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The Journal Gazette

  • Schiff

  • Nunes

Sunday, March 19, 2017 10:02 pm

Justice report shows no wiretap evidence

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that there was no proof in new documents provided to Congress by the Justice Department on Friday to support President Donald Trump’s claim that his predecessor had ordered wiretaps of Trump Tower.

"Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was, and the information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman, said on "Fox News Sunday."

He added, "There was no FISA warrant that I’m aware of to tap Trump Tower" – a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a federal law that governs the issuance of search warrants in U.S. intelligence gathering.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s top Democrat, said, "We are at the bottom of this: There is nothing at the bottom."

Nunes and Schiff spoke a day before his panel holds its first public hearing on alleged Russian attempts to interfere in last year’s presidential election – a subject that is certain to include discussion of contacts between Trump campaign figures and Russian operatives. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned last month after it was revealed that he had privately discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington before Trump took office.

Schiff, speaking on NBC’s "Meet the Press," said he expected FBI Director James B. Comey to testify clearly at the hearing that there is no factual basis for Trump’s wiretapping claims. "I hope that we can put an end to this wild goose chase, because what the president said was just patently false," the Democrat said. "It’s continuing to grow in terms of damage, and he needs to put an end to this."

The two House leaders did not agree, however, on whether the question of collusion between Trump campaign figures and Russian operatives has been settled.

Nunes said the new Justice Department documents, submitted in response to a congressional request, included "no evidence of collusion" to swing the election in Trump’s favor and repeated previous statements that there is no credible proof that there was any active coordination. The lawmaker said he remained primarily concerned about leaks of U.S. surveillance of conversations between Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

"That’s the only crime we know has been committed right now," Nunes said.

But Schiff said there was "circumstantial evidence of collusion" at the outset of the congressional investigations into purported Russian election meddling, as well as "direct evidence" that Trump campaign figures sought to deceive the public about their interactions with Russian figures.

"Of course, there’s one thing to say there’s evidence; there’s another thing to say we can prove this or prove it beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "But there was certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation. The American people have a right to know, and in order to defend ourselves, we need to know whether the circumstantial evidence of collusion and direct evidence of deception is indicative of more."

Trump last week refused to back down from his tweets on March 4 that claimed President Barack Obama "had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory" and compared it to McCarthyism and the Watergate scandal. But no credible evidence has emerged to support those claims, and the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said last week that they have seen nothing that supports the allegation.

In a Fox News Channel interview on Thursday, Trump said, "I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks."

Nunes said Trump could be referring to new information about whether intelligence officials "unmasked," or identified, U.S. citizens who were captured speaking with foreign officials who are under routine surveillance – a process governed by FISA. "That is very possible, and we don’t have the answers to those questions yet," he said. "We had a deadline of Friday for the NSA, FBI and CIA to get us those names that were unmasked through the FISA system. We didn’t get those names on Friday, and until we get those names, we can’t rule this out."

He added that today’s hearing was "just the beginning" and that he planned to continue looking into who revealed Flynn’s communications with Kislyak.

"We’re trying to get to everyone who, for lack of a better term, was at the crime scene," he said. "We’re trying to bring them all in, see what they knew, when they knew it, if they knew about the leaks, if they knew about General Flynn’s name being unmasked. These are all questions that we need to get to the bottom of."