you going to answer phone calls and our
letters and are you going to give us the documents you want? And
every time we get a real positive yes! And then they end up
being liars!” Grassley told the Washington Post.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Tim Ahmann)



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