House To Hold First Public Hearing Into Russian Election Meddling Accusation
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Up until now, the House Intelligence Committee has carried out its investigation of Russia's attempted interference in the 2016 election behind closed doors. Well, that will change this morning when the committee holds its first public hearing. Members are looking at a wide range of questions, a really wide range of questions. That includes President Trump's unproven claim that President Obama ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower. NPR's Scott Detrow is on the line to talk about this. Scott, good morning.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what is this committee not investigating? Maybe that's the question (laughter).
DETROW: How about we just stick to the primary focus of this?
GREENE: All right.
DETROW: Otherwise it'll take up the whole segment. The primary focus is that Russian action during the election. And the key question for that is was there any coordination between anyone on the Trump campaign, associated with the Trump campaign, and the Russian operatives who were allegedly working to damage Hillary Clinton?
Another key question here that Republicans especially are interested in, how has all of this sensitive information we've been reading and hearing about been making its way from intelligence gathering operations from law enforcement agencies into the public sphere?
GREENE: Yeah. Those leaks have been a real focus of many of the Republicans. So FBI Director James Comey is going to testify. And this is the first time - right? - that he's been in public taking questions about Russia since the election. What do we think he's going to say?
DETROW: I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on him to confirm one way or another whether there's been an active investigation going on related to any of this, particularly whether the FBI is investigating anyone in Trump's orbit.
That being said, I think a lot of the attention today is going to be on something we haven't even talked about yet. And that is President Trump's unsubstantiated claim that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the campaign. Adam Schiff is the top Democrat on the committee. And he says he will definitely ask James Comey about that.
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ADAM SCHIFF: It deeply concerns me that the president would make such an accusation without basis. We think it's in the public interest that this be addressed very openly by the director and we certainly expect that he will.
DETROW: And this is something that's been by and large rejected by top Republicans and Democrats up and down the line. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Committee said yesterday that they have seen no evidence that this claim is true. So there's a push from Democrats especially to get Comey to add his voice to that especially after reports from NPR and other news outlets that Comey behind the scenes has been urging the Department of Justice to say that Trump is just wrong here.
GREENE: Scott, there are a lot of competing agendas it seems like on the - among the members of this committee. I mean, has this wiretapping allegation from the president become a distraction in a way since this is not what the committee set out to investigate at all?
DETROW: Certainly it's hard to tie directly to the Russia focus. But I think Congress has been taking this seriously. The White House urged them to investigate this. And even though many people saw it as a public relations move by the White House staff who weren't sure what to do with Trump's claim, you know, it is a serious claim, especially since a lot of top Republicans and Democrats are now saying there's just no evidence to back it up.
I mean, since this began, it's kind of spiraled into an international incident even with White House saying that maybe British intelligence was involved and British spokespeople responding saying no way is that true. So this has kind of spiraled from a Saturday morning tweet to a multi-week affair with international consequences at this point.
GREENE: OK, big hearing on the House Intelligence Committee today. NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks as always.
DETROW: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.