Former FBI Director James Comey on Thursday publicly disputed much of a February New York Times report that said top officials in President Donald Trump's campaign had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials before the election.
In a dramatic Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sen. Jim Risch asked Comey about a private hearing in February in which Comey told the committee that the report "upset" Comey so much he "surveyed the intelligence community to see whether [he was] missing something in that," and that Comey sought out Republican and Democratic senators to push back against the report.
"In the main, it was not true," Comey responded. "And again, all of you know this. Maybe the American people don't. The challenge, and I'm not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is the people talking about it often don't really know what's going on, and those of us who know what's going on are not talking about it. And we don't call the press to say, 'hey, you got that thing wrong about the sensitive topic.' We have to leave it there."
Some of Trump's supporters quickly latched on to Comey's testimony, which they said discredits the Times' bombshell reports about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia and Trump's conduct related to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
For everyone saying Comey testimony confirmed NYT reporting: He just said this story is almost entirely false(!!!) https://t.co/WlqQMUaObe— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) June 8, 2017
Wow! Comey sought out Senators to dispute New York Times story suggesting Trump campaign colluded w/ Russians. Story was not true! #ComeyDay— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) June 8, 2017
Mike Reed, the research director for the Republican National Committee, sent out an email after Comey's testimony with the subject line "The New York Times Has Some Explaining To Do."
"Comey confirmed today that he sought out Republican and Democrat lawmakers to tell them about the New York Times reporting, 'I don't know where this is coming from, but this is not the case, this is not factual,'" Reed wrote.
"Yet, at this moment, the article is still up on the New York Times site. And, people in this town wonder why Americans don't trust the media…"
In a statement on Thursday, the Times stood by its reporting and noted that subsequent reporting, by the Times and others, has verified its February story.
"Neither the FBI nor Mr. Comey would comment or elaborate on what Mr. Comey believes to be incorrect," the Times said in its statement. "Should they provide more information, we would review that as well."
The paper noted that Comey did not specify how the story was inaccurate, and speculated that perhaps the Russians the campaign maintained contact with did not meet law enforcement's clear definition of an intelligence officer.
The story was indeed treated as a major revelation in February, and was cited by top congressional Democrats and groups as further proof of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
Way beyond Flynn! Pass our bill 4 investig com..Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence https://t.co/euBnnxzzWy— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) February 15, 2017
Trump, Pence and Spicer have all lied about the Trump campaign being in contact w/ Russia. https://t.co/D07bFJewEa— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) February 15, 2017
Intercepted calls show Trump campaign members had repeated contact with Russian intelligence before the election https://t.co/WlyfStldkf— American Bridge (@American_Bridge) February 15, 2017
As The Washington Post notes, the story caused a firestorm, drawing the ire of chief of staff Reince Priebus, who slammed the report on Fox News Sunday in February, and even asked the FBI to publicly dismiss the claims.
"The New York Times put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations," he said. "We have now all kinds of people looking into this. I can assure you and I have been approved to say this — that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it's grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it."
A special counsel was appointed last month to look into the extent of Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, including contacts between the Russians and top members of the campaign.
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