James Comey has been accused of derailing the election campaign of Hillary Clinton with the announcement that he was reopening the investigation into her use of emails.
Today, he set the primer on explosive revelations which may yet sink the presidency of Donald Trump.
The FBI director had exonerated Ms Clinton a few days later, but not before the damage may have been done. However, his confirmation that there is an active investigation into Mr Trump’s Russian connections presents an ongoing threat which will hang over the new administration and, if incriminating evidence surfaces, may pave the way for impeachment.
Both Mr Comey and Mike Rogers, the head of the NSA, dismissed Mr Trump’s attempts to deflect attention from the Russian allegations with claims of Barack Obama getting Britain’s GCHQ to wiretap him as totally false. But fresh questions arise over Mr Comey’s testimony.
He has acknowledged that the investigation into the links between the Trump team and the Kremlin started long before the US election.
But while the FBI director publicly intervened with the Clinton email declaration, he said nothing publicly about the Trump inquiry.
The timing is important. We know that Chris Steele, the former MI6 officer who had been commissioned to look into Mr Trump, first of all by Republicans and then the Democrats, had begun to supply the FBI with information about the Russian connection by July last year.
It has emerged that the Bureau discussed paying the former MI6 officer to continue his work on the issue when his contract with the Democrats ended following Mr Trump’s shock victory.
In July Mr Steele sent a memo to the FBI stating that Mr Trump’s campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.
Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, officials involved in his campaign having already allegedly asked the Republican Party’s election platform to change the wording of a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.
Mr Steele claimed the Trump campaign was taking this path because it was aware that the Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. The same day that Mr Trump spoke about Crimea, he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.
However, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Ms Clinton’s emails. The MI6 officer’s passing of information to the FBI ceased in December last year.
Both Mr Comey and Mr Rogers were asked about Mr Steele’s report. They refused to discuss it in any detail.
The FBI was receiving information about those close to Mr Trump and Moscow from other sources as well. Mr Comey did not deny that he briefed President Obama about telephone calls made by Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s most senior security advisor, to the Russians, although it was not clear whether this happened before or after the election.
Gen Flynn was appointed National Security Advisor by Mr Trump but was forced to resign when his contact with the Russian ambassador was revealed.
It has now emerged that he had received money from concerns linked to the Russian state and also, separately, the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr Comey refused to answer whether subjects of his investigation into Gen Flynn, or Paul Manafort who was Mr Trump’s campaign manager and, before that, ran the successful election campaign of pro-Moscow Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who was subsequently overthrown, and Roger Stone, a long-time advisor to Mr Trump who admits to being in contact with Russians who hacked Democratic National Party emails and Carter Page, an advisor to Mr Trump with close links to Russian oligarchs.
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
All these names appear in Mr Steele’s full report. The FBI director stated “I don’t want to answer any questions about a US person”. But his refusal is also a very strong indication that all these men are now very much part of the inquiry.
Mr Trump put out tweets during the hearing that he has been cleared. The Republicans in the Committee tried to focus on leaks from the intelligence services. But the search to discover whether there really is a Muscovian candidate now in the White House is not going to go away.
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