FBI chief James Comey announced Clinton emails probe before election but kept Trump-Russia investigation secret

The investigation into the President began months before the election, but hasn't been revealed until now

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The FBI may have lost Hillary Clinton the election with an announcement in the final days of campaigning – but failed to announce that it was looking into damning rumours about Donald Trump.

FBI director James Comey has revealed that the agency has been secretly looking into reports that Russia meddled in the results of the 2016 election to help Mr Trump win, and that there may be links between associates of the President and Russia. That investigation has been ongoing since July, long before election, he confirmed.

But immediately, many pointed out that the FBI chose to keep that investigation secret until many months after the election.

That was in direct contrast with the announcement just days before polls opened that the FBI had found more emails as part of a probe into Hillary Clinton's communications. That revelation shocked the US, and has been credited with helping Donald Trump win the election and become president.

It's not clear why the FBI chose to reveal the update on Hillary Clinton's investigation while keeping secret information that could have had a far more significant impact on Mr Tump's campaign. Both announcements were extraordinary and historic, something that Mr Comey acknowledged during the congressional hearing into Russian meddling and the potential connections between Moscow and Mr Trump's campaign.

The hearing, providing the most extensive public accounting of a matter that has dogged the Trump administration for its first two months, quickly broke along partisan lines. Democrats pressed for details on the status of the FBI's investigation, while Republicans repeatedly focused on news coverage and possible improper disclosures of classified information developed through surveillance. 

Under questioning from the committee's top Democrat, Adam Schiff, the FBI director also publicly contradicted a series of tweets from Trump that declared the Republican candidate's phones had been ordered tapped by President Barack Obama during the campaign. 

"I have no confirmation that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said. The same was true, he added, of the Justice Department. 

Mr Comey was the latest government official to reject Trump's claims, made without any evidence, that Obama had wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the campaign. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, also rejected it earlier in the hearing. 

Mr Comey was testifying along with National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, who also disputed allegations that surfaced last year that British intelligence services were involved in the wiretapping. 

Mr Trump took to Twitter before the hearing began, accusing Democrats of making up allegations about his campaign associates' contact with Russia during the election. He said Congress and the FBI should be going after media leaks and maybe even Hillary Clinton instead. 

"The real story that Congress, the FBI and others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!" Trump tweeted early Monday as news coverage on the Russia allegations dominated the morning's cable news. 

Trump also suggested, without evidence, that Clinton's campaign was in contact with Russia and had possibly thwarted a federal investigation. U.S. intelligence officials have not publicly raised the possibility of contacts between the Clintons and Moscow. Officials investigating the matter have said they believe Moscow had hacked into Democrats' computers in a bid to help Trump's election bid. 

Monday's hearing, one of several by congressional panels probing allegations of Russian meddling, could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations that have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months. 

The top two lawmakers on the committee said Sunday that documents the Justice Department and FBI delivered late last week offered no evidence that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, the president's New York City headquarters. 

Comey confirms FBI is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election

But the panel's ranking Democrat said the material offered circumstantial evidence that American citizens colluded with Russians in Moscow's efforts to interfere in the presidential election. 

"There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception," Schiff said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''There's certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation." 

Nunes said: "For the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses." 

"We know that the Russians were trying to get involved in our campaign, like they have for many decades. They're also trying to get involved in campaigns around the globe and over in Europe," he said on "Fox News Sunday." 

The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a similar hearing for later in the month. 

Though Comey would not discuss specific evidence, he went far beyond his testimony from a hearing in January, when he refused to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation exploring possible connections between Trump associates and Russia, consistent with the FBI's longstanding policy of not publicly discussing its work. 

His appearances on Capitol Hill since then have occurred in classified settings, often with small groups of lawmakers, and he has made no public statements connected to the Trump campaign or Russia. 

Any lack of detail from Comey on Monday would likely be contrasted with public comments he made last year when closing out an investigation into Clinton's email practices and then, shortly before Election Day, announcing that the probe would be revived following the discovery of additional emails.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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