FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he could "not comment in an open forum" on whether his agency is investigating reports that President-elect Donald Trump's campaign had contact with Russia during the presidential election.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden initially pressed Comey on the issue.
"I think the American people have a right to know this," Wyden said. "And if there is delay in declassifying this information and relating it to the American people, releasing it to the American people, and it doesn't happen before January 20, I'm not sure it's going to happen."
Comey had said he "would never comment on investigations, whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this."
"So I really can't answer it one way or another," Comey said.
Any investigation would have been prompted by the US intelligence community's recent conclusion that Russia hacked prominent Democrats during the presidential election to help Trump get elected, as well as by comments Russia's deputy foreign minister made shortly after the election that "there were contacts" between members of Trump's "immediate entourage" and the Russian government.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested on "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the intelligence community was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow, but he would not elaborate.
Comey would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation when Maine Sen. Angus King pressed on the subject on Tuesday.
King said Comey's response was ironic given the FBI director's record for commenting in open forums about the bureau's investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
"The irony of your making that statement here I cannot avoid, but I'll move on," King said.
Comey was criticized for holding a press conference last summer to explain the FBI's conclusion that Clinton had not committed a crime by using the private server. Comey later said that while the public comments were unusual, he wanted the agency to be transparent.
Eleven days before the presidential election, Comey wrote an open letter to lawmakers indicating that the FBI had found new emails that were potentially related to the Clinton email investigation and that the bureau was effectively reopening the investigation.
Comey's disclosure of the discovery of the new emails so close to Election Day drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
The agency ultimately determined — two days before the election — that the emails were either duplicates or inconsequential. But Comey's adviser said in the aftermath that the FBI director had again "opted for transparency."
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