WASHINGTON – FBI Director James Comey says Russia is continuing to meddle in U.S. politics, and he has warned that Russia’s "intention and capability" make it a major international threat.
Comey made the statement on May 3 in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of a handful of congressional panels looking into Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
U.S. intelligence officials have accused Russian intelligence services of interfering in the 2016 campaign by leaking Democratic Party officials' e-mails, accessing computer servers, and other efforts.
The FBI in July began investigating possible coordination between Russian officials and members of President Donald Trump's campaign to sway the election.
Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has openly blamed Russia for her election loss, and Democratic senators grilled Comey about his agency's investigation during the election campaign.
Several also chastised Comey for his decision less than two weeks before the November 8 vote to reveal an ongoing probe of possibly mishandled classified information, found on a computer belonging to a Clinton aide’s now-estranged husband.
Many Democrats and Clinton's supporters say that revelation, plus Comey’s refusal to reveal the existence of an investigation into alleged Russian manipulations until after Trump took office, helped tilt the election in Trump’s favor.
Speaking to the Senate committee, Comey again defended his actions, saying that, if he hadn’t informed Congress of the investigation about Clinton's e-mails, he would have been concealing an important development.
"Concealment in my view would have been catastrophic," Mr. Comey said.
Comey was also asked directly by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham whether Russia was still trying to interfere in the U.S. electoral system.
"Is it fair to say that the Russian government is still involved in American politics?" he asked.
"Yes," Comey replied.
"So, what kind of threat do you believe Russia presents to our democratic process given what you know about Russia's behavior of late?" Graham responded.
"Well, certainly in my view, the greatest threat of any nation on earth given their intention and their capability," Comey said.
Comey gave no specifics as to how or why the FBI believes Russia is interfering in U.S. politics.
A report released in January by the U.S. intelligence community said hacked e-mails from Democratic Party officials were leaked to groups like Wikileaks, revealing embarrassing details about Clinton's campaign and undermining her efforts by manipulating the agenda of public debate and U.S. media.
Comey said there was no evidence that Russia agents or hackers manipulated vote tallies in the November 8 vote.
Clinton, who has been largely out of public view since her upset loss to Trump, told CNN on May 2 that she lays blame for her defeat, in part, on the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin "certainly interfered in our election," Clinton said. "And it's clear he interfered to hurt me and help my opponent."
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegations.
The issue of whether Russia interfered in the election campaign, and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials, has shadowed the new administration since before Trump took office in January.
Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to resign earlier this year after it was revealed he misled Trump's vice president about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States during the election campaign.
In a post to Twitter late on May 2, Trump again lashed out at Democrats on the issue.
"The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election," he said.