In a rare disclosure, the FBI chief today confirmed that the agency was probing Russia's meddling in last year's presidential polls, including possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Testifying before the powerful House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey said the decision to confirm the ongoing investigation is rare as the agency as a matter of policy does not confirm any ongoing investigation.
However, the Department of Justice in larger public interest has given its consent to do so in this case, he said.
"I have been authorised by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election," Comey said.
"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," he said.
Comey, however, refused to divulge any details of the ongoing probe.
Acknowledging that the work was very complex, the FBI Director said that there is no timeline to complete this investigation.
"I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they lead," he said.
"As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters. But in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so. This is one of those circumstances," he said.
In his opening remarks, Congressman David Nunes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence alleged that the Putin regime has a long history of aggressive actions against other countries, including the outright invasion of two of its neighbours in recent years as well as its brutal military action in Syria to defend the Assad regime.
But its hostile acts take many forms aside from direct military assaults, he said.
The Baltics and other Russian neighbours have long decried these attacks, but their warnings went unheeded in far too many nations' capitals, including our own.
"The fact that Russia hacked US election-related databases
comes as no shock to this Committee, which has been closely monitoring Russia's aggression for years," Nunes said.
Joining Nunes, the Ranking Member Congressman Adam Schiff said last summer at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential presidential campaign, Russia, a foreign adversarial power, intervened in an effort to weaken US democracy and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other.
The direction in this regard was issued by "its autocratic ruler Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J Trump become the 45th president of the United States," Schiff alleged.
"The Russians successfully meddled in our democracy and our intelligence agencies have concluded they will do so again. Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been similarly interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades," Schiff said.
(Reopens FGN 29)
"Because it is an open ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining," Comey said.
At the request of congressional leaders, the FBI has taken the extraordinary step in coordination with the Department of Justice of briefing this Congress' leaders, including the leaders of this committee, in a classified setting in detail about the investigation.
"This work is very complex and there is no way for me to give you a timetable as to when it will be done. We approach this work in an open-minded, independent way and our expert investigators will conclude that work as quickly as they can but they will always do it well no matter how long that takes," Comey said.