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."
James Comey through the years
James Comey through the years
UNITED STATES - JUNE 14: Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey speaks at a conference at the Bloomberg News Bureau in Washington DC June 14, 2004. (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: James Comey (L) FBI Director nominee walks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (R) to a ceremony annoucing Comey's nomination in the Rose Garden at the White House June 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey, a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, would replace Mueller. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
James Comey, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as director of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arrives to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Comey, the nominee to be the next FBI director, said interrogation techniques such as waterboarding used during his time in President George W. Bush's administration constitute torture and are illegal. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FBI Director James Comey, right, talks to Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, left, during a meeting in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Photo: Rodrigo Garcia/NurPhoto (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
FBI Director James B. Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20: Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey speaks during a press conference at the conclusion of a visit to the Denver FBI Field Office on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Director Comey's visit to the Denver FBI Field Office is part of his plan to visit all FBI Field Offices in his first year as director. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
The shadow of FBI Director James Comey is seen as he addresses the audience during the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) annual meeting at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey adjusts his tie before testifying to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the "Oversight of the State Department" in Washington U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: FBI Director James Comey arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a classified briefing on Russia for all members of the House of Representatives January 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The internal Office of the Inspector General at the Justice Department announced yesterday that it is conducting a review on the handling of FBI and DOJ's investigation into the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server case. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey testifies to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 10: FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L-R) arrive to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The intelligence heads testified to the committee about cyber threats to the United States and fielded questions about effects of Russian government hacking on the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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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."