Comey Not Forthcoming on Many Russia Questions, Say Intel Committee Leaders

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, left, accompanied by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2017, following a briefing with FBI Director James Comey. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told reporters after a “long briefing and testimony” from FBI Director James Comey today that lawmakers “need the FBI to fully cooperate, to be willing to tell us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they’re conducting,” but “at this point, the director was not willing to do that.”

Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Wednesday announced they had agreed on parameters for the scope of their investigation into Russian activities targeting the 2016 presidential campaign.

The committee kept the six-page document establishing the full scope classified, but revealed that the investigation will ask: “What Russian cyber activity and other active measures were directed against the United States and its allies? Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. persons? What was the U.S. Government’s response to these Russian active measures and what do we need to do to protect ourselves and our allies in the future?What possible leaks of classified information took place related to the Intelligence Community Assessment of these matters?”

Nunes and Schiff’s offices said in a joint statement Wednesday that the committee has access to the reporting underlying the intelligence community assessment that Russia was behind a campaign to influence the results of the U.S. presidential election, but “the scope of investigation reiterates the need to expand access to those documents and to ensure they are delivered to and stored at the committee.”

Schiff told reporters today that the committee asked “repeated questions” of Comey “about the scope of any investigation they may be doing, individuals that may be the subject of any counterterrorism investigation, and the director declined to answer those questions.”

“It was unclear whether that decision was a decision he was making on his own or a decision that he is making in consultation with the Department of Justice… thus far, the bureau has not been willing to give us a full counterintelligence briefing,” he added. “That can’t persist. If we’re going to do our job, the FBI is going to have to fully cooperate with us, and that means they can’t say, ‘We’ll tell you about this but we won’t tell you about that.'”

Schiff said in the committee’s next meeting with Comey he hopes the director “will have a different point of view” on sharing requested info, “because we’re going to need that information, and we’re better off getting that through the voluntary cooperation of the FBI than having to contemplate whether we need to subpoena the FBI.”

The ranking member said he believed criteria had been met — “it’s a function of whether the attorney general can be independent and — or where there’s a conflict of interest or an appearance of impropriety, and whether there’s something concrete and specific enough to be investigated” — to warrant the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate potential Russia campaign ties.

Alongside Schiff, Nunes added that “the committee investigation goes on, regardless of whether an independent prosecutor — those are, I think, very different functions. An independent prosecutor would have the responsibility of bringing someone to justice. That is not a core part of our responsibility.”

“We’re gonna look at the hacking and the dumping of documents. We’re gonna look at the — the use of the paid media, the slick Russian propaganda campaign. We’re gonna look at the FBI response. We’re gonna look at the issue of collusion with U.S. persons, including anyone affiliated with a campaign. And we’re gonna look at the issue of leaks,” the chairman said.

All Nunes would say about Comey’s testimony was “the director made it clear on, this he would discuss and this he would not.”

“And we can’t do a complete job unless the director’s willing to discuss anything that they’re investigating,” he said. “And I hope that that will take place. We’re gonna need it to take place. Otherwise, I don’t know that we can represent the American people that we’ve really done a thorough job.”

“…I can tell you, the director spent about three to three and a half hours with us, and on the areas he was willing to discuss, we had a very in-depth set of questions and answers. But there were very large areas that were walled off, and those walls are gonna have to come down if we’re gonna do our job.”