US Rep. Mike Conaway grills FBI Director James Comey over Russian hack

WASHINGTON - Members of the U.S. House who oversee the espionage arm of the American government – including some Texans – grilled two top government officials Monday morning over Russian hacking related to last year's presidential election.

The most dramatic moments of Monday's House Intelligence Committee hearing came early on, when FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his bureau is investigating whether Trump associates had ties with Russian intelligence, and said he "had no information" to support recent tweets from President Trump that alleged former President Obama "had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory." 

At times, the hearing room of several hundred members, witnesses, reporters and observers from the public was dead silent as Comey spoke. 

U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland and Will Hurd of Helotes, both Republicans, and U.S. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, a Democrat, participated in the hearing, which also featured National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers as a witness.

Democrats mostly questioned Comey and Rogers over specific Trump allies, inquireies both witnesses declined to address specifically citing the classified nature of their investigations. Republicans, however, were predominantly interested in how information about the investigation leaked to news outlets and whether the bureau intended to investigate the disclosures. 

But the hearing did provide a moment or two of levity, including during amid questioning from Conaway, a Midland Republican. The West Texan is the most senior Texan on the committee and pursued queries over whether U.S. intelligence assumptions that Russian President Vladimir Putin favored Trump because of a long-held hatred of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton that dated back to her tenure as Secretary of State. 

“Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was that he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much,” Comey said.

“Yeah, that might work on Saturday afternoon when my wife’s Red Raiders are playing the Texas Longhorns,” Conaway said. “She really likes the Red Raiders...but the logic is that because [Putin] really didn’t like...candidate Clinton, that he automatically liked Trump. That assessment is based on what?”

“It’s based on more than that, but part of it is...the logic," Comey answered. "Whoever the Red Raiders are playing, you want the Red Raiders to win. By definition you want their opponent to lose.”

Comey gamely continued the Big 12 metaphor, leading to some spectator laughter.

Hurd and Castro, two relatively junior members serving on the committee, are expected to ask questions of their own later on Monday. Castro frequently appears on national television to discuss the Russian hack and the related intelligence matters.  

Hurd, a former undercover CIA officer, suggested on CNN Friday evening that Trump should consider apologizing to Obama for his recent wiretapping allegations.

This article was originally published at TexasTribune.org.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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