Russia, Trump Wiretapping Claims Face Public Scrutiny Monday
A U.S. House Intelligence Committee Monday will further investigate the extent of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and President Donald Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama had his phones tapped during the campaign.
During a public hearing, committee members will question FBI Director James Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, for the first time.
The Department of Justice delivered documents to the House and Senate intelligence committees Friday regarding their request for information that could shed light on Trump’s claim that Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower in New York.
Neither the Justice Department nor House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes elaborated on the information in the documents.
Pressure on Trump
Trump is facing increased pressure in Congress to back down from the wiretapping claims he made on Twitter March 4. A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees said this week they have not seen anything to support his allegations.
“We don’t have any evidence that that took place,” Nunes, a Republican from California, told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”
During a joint news conference with Nunes, Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California and ranking House Intelligence Committee member, agreed.
“There’s no daylight between us on the fact that neither one of us have seen any evidence to support what the president tweeted,” Schiff said Wednesday. “Thus far, we have seen no basis for that whatsoever.
“We will be asking the director if he has any evidence that substantiates the president’s claim,” Schiff said. “We think it’s in the public interest that this be openly addressed by the director.”
No clarity from Trump
The committee’s focus on the White House could intensify if sufficient evidence is not presented, experts said.
“It will be really incumbent upon the president to come forward, explain those statements,” Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution told VOA.
Trump did little to clarify his wiretapping claims during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House Friday.
He pushed back on reporters’ questions about why White House spokesman Sean Spicer had accused Britain’s intelligence agency of helping Obama conduct surveillance on Trump Tower.
Trump explained that his spokesman was simply repeating what he had heard a legal analyst say on Fox News.
“We said nothing,” Trump noted. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I did not make an opinion on it.”
Watch: Trump Wiretapping Claims to Dominate Intelligence Hearing
Trump hints he’ll have evidence
During an interview with Fox News days earlier, Trump hinted that his tweets refer to surveillance more broadly.
“A wiretap covers a lot of different things,” he said. Trump also hinted more evidence to back his allegation was forthcoming.
“You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” Trump said. The president said his administration “will be submitting things” to the panel and that he perhaps will be speaking about his claim next week.
On Thursday, both leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly said they had not seen proof of Trump’s charge.
A statement by Republican Chairman Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Vice-Chairman Senator Mark Warner read: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”
Open hearing may yield little
While the open, public nature of the House committee’s hearing may prevent a thorough examination of sensitive issues, Nunes and Schiff said they were doing everything possible to keep the American public informed.
“This committee has a long track record of shining light on Russia and its activities,” Nunes said.
But Hennessey said it is unlikely the hearing will result in any explosive revelations.
“These hearings are not likely to resolve the issue,” she said, adding there are too many unanswered questions.
The House Intelligence Committee will hold a second open hearing March 28 to allow additional witnesses to testify, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.