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Comey confirms FBI probing alleged Russian interference in 2016 election


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- Carrie Healey | AOL.com
WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - The head of the FBI publicly challenged U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, disputing the Republican's claim that former president Barack Obama wiretapped his 2016 election campaign and confirming his agency had launched a criminal investigation into any collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.

FBI Director James Comey told a congressional hearing he had seen no evidence to support a claim by Trump that Obama had wiretapped his campaign headquarters in Trump Tower in New York.

The president created a controversy in early March when he tweeted without giving evidence that Obama had wiretapped the campaign as the Republican businessman took on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

"With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets," Comey told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing.

RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

"And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components: the department has no information that supports those tweets," he said.

The committee is investigating accusations that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election by hacking Democratic operatives and releasing embarrassing information. Russia denies the allegations.

Comey confirmed that the FBI has been investigating since last July possible Russian government efforts to interfere in the election, including any links between Trump's campaign and Moscow.

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SEE ALSO: Former CIA Director Leon Panetta: President Trump should apologize to Obama and 'move on'

"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.

Trump's tweet about wiretapping, which was made without supporting evidence, pulled attention away from the claims of Russian interference.

RELATED: Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, a photo for each day

The president sent his tweet on Saturday, March 4, two days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had met with Russia's U.S. ambassador last fall, said he would remove himself from any investigation of Russian interference in the election.

The hearing on Monday was a rare open congressional intelligence committee hearing and it revealed a stark partisan divide in focus. Majority Republicans concentrated their questions on leaks of classified information and media reports on issues such as contacts between former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian officials.

Democrats sought to highlight such links, and shoot down Trump's wiretapping claim.

Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, a photo for each day

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    US President Donald Trump takes the oath of office with his wife Melania and son Barron at his side, during his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
  • USA-TRUMP/CIA
    U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he leaves the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters after delivering remarks during a visit in Langley, Virginia U.S., January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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    U.S. President Donald Trump shows a letter from former President Barack Obama at a swearing-in ceremony for senior staff at the White House in Washington, DC January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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    U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the executive order on withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters while signing an executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House in Washington January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
  • President Trump Visits Department of Homeland Security
    U.S. President Donald Trump, left, speaks as U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, center, and John Kelly, secretary of U.S. Homeland Security, stand during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, D.C. U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Trump acted on two of the most fundamental -- and controversial -- elements of his presidential campaign, building a wall on the border with Mexico and greatly tightening restrictions on who can enter the U.S. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Bloomberg
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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks briefly to reporters as he arrives aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • President Trump Meets With British PM Theresa May At The White House
    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 27: British Prime Minister Theresa May shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump in The Oval Office at The White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. British Prime Minister Theresa May is on a two-day visit to the United States and will be the first world leader to meet with President Donald Trump. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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    U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R), speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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    Activists march to the US Capitol to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order while surrounded by small business leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. Trump said he will dramatically reduce regulations overall with this executive action as it requires that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Trump Meets Representatives of PhRMA
    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Robert J. Hugin, Executive Chairman, Celgene Corporation, as he meets with representatives from PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. According to its website, PhRMA 'represents the country's leading biopharmaceutical researchers and biotechnology companies.' Kenneth C. Frazier, Chairman and CEO of Merck & Co. looks on from left. (Photo by Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images)
  • President Trump Attends Swearing In Of Rex Tillerson As Secretary Of State
    Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State for President Donald Trump, left, speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump listen after the swearing-in ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Tillerson won Senate confirmation as secretary of state after lawmakers split mostly along party lines on President Trump's choice of an oilman with no government experience but a career negotiating billions of dollars of energy deals worldwide. Photographer: Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg
  • President Donald Trump
    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 2: President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with Harley Davidson executives and Union Representatives on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Feb. 02, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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    U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at West Palm Beach International airport in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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    U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the 60th Annual Red Cross Gala at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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    US President Donald Trump watches the Super Bowl with First Lady Melania Trump (R) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) at Trump International Golf Club Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, Florida on February 5, 2017. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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    U.S. President Donald Trump salutes as he arrives at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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    U.S. President Donald Trump receives a figurine of a sheriff during a meeting with county sheriffs at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., left, listens during a meeting at The White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. Trump defended his power to put limits on who can enter the U.S., saying it shouldn't be challenged in the courts even as a three-judge panel weighs whether to reinstate restrictions on refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Pool via Bloomberg
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    U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Jeff Sessions (L) as U.S. Attorney General while his wife Mary Sessions holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is greeted by U.S. President Donald Trump (L) ahead of their joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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    US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose for photos with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akke Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lagoresort in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 11, 2017 prior to dinner. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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    U.S. President Donald Trump arrives on Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump listens to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speak at meeting with teachers and parents at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump (2ndR) and first lady Melania Trump greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara (L) as they arrive at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump announces Alexander Acosta as his new nominee to lead the Department of Labor during a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump walks with his grandchildren Arabella and Joseph to Marine One upon his departure from the White House in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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    U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump acknowledge supporters during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    The motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump turns into Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida U.S., February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump announces his new National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (L) and that acting adviser Keith Kellogg (R) will become the chief of staff of the National Security Council at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
  • President Trump Visits African-American Museum in Washington
    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 21: (AFP OUT) President Donald Trump tours the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture on February 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images)
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    Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney (L) listens to U.S. President Donald Trump speak during a "strategic initiatives" lunch at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a meeting with experts on addressing human trafficking at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S. February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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    U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S. February 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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    U.S. President Donald Trump leaves after a dinner at Trump International Hotel in Washington, U.S., February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
  • President And Melania Trump Host Governors Ball At The White House
    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: AFP OUT President Donald Trump delivers brief remarks before a toast during the annual Governors' Dinner in the East Room of the White House February 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. Part of the National Governors Association� annual meeting in the nation's capital, the black tie dinner and ball is the first formal event the Trumps will host at the White House since moving in last month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
  • US President Donald Trump Meets With The Historically Black Colleges and Universities
    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: U.S. President Donald Trump poses with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Oval Office of the White House, on February 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)
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    US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) applaud as US President Donald J. Trump (C) arrives to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo
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    U.S. President Donald Trump looks up while hosting a House and Senate leadership lunch at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
  • USA-TRUMP/DEFENSE
    U.S. President Donald Trump tours the pre-commissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding facilities in Newport News, Virginia, U.S. March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
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    WEST PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 04: US President Donald Trump waves from his vehicle as he stops while being driven past supporters near his Mar-a-Lago resort home on March 4, 2017 in West Palm Beach, Florida. President Trump spent part of the weekend at the house. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
  • President Trump at the White House in Washington, DC
    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05: President Donald J. Trump walks across the South Lawn towards the White House on March 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump is returning from a weekend at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. Florida. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser-Pool/Getty Images)
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    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stand together after speaking on issues related to visas and travel after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban order in Washington, U.S., March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    Beside a painting of Hillary Clinton, U.S. President Donald Trump makes a surprise appearance in front of a tour group at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
  • President Donald Trump
    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 8: First Lady Melania Trump arrives at a luncheon she was hosting to mark International Women's Day in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, March. 08, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • President Trump Meets with CEOs of Small and Comunity Banks at the White House
    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 09: US President Donald Trump greets Dorothy Savarese, CEO of Cape Cod Five Mutual Company, during a National Economic Council listening session with the CEOs of small and community banks, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on March 9, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)
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    U.S. President Donald Trump talks with Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) during a healthcare meeting with key House Committee Chairmen at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
  • President Trump Lunch With Cabinet Members At His Golf Course In Virginia
    POTOMAC FALLS, VA - MARCH 11: President Donald Trump has a working lunch with staff and cabinet members and significant others at his golf course, Trump National on March 11, 2017 in Potomac Falls, Virginia. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)
  • RELIGION-ISRAEL/PURIM
    A boy looks at a man dressed in the likeness of U.S. President Donald Trump as ultra Orthodox Jewish men dressed in Purim costumes take part in the reading from the Book of Esther ceremony performed on the Jewish holiday of Purim, a celebration of the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther, in Jerusalem March 12, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
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    U.S. President Donald Trump is applauded by his cabinet as he signs an executive order entitled "Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch" in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • USA-SAUDI/DEFENSE
    U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman enter the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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    U.S. President Donald Trump takes the stage for a rally at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • STPATRICKS-DAY/TRUMP
    Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (R) presents a traditional gift of a bowl of shamrocks to U.S. President Donald Trump during a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

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  • Paul Manafort

    Paul Manafort

    Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

  • Michael Flynn

    Michael Flynn

    Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

  • Sergey Kislyak

    Sergey Kislyak

    Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

  • Roger Stone

    Roger Stone

    Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

  • Jeff Sessions

    Jeff Sessions

    Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

  • Vladimir Putin

    Russian President Vladimir Putin

  • James Comey

    James Comey

  • Carter Page

    Carter Page

    Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

  • J.D. Gordon

    J.D. Gordon

    Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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