SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart pressed the heads of the FBI and National Security Agency about leaks of classified government information during a House committee hearing Monday.
The Utah Republican criticized government officials of "hiding behind" newspaper reporters to get out information, including allegedly wrong information. He described the people who leak classified data as "arrogant" and "cowards" because they won't stand up to the make their case.
"I hope you find those guys and I hope you crack them on the head," Stewart said.
FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers testified before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., on Monday about Russian influence in the presidential election, the Trump campaign's claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower and leaks of classified information.
President Donald Trump likened Obama to "Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!" in a series of Twitter posts earlier this year.
"We don't have any information that supports those tweets," Comey testified.
Comey confirmed to the committee that the FBI is investigating Russia's meddling in the election, including possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
He described it as a "counterintelligence investigation," but he said it would "also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed." He noted the FBI usually does not comment on active investigations but said he was authorized to do so in this case because of the extraordinary public interest.
Comey testified that U.S. intelligence agencies are agreed that Russia's aim evolved into an effort during the election to aid Trump over Clinton.
"They wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her, help him," Comey said.
Stewart made statements more than asked questions during the few minutes he was allotted during the more than five-hour hearing.
He said many of Democratic committee members' questions had a political motive. He complained that the intelligence community has suggested that Trump may have been elected because of Russia's influence.
"We in the committee have seen no evidence, zero, that would indicate that there was collusion or any criminal wrongdoing between any members of the previous campaign and Russian officials," Stewart said.
Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., took exception to Stewart saying the Democrats have political motivations. He said nothing that comes from the hearing would change who occupies the White House.
"This is about patriotism, about something way more important than party. This is about country," he said.
He said the committee heard "damning" evidence about what Russia did and how Russia did it, and that it was in part an "inside job" to help attack American democracy.
"We’ve heard nothing but terribly disturbing evidence of what has happened to our country at the hands of arguably our greatest adversary," Heck said.
Stewart said it's difficult to determine Russia's motive for interfering in the election.
Comey pointed out that the FBI report did not make a judgment on whether Russia was successful in influencing the election.
According to Stewart, the intelligence community agreed with him that Russia wanted to disrupt the election but didn't favor one candidate or the other. That notion changed after Obama asked for an investigation in December, he said.
Comey testified that the Russians shifted their focus to undermining Clinton in the late summer after they decided there was no way Trump would win the presidency.
"If anyone were to tell me that they concluded Mr. Trump was going to win, I'd just say they're nuts because there was no one in the world who thought that, " Stewart said.
Comey replied that the Russians agreed.46 comments on this story
"How can you say for certainty the Russians were hurting the person they thought, in fact fully expected was going to be the next president of the United States, and comparing that with a Hail Mary pass, that you know what, maybe this guy's got a shot, let's try and help him get elected?" Stewart said.
Stewart said "you would have to crawl inside someone's head" or have direct information to know their motivations. He suggested the Russians were trying to undermine a Clinton presidency, not get Trump elected.