SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday he's waiting to learn more about President Donald Trump's claims the previous administration had his "wires tapped" during the campaign.
"We just don't know yet. But we will know," Stewart told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright, adding the committee is looking at more than just Trump's allegations that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower just before the election.
The Department of Justice had been expected to provide evidence to the committee about the unverified assertions made by the new president in a series of tweets March 4 that likened Obama to "Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"
But the Justice Department sought more time and was given until March 20, the date the committee will hold an open hearing on Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties with Trump associates.
Stewart said he hopes the committee will be able to share information with the public on not just the wiretapping findings but also issues he said are at least as important, including leaks "of very, very sensitive information."
The 2nd District congressman said he thinks Trump wasn't really talking about wiretapping in his tweets. He interpreted the tweets to refer to "just some type of listening, some type of other surveillance."
"I never believed that he actually meant wiretapping. It's not like someone snuck into Trump Tower and hid a microphone in his landline," Stewart said, noting no one really uses a landline anymore.
Stewart reminded the radio host that he had said after a visit to Moscow last August that he expected Russia to attempt to undermine the November election through both active measures and propaganda.
That included hacking into the Democratic National Committee, an act the U.S. government concluded was directed by the Russian government in an effort to affect the outcome of the election.
Today, Stewart said, the Russians "have to be smiling from ear to ear to see how this developed," not because of their skills but the way this has "played out, beyond anything they could imagine."
There has been "really no evidence," Stewart said, of any collaboration or inappropriate communications between Trump associates and Russian officials despite some things taking "on the weight of truth when we just don't know yet."
A number of Trump associates have been implicated, including his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who resigned after not disclosing Russian contacts.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself earlier this month from investigations into the Russian influence on the election after reports surfaced he had met with the Russian ambassador after telling Congress he had no such contacts.
Stewart said trying to find answers hasn't been easy, even for a committee that has clearance to review classified information.
"Frankly, those of us on the committee have become very frustrated," Stewart said, after being denied access to information that's part of an active investigation underway by the FBI.
"You'd just bang your head against the wall" if details of what has been asked for and denied over the past six months or so could be made public, the congressman said.
He said the committee is pushing to get information declassified, and has asked the Trump administration to do the same.
"If there's nothing there, then we deserve to tell them that," Stewart said. "And if there is something there, they deserve to know that as well."