US president Donald Trump has accused Democrats of making up allegations that Russia interfered in last year’s election, and said US Congress and the FBI should be focusing on media leaks instead.
His tweets came just hours before a potentially politically damaging hearing in which FBI director James Comey and National Security Agency director Michael Rogers plan to testify over allegations of Russian hacking and whether there were any connections between Moscow and Mr Trump’s campaign.
Mr Trump tweeted on Monday: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
“The real story that Congress, the FBI and others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!”
A hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, one of several congressional panels probing allegations of Russian meddling, could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations which have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months.
The two most senior members of the House intelligence committee said on Sunday that documents the Justice Department and FBI delivered late last week offered no evidence that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, the president’s New York City headquarters.
But the panel’s ranking Democrat said the material offers circumstantial evidence that American citizens colluded with Russians in Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the presidential election.
“There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception,” California representative Adam Schiff said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “There’s certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation.”
Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the committee, said: “For the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses.
“We know that the Russians were trying to get involved in our campaign, like they have for many decades.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a similar hearing for later in the month.
It is not clear how much new information will emerge on Monday, and the hearing’s open setting unquestionably puts Mr Comey in a difficult situation if he is asked to discuss an ongoing investigation tied to the campaign of the president.
At a hearing in January, Mr Comey refused to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation exploring possible connections between Mr Trump’s associates and Russia, consistent with the FBI’s long-standing policy of not publicly discussing its work.
His appearances on Capitol Hill since then have occurred in classified settings, often with small groups of representatives, and he has made no public statements connected to the Trump campaign or Russia.
But Mr Comey may feel compelled to respond to Mr Trump’s unproven Twitter assertions that former president Barack Obama ordered a wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign.
Congressional leaders briefed on the matter have said they have seen no indication that that is true, and Mr Obama’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, has publicly called the claims false.