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Democrats, GOP at odds over FBI’s probe of Russia’s role in campaign

WASHINGTON — The two Californians who lead their parties on the House Intelligence Committee framed starkly different interpretations of FBI Director James Comey’s blockbuster announcement Monday that his agency is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s government. Comey’s revelation marked the first time the agency had publicly confirmed not just the existence of a probe, but whether then-candidate Donald Trump’s aides were connected to what Russian officials were allegedly doing. At the very least, the inquiry will be a distraction for President Trump when he is trying to push major initiatives through Congress, including a new health-coverage strategy, huge cuts in discretionary domestic spending and increases in the Pentagon’s budget, and construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. The worst-case scenario for Trump is far more dire: the prospect that campaign associates will be implicated in a scheme engineered by Moscow to help get him elected. In the waning days of Obama’s administration, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said U.S. spy agencies had concluded with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election” that included hacking Democratic officials’ emails. The San Joaquin Valley native is in his eighth term in Congress but became a national figure only this year, when he assumed the chairmanship of the intelligence panel after serving on Trump’s transition team. Nunes alleged that the Obama administration had failed to take Russian cyberattacks seriously before intelligence officials concluded that they were aimed at damaging the Democratic presidential nominee. Trump reacted in a similar vein, responding to the hearing with a series of tweets, bringing up Clinton and insisting, The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Comey, who was named FBI director by former President George W. Bush, declined to comment when Republicans pressed him on whether he had evidence that people leaking information had committed wrongdoing. Swalwell recited Comey’s admonition that anyone who lies should never be believed again, referring the FBI director to his own finding that there is no apparent evidence for Trump’s wiretapping claim and implying that the president, by Comey’s own rule, should not be believed. “Our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize,” Comey said. Comey said he received authorization from the Justice Department to confirm the existence of the investigation “as part of our counterintelligence mission,” and that it 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.

Article by By Carolyn Lochhead (c) Page One News - Read full story here.