FBI Director James Comey on Monday confirmed that the bureau is investigating Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election — including any links or coordination between members of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFederal judge extends order blocking Trump's revised travel ban Texas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 Budowsky: Putin’s KGB super PAC MORE's campaign and Moscow.
The bombshell revelation puts an end to months of roiling speculation and frustration on the part of Democrats, who saw the director’s silence as a double-standard after Comey’s repeated disclosures in the FBI's investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWasserman Schultz to Sanders: Dems are already a grassroots party Comey: FBI is 'not on anybody's side' White House extends Obama executive order on cyber threats MORE’s private email server.
In a dramatic moment at the beginning of a hotly anticipated House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the U.S. election, Comey announced that he had been authorized by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to break bureau policy and publicly disclose the probe.
“As you know our practice is not to confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation,” he said. “But in usual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so.”
But he declined to provide more details, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
“I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they lead,” Comey vowed.
The FBI investigation will include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed, Comey said. It began in late July, he said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who was a member of the executive committee of Trump’s transition team, has flatly denied any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffSchiff: I don't think White House wants to see Yates testify How Obama's White House weaponized media against Trump Intel Dem: 'What's the holdup' on Yates testimony? MORE (D-Calif.), has said that it is too early in the investigation to rule out the possibility, arguing that there is “circumstantial” evidence of such ties.
Comey confirmed on Monday that the bureau and the DOJ have briefed the Intelligence Committee in a classified setting on details of the investigation. He called the step "unprecedented."
It is the bureau’s policy never to discuss an ongoing investigation — but Democrats say the FBI flagrantly ignored that policy last year with Comey’s disclosures regarding the Clinton investigation.
The director has been under fierce pressure to disclose the existence of the Trump probe — pressure he has up until now resisted. After a meeting with House members behind closed doors earlier in the year, he was described by Democratic attendees as “unflinching” and “defiant.”
The FBI investigation now threatens to create a rift with the White House.
In January, Trump — who was undoubtedly helped during the campaign by Comey’s eleventh-hour disclosures about the Clinton probe — reportedly asked him to stay on as head of the bureau.
But late last month, the president took aim at the FBI after Comey reportedly refused to dispute a New York Times story that said agents had uncovered contact between Trump campaign officials and Moscow.
Comey reportedly called White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and said that while the story was wrong, the FBI would not put out a statement.
Trump blasted the FBI on Twitter for being “totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time.”
Meanwhile, the DOJ's inspector general has launched an investigation into whether Comey broke bureau policy with his various disclosures.
Democrats have pointed to a number of publicly-reported connections between several Trump campaign associates and Russian interests.
Roger Stone, a former advisor to Trump, has admitted to a “back channel” connection to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The radical transparency site published the emails stolen by Russian hackers from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Stone has also made public conversations with Guccifer 2.0, the hacker persona believed to be run by Russian intelligence that was also used to disseminate some of the stolen emails.
Foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s reported dealings with Russian energy firm Gazprom and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ties to a pro-Russian official in Ukraine have also come under scrutiny.
Comey repeatedly declined to answer questions about specific Trump associates and their alleged ties to Russia.In a long series of questions from Schiff about Stone, Comey repeated “same answer” to every question.
--This report was updated at 11:47 a.m.