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House panel’s leaders see no evidence of Trump wiretap claims

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.,

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., right, accompanied by the committee's ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March, 15, 2017, about their investigation of Russian influence on the American presidential election. Photo Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they have no evidence that backs President Donald Trump’s claim that his predecessor wiretapped him, but they said they’ll ask the FBI director next week for a definitive answer.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee chair and ranking member, said they’ll question FBI Director James Comey when he appears with National Security Agency director Mike Rogers at an open hearing of their panel on Monday.

“We certainly at the open hearing will be asking the director if he has seen any evidence that substantiates the president’s claim,” said Schiff. “We think it’s in the public interest that this be addressed very openly by the director, and we expect that he will.”

Most members of the House or Senate have not backed Trump’s assertion, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday that he has given no reason to Trump to believe that Obama wiretapped him.

“If you take things literally, then obviously the president is wrong,” Nunes said about Trump’s tweets two weeks ago that said during the presidential campaign last year that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower .

But Nunes said if the claim is not taken literally, the probe should examine Trump’s concerns about “surveillance activities looking at him and his associates either appropriately or inappropriately.”

On Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer for the first time pointed out that Trump put quote marks around wiretap, indicated a broader definition of the term.

In an interview on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” set to air late Wednesday, Trump stressed that new version of what he meant in his tweets.

“But wiretap covers a lot of different things,” Trump said, according to a preview of his remarks. “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

Monday’s hearing will address not only Trump’s wiretap claim, but also the broader issue of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election as well as illegal leaks to reporters of surveillance of foreign officials that picked up and identified U.S. citizens in those conversations.

Nunes and Schiff said they sent Comey, Rogers and CIA Director Mike Pompeo a letter Wednesday seeking a list by Friday of Americans “unmasked” in such surveillance in the past six months. Nunes said he was “more concerned” about the incidental collection of American names and the revelation of those American names, particularly if done for political purposes.

In response to a question, Nunes said it’s possible surveillance of other targets could have incidentally picked up a conversation with Trump.

Asked if he had seen any evidence that Trump or his campaign had colluded with Russia, Nunes said, “Not that I’m aware of.” But Schiff said, “I don’t think we can answer that categorically” with a no.

After Trump refused to provide proof for his assertion and the White House put the onus on Congress to investigate, lawmakers have put pressure on the Justice Department and FBI to say whether their officials wiretapped or conducted surveillance on Trump and his campaign.

But Justice and the FBI officials have been slow to respond. Nunes complained the CIA has not allowed his committee’s investigators to use computers at the agency’s headquarters.

The Justice Department missed last Monday’s deadline set by Nunes and Schiff to produce applications or warrants for wiretaps on Trump, his campaign surrogates, associates, employees, family and friends. But Nunes said Wednesday Justice officials said they would provide the materials by next Monday, in time for the hearing.

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