WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI launched investigations of four Americans in July 2016 into whether they helped Russia’s alleged efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, former FBI Director James Comey said in remarks released on Saturday.
Comey also appeared to suggest the investigations were looking into ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign.
He did not identify the people being investigated but said Trump was not among them.
“We opened investigations on four Americans to see if there was any connection between those four Americans and the Russian interference effort,” Comey said, according to a transcript of the closed-door hearing held on Friday by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee.
Trump fired Comey in May 2017 after taking office in January of that year. Shortly after Comey’s dismissal, the Department of Justice named a special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.
Russia has denied any interference. Trump denies there was any collusion and on Saturday renewed his call to end the special counsel’s investigation, calling it a “witch hunt.”
In the hearing on Friday, Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe asked Comey whether the FBI had “any evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia when agents briefed Trump as a candidate in 2016 about foreign intelligence threats.
Comey said the probes into the four Americans began in late July but that he was not sure when agents briefed Trump.
“If it was after July 29th, then the answer would be, yes, we had some reason to suspect that there were Americans who might have assisted the Russians,” Comey said, according to the transcript. He said the four Americans “had some connection to Mr. Trump.”
The 235-page transcript also covers Comey’s responses to questions about FBI interactions with a former British spy who compiled a dossier of allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Most of the hearing on Friday covered lawmaker questions about Republican-led investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was in office. Clinton was the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
The Republican-led inquiries have been lambasted by Democrats, who will take over the House of Representatives in January, as a partisan effort to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.
(The story was refiled to remove an extraneous word in the 8th paragraph)
Reporting by David Morgan and Jason Lange; Editing by Susan Thomas