WASHINGTON -- The House intelligence panel's ranking member on Monday aired in public the most thorough recounting to date of the contacts between senior Donald Trump campaign advisers and Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, listed the contacts in an opening statement to an Intelligence Committee hearing that saw FBI Director James Comey confirm that the agency is investigating possible collusion between Trump's inner circle and Russia.
In a packed House of Representatives hearing room that had the buzz of a historic event, drawing interest in the United States and abroad, Schiff listed in a 15-minute opening statement a chronology of contacts undertaken by a handful of Trump formal or informal advisers with Russians.
Schiff asked whether the accumulation of contacts could be "nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible." It is also possible, he added, that they are "not disconnected and not unrelated. ... We simply don't know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out."
He cast the outcome of the investigation as a potential turning point in history, one in which the battle of the times is "not communism vs. capitalism, but authoritarianism vs. democracy and representative government."
He said the stakes were high for Trump barely two months into his presidency.
"If the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history," Schiff said.
Comey told the hearing that he'd been cleared by the Justice Department to announce that the FBI is looking at whether crimes were committed during the election campaign.
"That 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," Comey told the committee.
Schiff focused on several men who served in varying capacities in the Trump campaign, from informal confidants to key advisers and a political operative who was briefly chairman of the campaign. Six of the men had direct contact with Russians, he said. They were: