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The directors of the FBI and National Security Agency gave more details Monday on the extent of Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election, confirming an open FBI investigation into Moscow's alleged interference and refuting President Donald Trump's explosive claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped.
FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers testified before the House Intelligence Committee in an extraordinary public hearing amid its ongoing investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the contest. Comey confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia's influence on the 2016 U.S. election, including any "links" between Moscow and Trump campaign officials.
"The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And 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 said.
The U.S. intelligence community has accused Moscow of trying to influence the election, saying it initially wanted to derail then-candidate Hillary Clinton and then developed a preference for Trump. In his opening statement, Rogers said Monday that the NSA stands by its earlier report on Russian meddling and its level of confidence in the findings has not changed. But he added that he could not divulge information beyond what was released in an unclassified report.
The investigation began in July, months before the election, Comey said, adding that he cannot predict when it will conclude. The FBI director said he cannot say more "about what we are doing and whose conduct we are investigating" because the probe is ongoing and classified.
The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said if it can be proven that the Trump campaign worked with Russia to swing the election to the then-Republican nominee, it would represent "one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history."
The Trump administration has denied that the president's campaign cooperated with Russia before the election. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that the House hearing did not show any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"Following this testimony, it's clear that nothing has changed. Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there's no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion," he told reporters at his daily briefing. Spicer added that he did not know of any White House officials under investigation and said Trump's confidence in Comey has not changed.
Comey and Rogers deflected many questions about specific parts of the probe or surveillance activities, saying they could not publicly discuss sensitive information. They repeatedly declined to comment on questions about specific people, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Trump ally Roger Stone.
Comey publicly refuted Trump's claim that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower before the 2016 U.S. election, saying neither he nor the Department of Justice have evidence to back the president's explosive tweets. Despite this, Spicer later Monday defended Trump's claim, suggesting that all relevant information may not yet be available.
In his opening statement, committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., reiterated his previous public statement that he has seen no evidence Trump Tower was wiretapped. However, he expressed concerns about "possible other surveillance methods" of Trump associates and the leaking of potentially classified information.
Schiff, a California Democrat, also stressed in his statement that he has seen no evidence to back the accusation, calling it "slanderous." He added that "we do not yet know" if Russia had any help from American citizens, including Trump associates, as it allegedly waged the influence campaign. Schiff said he wanted to find out what Trump aides knew about Russian activities and when.
Republicans on the committee used their questions mostly to press Rogers and Comey about leaks of potentially classified information and surveillance of U.S. citizens. Trump has also deflected attention to the release of information, saying the FBI should focus on investigating that.
Both Rogers and Comey said they are concerned about leaks of potentially classified information. However, Comey said he could not make an assurance that leaks will be investigated.
Trump blamed Democrats on Monday for stirring concerns about Russia, but top Republican lawmakers John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, among others, have publicly said they want to find out more about Russia's role in the election.
The top Republican and Democrat on the House committee differed in public statements on the evidence of collusion Sunday. Nunes told Fox News that he saw no information to show collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
However, Schiff told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he saw "circumstantial evidence of collusion" and direct evidence of "deception."
Accusations of Russia connections have dogged the Trump administration since he took office in January. His first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned last month following revelations that he misled White House officials about whether he discussed sanctions on Russia in conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump took office. The Obama administration brought those sanctions in response to the alleged meddling.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions then recused himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign following accusations that he misled senators about his contact with Kislyak during his January confirmation hearing. Sessions, a former senator and Trump campaign advisor, admitted that he met with the ambassador during the campaign but said he did so in his capacity as a lawmaker.