FBI director says I would never comment on investigations in an open forum but reply stuns senators after his public remarks on Clintons email case
The director of the FBI whose high-profile interventions in the 2016 election are widely ensure to have helped tip the balance of against Hillary Clinton has refused to say if the bureau is investigating possible connections between associates of President-elect Donald Trump and Russia.
Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, James Comey said he could not remark in public on a possible investigation into allegations of links between Russia and the Trump campaign.
I would never comment on investigations whether we have one or not in an open forum like this, so I really cant answer one way or another, said Comey, at a hearing into the US intelligence agencies conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to benefit Trump.
Comeys reticence stunned several senators who pointed to his repeated public discussions of FBI inquiries into Clinton during the campaign.
It was his first public appearance since an election that watched his reputation for integrity seriously tarnished, after his repeated public statements on the bureaus investigation into Clintons private email server. Clinton reportedly blameds Comey for her unexpected loss to Trump.
Asked by the Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden if he would offer an unclassified answer about any FBI inquiry into Trump-Russia connects before Trumps inauguration on 20 January, Comey told: I will answer any question you ask but the answer will likely be the same as I only gave you. I cant talking here it.
Wyden said he was troubled by Comeys silence. I believe the American people have a right to know this, he told.
Other senators went further. Democrat Kamala Harris of California suggested that a new criterion for discussing FBI investigations publicly had been created in the months before the election.
Angus King, a Maine independent, told Comey: The irony of your inducing that statement here I cannot avoid.
Responding to King, Comey indicated sometimes we believe differently about[ discussing] closed investigations.
But the FBI had not technically closed its investigation into the email server when Comey wrote to Congress on 28 October simply 11 days before the general election to say that relevant agencies was reviewing newly discovered electronic communications for potential relevance to the Clinton case.
Those materials arose from another active FBI investigation, into humiliation former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. Comey eventually announced that the new material was ultimately irrelevant to Clinton, on the day before the election.
Comeys intervention into the presidential election broke justice department protocols and earned rebuke from the former attorney general Eric Holder.
Trump has not publicly committed to retaining Comey, whose term extends to 2023, and Comey has receded from public opinion following the election. At one point in the hearing he attempted to gag: I hope Ive demonstrated by now Im tone deaf when it comes to politics and thats the route it should be.
The hearing was the intelligence committees first since the FBI, National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency released a declassified assessment procuring that Russia orchestrated a wide-ranging influence operation during the US election, to include digitally breaking into Democratic National Committee servers and Clinton aide John Podestas email and providing the materials to outlets that published the information online.
James Clapper, the outgoing director of national intelligence, placed Russian interference in the US election in the context of Moscows attempted subversion of elections in what he estimated was a couple dozen foreign countries.
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