By Morgan Chalfant - 03-21-17 06:00 AM EDT
FBI Director James Comey is once again shaking Washington to its core.
Comey, a pivotal character in the 2016 election who many Democrats say cost their party the White House, confirmed Monday that the FBI is investigating possible links between Russia and President Trump's campaign.
"I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they lead," Comey vowed in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, which is also looking into Russia's meddling in the presidential election.
The announcement ensures that Comey and the FBI will hover over the administration for as long the investigation takes, frustrating Republicans who would like to move on from the controversies surrounding Trump and Moscow.
Comey, a thorn in the side of Hillary Clinton's campaign throughout the 2016 race, is now becoming an irritant to the Republican president, who many Democrats say would never have reached the White House without the FBI's actions.
The FBI director gave few details about the Russia probe, leaving it unclear just who is under investigation. Just as unclear is how long the investigation will take.
What is certain is that the probe is unwelcome news for the White House and the GOP.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who served on Trump's transition team, described it as "a big gray cloud" over the Trump White House.
After the hearing, he expressed frustration with Comey, who dodged questions about whom exactly the investigation might cover.
"I think this is very problematic moving forward - that you can't even say whether or not people in the White House or the administration are under some kind of investigation. I think that's very problematic," Nunes said.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) appeared to argue that Comey was hurting the political system with his decision.
He said the Russian government wanted to "put a cloud over our system" with its actions during the presidential campaign.
"Mr. Comey, your announcement today - there is now a cloud that undermines our system," Turner said.
Monday's dramatic developments are nothing new for Comey, who seems to thrive on drama.
While serving as deputy attorney general under former President George W. Bush, Comey once visited then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bed to counsel him against signing papers reauthorizing a domestic surveillance program the Justice Department had determined was illegal.
The Ashcroft episode helped foster a narrative about Comey, who was said to be a public servant determinedly guarding the Department of Justice's reputation.
But as Comey's investigation of Clinton played out in the 2016 race, Democrats saw something different: a lifetime Republican unnecessarily meddling in an election.
In July, Comey announced the FBI would recommend no charges against Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of State.
Comey also did damage to Clinton, however, by blasting the Democrat for being "extremely careless."
It was to get worse for Clinton.
Just over a week before Election Day, Comey announced the FBI was looking into new emails in connection with its investigation of the private server.
Comey eventually announced just days before Election Day that the FBI had found nothing to change its earlier determination. But that was little solace to the Clinton campaign, which believes Comey's decision cost Clinton the White House.
The Clinton campaign in a call to donors two days after Election Day argued that Comey's letter announcing the continued investigation pushed voters in swing states away from Clinton.
Clinton officials were also angry that Comey and the FBI did not investigate Russia's meddling in the presidential election to the degree to which they looked into whether Clinton transferred classified information through her private server.
"Comparing the FBI's massive response to the overblown email scandal with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI," Clinton campaign chief John Podesta wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
Comey has irritated members of both parties at different times over the last year.
Republicans howled when he did not recommend charges against Clinton, though Trump supporters cheered when he announced the FBI was looking into the new emails in November.
Comey's latest revelation again puts him at odds with the GOP. It could separately inflame Trump's feud with the intelligence community given leaked reports about contacts between his aides and Russian officials, which prompted the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn last month.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said there was no proof of collusion, citing previous statements by former acting CIA chief Michael Morrell and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under the Obama administration.
"Investigating it and having proof are two different things," Spicer said. "There's a point at which you continue to search for something that everybody who's been briefed hasn't seen or found."
There were questions after Trump's election about whether he would keep Comey as FBI director.
He decided to do so, and even embraced Comey at a Jan. 22 White House event during which he praised the FBI director.
Spicer said Monday that there is no reason to believe Trump doesn't have complete confidence in Comey - for now.