(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, made something very clear in his opening statement on Monday: “Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians had the help of U.S. citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign,” he said.
“Many of the Trump’s campaign personnel, including the president himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime,” Schiff continued.
“On the other hand, if the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.”
FBI Director James Comey, in his opening statement to the committee, confirmed that the FBI 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.”
Later in the hearing, Comey noted that he never used the word “collusion,” although many Democrats did. “Collusion is not a term, a legal term of art, and it’s one I haven’t used here today, as we’re investigating to see whether there was any coordination between people associated with the campaign,” Comey said.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) asked Comey, “What does it take for the FBI to open up a counterintelligence investigation into a U.S. citizen?”
Comey, speaking generally, said there several different standards, including “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”
Although Comey frequently refused to comment on the FBI’s ongoing and classified investigation, he made it clear that the investigation does not presuppose guilt on the part of Trump campaign officials.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), in one exchange with Comey noted: “The fact that there is an open investigation does not indicate guilt, though, does it?”
“Certainly not,” Comey responded.
Stewart followed up: “And in fact, many times an investigation may find that there is no wrongdoing.”
“That’s one of the reasons we don’t talk about it, so we don’t smear people who don’t end up charged with anything,” Comey replied.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) asked Comey if he has any reason to disagree with former National Intelligence Director James Clapper “that there’s no evidence of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.”
“Mr. King, that’s not something I can comment on,” Comey said.
“But again, you’re not going to disagree with General Clapper, you’re just not going to comment,” King said. “And the reason I’m pointing that out is, that’s sort of the situation, you know, the other way around that you can’t comment on something, often there’s inference out there that because a person’s name is brought up, because he may have worked with somebody at a certain time, that there’s a guilt implied in that, so that’s one problem.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) raised the issue of “collusion,” asking Comey if a person has to know he’s colluding with the Russians.
“I can answer generally,” Comey said. “In the world of intelligence, oftentimes there are people who are called co-optees, who are acting — don’t realize they’re dealing with agents of a foreign power and so are doing things for someone they think is a friend or a business associate, not realizing it’s for that — the foreign government. So it can happen, it’s actually quite a frequent technique.”
Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) told the committee, “We’ve heard nothing but terribly disturbing evidence of what has happened to our country” at the hands of Russia. “And what’s worse, the evidence we’ve heard so far all seems – all seems to lead to the conclusion that they had help from the inside. That this was, in part, an inside job from U.S. persons — willing American accomplices or terribly naive ones, or probably both — who helped the Russians attack our country and our democracy.”
Heck said the committee was “not indicting anyone” – even as Democrats laid out circumstantial evidence against Trump associates.
Then Heck asked Comey: “[E]xplain briefly to me, and more importantly to the American public, why we should care about Russia’s use of U.S. persons — of Americans — helping Russia destabilize our democracy?”
Comey said he believes the United States is a “shining city on a hill,” and even though democracy can be messy, it’s “very, very serious” when a foreign nation states tries to interfere with America is.
“And if any Americans are part of that effort, it’s a very serious matter,” Comey said. “And so you would expect the FBI to want to understand — is that so? And if so, who did what? But again, I want to be very careful to people who over-interpret my words: To preserve our ability to answer those questions, we’re not talking about our work.
“I’m not here voluntarily. Right?” Comey said. “I would rather not be talking about this at all. But we thought it was important to share at least that much with the committee and the American people, and now we’re going to close our mouths to do our work to see if we can answer those questions, because the answers matter.”