In a rare move, the FBI confirmed that it's investigating whether Russian hackers had any links to President Donald Trump's election team.
Citing "unusual circumstances," FBI Director James Comey said the bureau is looking into whether Trump's campaign worked with Russian officials during the 2016 election.
"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," Comey testified at a House committee hearing on Monday. "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 with the campaign and Russia's efforts."
These are unusual circumstances indeed.
Worries about Russian hacks plagued the US presidential election and its aftermath, with US intelligence agencies accusing Russia of meddling in the race for the White House. The House Intelligence Committee is investigating how the cyberattacks happened and how to protect the nation's democratic processes from interference in the future.
The breaches included hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta. Comey had earlier testified before the House Intelligence committee concerning Russian hacks during the election, revealing there were no attacks against the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee.
During the hearing, Comey also rebutted President Trump's tweets that the Obama administration ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower during the campaign. That echoed House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes and the Justice Department's findings.
"I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said. The National Security Agency director, Michael Rogers, also denied Trump's claims during the hearing.
The FBI director took issue as well with a tweet Monday from the official @POTUS account, claiming that the NSA and FBI agreed that Russia did not influence the election in 2016.
Comey said his remarks were misinterpreted by Trump, pointing out that the FBI found no evidence because the potential impact of Russian hacking's influence was not being investigated.
"It's never something that we looked at," he said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer criticized Democratic lawmakers for jumping to conclusions after the FBI announced its investigation. He pointed out that there have been no links between Trump's campaign and Russia.
"There's a point at which you continue to search for something that everybody who's been briefed hasn't found," Spicer said.
During the campaign, Trump publicly urged Russia to help turn up Clinton's emails. Members of the Trump administration, including attorney general Jeff Sessions, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have also faced controversy for ties to Russian officials.
The Obama administration in late December retaliated against Russia, imposing sanctions over the cyberattacks even as Russian officials continue to deny any involvement in the hacks. Russia's relationships with the US has been on shaky ground since.
Comey revealed the FBI has been investigating Russian influence on the 2016 election since last July, when hackers apparently first infiltrated the DNC. It remains unclear when the investigation will end. The FBI determined Russians were behind the cyberattacks in December, in an attempt to "hurt our democracy," Comey said.
"They were unusually loud in their intervention. It's almost as if they didn't care that we knew what they were doing," the FBI director said.
The 2016 presidential campaign won't be the last time Russians interfere with an election, Comey warned. After their successful interference on the Democratic process, Russian hackers are primed for a comeback in future elections, he said.
"They'll be back in 2020, they may be back in 2018. One of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful," Comey said.
CNET's Laura Hautala contributed reporting to this story.
Update, 11:09 a.m. PT: To include more details from the House Intelligence Committee hearing and at 11:43 a.m. PT: To include response from Trump administration.
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