World

Comey faces questions on wiretapping claim

FBI director to testify at Russia hearing

WASHINGTON The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey will be in the hot seat today as he faces lawmakers who accuse him of stonewalling Congress.

They are demanding answers about President Donald Trump's potential Russia ties and the president's accusation of wiretapping by his predecessor Barack Obama.

The two explosive issues have preoccupied Republicans and Democrats for weeks, robbing Mr Trump's administration of a smoother roll-out and raising uncomfortable questions about possible collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

The stakes for Mr Trump could hardly be higher.

Mr Comey will testify before the House Intelligence Committee at an open hearing aimed at investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election campaign.

National Security Agency director Mike Rogers is also scheduled to testify.

The US intelligence community has publicly blamed Moscow for hacks on the Democratic National Committee last year and suggested the cyber attacks were aimed at steering the election to a Trump victory. Russia has denied any involvement.

Several congressional panels have launched investigations into Russia's alleged interference, including House and Senate intelligence committees, which have jurisdiction over the nation's 17 intelligence agencies, and the House and Senate judiciary committees.

The FBI is also probing Russian interference in the election.

The question remains whether the agency has opened a criminal investigation into possible ties between Mr Trump's campaign aides and Russian officials.

Today's hearing promises to be a very public showdown between the FBI and lawmakers, with the national security world certain to watch whether Mr Comey drops a political bombshell on Washington.

Members of Congress have expressed mounting frustration over the lack of cooperation from the FBI about Russia and Mr Trump's incendiary wiretap claim, which Mr Obama and an array of other officials have flatly denied.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, vented his anger at the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, by threatening not to hold a vote on Mr Trump's nominee for deputy attorney general until he gets answers from Mr Comey.

The FBI director then trooped up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to brief Mr Grassley and the judiciary panel's top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, behind closed doors.

Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last Friday that the Justice Department had "fully complied" with the panel's request for any materials related to Mr Trump's wiretapping claim. He would not disclose what was provided.

But Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said that he had yet to see any evidence of wiretapping. If the White House has any, he added on CNN: "Please share it with us."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, as well as the chairmen and top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees, have also said they have seen no evidence to back the claim. 
- AFP

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