FBI Director James Comey huddled with top lawmakers Thursday as pressure grows on the Justice Department to either substantiate or denounce President Donald Trump's accusation that the Obama administration tapped his phones during the presidential campaign.
Intelligence Committee and party leaders in the "Gang of Eight" - senior congressional leaders that receive the highest-level briefing - held meetings in both chanmbers of Congress. Members emerging from the meeting, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mark Warner, D-Va., were tight-lipped about the contents of the conversation.
The meetings come as lawmakers sent letters to Comey and acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente demanding a full accounting of any wiretapping applications, orders or warrants issued in an effort to conduct surveillance on Trump or his surrogates and associates during the campaign.
The president charged in tweets Saturday morning that President Barack Obama ordered the wire-tapping of his New York offices in the fall, presumably in an attempt to gain more information about Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. The House Intelligence Committee is probing that charge, as well as allegations that Trump associates have links to Russia - Trump has also asked that the wire-tapping charge be included in the probe. The FBI is investigating Russia's suspected intervention in the election, as well as the links of Trump's team with Russia.
House Intelligence members may get their chance to grill Comey in a public hearing scheduled for March 20. The invitation list includes Comey, Adm. Michael Rogers, National Security Agency director, former acting attorney general Sally Yates, former director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr., former CIA director John Brennan, and two senior officers of CrowdStrike - the company that found proof Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee's servers. No subpoenas have been issued.
Comey's trip to Capitol Hill comes at a time when lawmakers are divided - and not always along party lines - over whether the director is keeping the Gang of Eight adequately informed about the intelligence the FBI and Justice Department have collected that could bear on the congressional investigation into alleged Trump-Russia ties.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., sent a letter dated Wednesday to Boente, who took over ultimate responsibility for much of the department's probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters pertaining to the Trump campaign. In the letter, they asked for copies of any wiretapping applications, orders or warrants from 2016 relating to Trump, his surrogates, associates, family members and friends. Senate Judiciary Committee's Crime and Terrorism panel heads Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., also sent a letter to Boente and Comey Wednesday asking for a similar list of documents.
Few members of Congress believe the president's allegations about the Obama-ordered wiretap, and several are demanding the Trump administration produce evidence to substantiate the claim. Thus far, the White House has refused to do so, calling on Congress to conduct an investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, Graham and Whitehouse sent their letter to the FBI and the Justice Department Wednesday with the blessing of Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, he said Thursday. He explained that asking for those records was "a proper thing to do" as part of a hearing on Russia's alleged involvement in the 2016 elections that Graham and Whitehouse are expected to schedule soon.
But Grassley is dissatisfied with Comey's lack of response to those and other requests for relevant information
Grassley and Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) called Comey on Monday, he said, in an attempt to schedule a briefing they had previously requested from him, aimed at discussing Russia's alleged election meddling.
"We get this excuse: I'm talking to the DOJ now to get, more or less, to get clearance," Grassley said, frustrated. "And I said . . ., 'Did you have clearance when you talked to the Intelligence Committee last week?' "
"It surprised me, but here's the bottom line: Four days later we still haven't heard back from him," Grassley said.
Warner and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., however, met with Comey on Thursday, and have expressed satisfaction with the level of candor and access he has been offering them to collected intelligence relevant to their investigation.
But in the House, some Intelligence Committee members are markedly unsatisfied with the access Comey has been giving them.
"We need the confidence of knowing that they're briefing us on the most significant issues," Schiff told reporters last week. "And at this point, I think that's very much in question."
Rank-and-file Intelligence members have begun to make trips to CIA headquarters to review documents made available to them by the intelligence community. Those trips began earlier this week in the Senate.
House Intelligence Committee member Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said Thursday that access for House members only recently became available. He also credited Schiff and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., for "pushing, as far as I've been told" to make sure access to other information and officials is "expanded to the full membership" of the committee.