Where the Russia investigations stand

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in the Moscows Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 9, 2017. PlayAlexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
WATCH Political firestorm continues to swirl around the Trump administration over Russia

Amid swirling questions about Russian tampering in the 2016 election -- and possible contacts between Trump campaign officials and Moscow -- several investigations are attempting to evaluate the claims.

Trump, who has conceded Russian operatives likely participated in the hacks of the DNC, has asserted that any whiff of collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives is "fake news."

"Look, how many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse," the president said at a press conference last month. "I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything."

But lawmakers on the Hill aren't simply taking the President at his word, in part because his administration has already seen some fallout from contacts with Russian officials.

For example, Trump's former National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, resigned after revelations that he lied to the Vice President about the nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also met the ambassador, was forced to recuse himself from any Russia-related probes because he had not disclosed those encounters. Questions have also been raised about what contacts Trump's son-in-law and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner might have had with a Russian bank during the Presidential transition.

The White House maintains nothing "nefarious" transpired between Russian officials and any Trump associates during the campaign or under his administration.

However, the FBI and three separate congressional committees are conducting wide-ranging investigations into both Russia's election hacking and any potential collusion with the Trump team.

Here's an updated look at what's happening with those investigations.

INTEL COMMITTEES

The Senate and House intelligence committees are each conducting their own broad investigations into Russia. One of their goals is to review what led to the Intelligence Community's assessments about Russia’s involvement in, and motives for, hacking U.S. election officials.

An intelligence report released in January said there was an elaborate campaign, involving covert and overt operations directed by Vladimir Putin, to influence the American election. It also concluded that Russians' efforts were motivated by a dislike for Hillary Clinton and later aimed at helping Donald Trump.

But in recent days, the House intelligence Committee, led by embattled chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has been in its own battle. Just over a week after holding a highly anticipated public hearing with FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director, Adm. Mike Rogers, all committee business for the week was postponed. The pause delayed key testimony scheduled for Tuesday from former heads of the CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Nunes told reporters he wanted to call back Comey and Rogers before that hearing could occur.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders, including the intelligence committee's ranking member, Adam Schiff, D-Calf., as well as some prominent Republicans, are calling on Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation, amid accusations he's become too close to the administration to oversee an impartial investigation.

Last week, Nunes told reporters he'd visited a classified briefing area in the White House to review documents from a secret source, which he suggested could prove the Obama administration improperly collected surveillance on Trump and his campaign. His unexpected revelation was followed by unsubstantiated tweets from President Trump that accused his predecessor of "wiretapping" Trump tower.

The day after he was briefed at the White House Chairman Nunes visited again to provide the President details on what he'd learned. A week later, he still hasn't been able to produce the documents through official intelligence channels, for other members of his committee to review.

He has remained defiant in the face of calls to recuse himself from the investigation.

The episode has become a distraction that threatens the integrity of the Russia investigation, increasing calls for an independent commission.

Democrats say they will place greater weight on the results of the investigations by the Senate, whose leaders seem ready to work together and held their first press conference about the investigation today.

Chairman Richard Burr, the senior Senator from North Carolina, called it "one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here."

The ranking Democrat, Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said he has "confidence" in the committee leader and that "the members of our committee are going to get to the bottom of this."

That committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing today with Russian experts.

OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE

By comparison, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah -- who runs the House Oversight Committee and investigated Democrat Hillary Clinton extensively during her campaign -- has said he wants to investigate potential leaks of classified information to reporters about Russia-Trump contacts, rather than the substance of those leaks themselves.

In a press conference in February, Trump said the news generated by the leaks was fabricated, but the leaks themselves were real.

"Well, the leaks are real. You are the one that wrote about them and reported them. The leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake," Trump Told ABC News' Jonathan Karl at a press conference last month.

Chaffetz hasn’t ruled out any further investigation of Trump or Russia's meddling, but so far he’s taken little investigative action in the matters. The committee has said, however, it would look specifically into Mike Flynn’s 2014 and 2015 speaking fees in Russia and whether they violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits enrichment of officials by foreign leaders.

FBI

Perhaps the most highly-anticipated and closely-held investigation is being conducted by the FBI.

In a rare admission, during House intelligence committee hearings last week, FBI Director James Comey acknowledged the ongoing FBI investigation into the Russian government's interference in the 2016 president election. Comey said the investigation "includes 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."

One key focus of the FBI probe has been Russian efforts to hack the Democratic National Committee and U.S. political institutions -– an element of the broader work led by the FBI’s Cyber Division.

Another part of the broader probe is looking at Russia's human intelligence efforts to collect information on U.S. policy and the campaigns, including potential contacts between Russian officials or suspected intelligence operatives and associates of Donald Trump.

This part of the probe is led by the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which has sifted through intercepted communications, business records, financial records and other relevant documents.

Sources say the probe uncovered multiple instances of contact between Russian operatives and Trump associates last year, but it’s unclear who was party to the communications or how closely the Trump associates are linked to the now-president.

On March 2, FBI Director James Comey privately briefed members of the House intelligence committee on the status of his investigation. The Democratic and Republican leaders of the committee disagreed on the degree to which Comey was forthcoming or helpful.

GRAHAM AND SENATE JUDICIARY SUBCOMMITTEE

In early February, Senators Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse, the chairman and top Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee, announced the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism would be investigating Russian efforts to influence democratic elections in the United States and abroad.

"Our goal is simple –- to the fullest extent possible, we want to shine a light on Russian activities to undermine democracy," the two said in a statement. "While some of our efforts will have to be held behind closed doors due to security concerns, we also hope to have an open discussion before the American people about Russia’s strategies to undermine democracy."

And on March 3, Sens. Graham and Whitehouse also met with Director Comey to discuss their Subcommittee’s investigation.

They said the purpose of the meeting was to make the Director aware of the subcommittee’s work and to ensure that its efforts do not interfere with the work of the FBI.