James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (TNS file photo)

By MATT APUZZO, MATTHEW ROSENBERG and EMMARIE HUETTEMAN

WASHINGTON – FBI Director James B. Comey took the extraordinary step on Monday of announcing that the bureau is investigating whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee created a treacherous political moment for Trump, who has insisted that “Russia is fake news” that was cooked up by his political opponents to undermine his presidency. Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said officers would pursue it “no matter how long that takes.”

Joined by Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, Comey also dismissed Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign, a sensational accusation that has served as a distraction in the public debate over Russian election interference. Taken together, the two provided the most definitive statement yet that Trump’s accusation was false.

The New York Times and other news organizations have reported the existence of the investigation into the Trump campaign and its relationship with Russia, but the White House dismissed those reports as politically motivated and rallied political allies to rebut them. Comey’s testimony on Monday was the first public acknowledgment of the case. The FBI discloses its investigations only in rare circumstances, when officials believe it is in the public interest.

“This is one of those circumstances,” Comey said.

Six takeaways from Congress’ hearing on Russia, Trump and wiretapping

Comey said the FBI was “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that President Vladimir Putin of Russia personally ordered a covert effort to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances and aid Trump. That included hacking political targets, including the Democratic National Committee, and releasing embarrassing emails through the website WikiLeaks.

The White House dismissed most of Comey’s testimony, saying there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia and so there was nothing to investigate.

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