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Comey Confirms Ongoing Investigation Into Russia, Potential Campaign Ties

WASHINGTON -- FBI Director James Comey this morning, with the blessing of the Justice Department, took what he said was a step warranted by "unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest" to confirm an open investigation into Russia's campaign op and any ties or collaboration with the Trump team.

Comey confirmed the investigation during his opening statement at the House Intelligence Committee hearing, where he was testifying on Russia's influence operation alongside National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers.

"I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that 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," Comey said. "As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed."

The FBI director told lawmakers from the outset that because their Russia probe is an open, ongoing investigation and the hearing was held in an open setting he "cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining."

"I hope you and the American people can understand. The FBI is very careful in how we handle information about our cases and about the people we are investigating," he said. "We are also very careful about the way we handle information that may be of interest to our foreign adversaries. Both of those interests are at issue in a counterintelligence investigation. Please don't draw any conclusions from the fact that I may not be able to comment on certain topics. I know speculating is part of human nature, but it really isn't fair to draw conclusions simply because I say that I can't comment."

Comey later said the investigation began in late July and "it's hard to say" how much longer it would take. He said Congress was only recently briefed on the investigation "because of the sensitivity of the matter."

Pressed by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) if meetings with Russian officials alone would be enough to open an investigation, Comey clarified that a "credible allegation of wrongdoing" is needed and later said the bureau will prioritize investigative resources to threats already on the FBI's radar.

He also stressed that "leaks of classified information are serious, serious federal crimes" and "should be investigated and where possible prosecuted in a way that reflects that seriousness so that people understand it simply cannot be tolerated."

Under questioning from committee Democrats about the Russia investigation and questions from committee Republicans about the act of leaking, Comey wouldn't budge on providing additional information.