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September 20, 2017

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FBI probing possible links between Russia, Trump associates

WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that the bureau is investigating possible links and coordination between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in last year's presidential campaign.

The extraordinary revelation, and the first public confirmation of the wider investigation that began last summer, came in a congressional hearing examining Russian meddling and possible connections between Moscow and Trump's campaign.

In a bruising five-hour session, the FBI director also rejected the new president's claim that his predecessor had wiretapped his New York skyscraper, and he corrected, in real time, the president's Monday tweets about his testimony.

Comey noted that the FBI does not ordinarily discuss ongoing investigations, but he said he'd been authorized to do so given the extreme public interest in this case.

"This work is very complex, and there is no way for me to give you a timetable for when it will be done," Comey told the House intelligence committee.

The hearing, providing the most extensive public accounting of a matter that has dogged the Trump administration for its first two months, quickly broke along partisan lines. Democrats pressed for details on the status of the FBI's investigation, while Republicans focused on news coverage and possible improper disclosures of classified information.

Under questioning from the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, the FBI director publicly contradicted a series of recent tweets from Trump that declared the Republican candidate's phones had been ordered tapped by President Barack Obama during the campaign.

"With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said. The same was true, he added, of the Justice Department.

He also took issue with Trump tweets sent out during the hearing, including one that said, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process."

Comey was testifying along with National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, who also disputed allegations that surfaced last year that British intelligence services were involved in the wiretapping.

The FBI director was the latest government official to reject Trump's claims, made without any evidence, that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, also rejected it earlier in the hearing.

Trump took to Twitter before the hearing began, accusing Democrats of making up allegations about his campaign associates' contact with Russia during the election. He said Congress and the FBI should be going after media leaks and maybe even Hillary Clinton instead.

"The real story that Congress, the FBI and others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!" Trump tweeted early Monday as news coverage on the Russia allegations dominated the morning's cable news.

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