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FBI Director James Comey confirmed the bureau is investigating ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and the Russian government last year, including possible collusion on the breach of the Democratic National Committee.
Speaking before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Monday, Comey's testimony confirmed that the FBI, along with the National Security Agency, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in and influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including the DNC breach and cyberattacks on other entities. He testified the investigation started in late July last year and is still ongoing.
"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 told Congress in his opening statement. "As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed."
Comey added that because this was an "open, ongoing investigation" involving classified information, he could not comment on many details. Comey several times declined to answer direct questions from HPSCI members relating to specific incidents or individuals, including questions about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security advisor and an advisor to the Trump campaign, who resigned after just three weeks as national security advisor following scrutiny of his ties to Russian government officials.
Speaking of the DNC breach, Comey said "Russian intelligence services hacked into a number of enterprises in the United States, including the Democratic National Committee." He also confirmed there were "efforts to penetrate organizations associated with the Republican party" and that while both political parties were hacked, no material or information from the Republican party was leaked or exposed to the public.
Comey bluntly told the HPSCI that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin "hated Secretary [Hillary] Clinton so much" that he sought to harm her presidential campaign and "help Mr. Trump."
However, Comey said there was "no indication" that threat actors tried to hack election systems and change actual votes for the 2016 election. "We saw efforts to penetrate voter registration databases, state Boards of Elections, at that level," he said. "We saw no efforts aimed at the vote itself."
NSA Director Michael Rogers, also testifying before the HPSCI Monday, said the agency stands by the intelligence community assessment released in January detailing Russia hacking attempts and interference in the election. "There is no change in our confidence level on the assessment," Rogers said, though he declined to specify how Russian threat actors executed the hacks.
More DNC breach details emerge
Comey's testimony offered more insight into the DNC breach and how the incident was handled. He explained that the FBI first notified the DNC of a potential hack in August of 2015. However, it wasn't until 10 months later when the DNC breach was made public by CrowdStrike that the bureau learned the full extent of the cyberattack.
"We never got direct access to the [DNC] machines themselves," Comey said. "The DNC in the spring of 2016 hired a firm that ultimately shared with us their forensics from their review of the system."
Comey also said that in retrospect, the FBI should have done more to notify the DNC of the seriousness of the attack and tried harder to get a closer look at the organization's network to assess the damage. "I might have walked over there myself, knowing what I know now," Comey said. "But I think the efforts we made [and] that our agents made were reasonable at the time."
Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asked Comey about the recent indictments of Russian Federal Security Service agents in connection with the 2014 Yahoo breach, and if that attack was executed for Russian intelligence purposes. Comey declined to comment on the matter -- but he did say he fully expects the Russian government to continue trying to execute cyberattacks and influence U.S. elections.
"They'll be back," he said of Russia. "And they'll be [back] in 2020, [and] they may be back in 2018. And one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sowed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process."
In addition to the ongoing investigation into the Russian government and the Trump campaign, Comey also shot down claims from President Trump that former President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower to spy on the Trump campaign last year.
"I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said. "We have no information that supports them."
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