U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on Feb 24, 2017. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
WASHINGTON, March 21 (Xinhua) -- No smoking gun was unearthed at Monday's U.S. Congressional hearing on alleged Russian meddling in 2016 U.S. presidential race, but the probe is likely to continue, experts said.
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey acknowledged the existence of the investigation of suspected Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election with hacking to help then Republican candidate Donald Trump win the White House. Moscow has strongly denied the accusation.
Weeks before the Nov. 8 presidential election, WikiLeaks released a treasure trove of hacked emails from then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign.
They included damning statements made by top campaign officials against Catholics, as well as other materials that were embarrassing to the Clinton campaign.
Controversy over the issue has been building, and Monday's hearing was the first of likely many more to come, experts said.
There was no definitive smoking gun at the hearing, but lots of circumstantial evidence regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies of the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.
"The FBI director confirmed a formal investigation so this is potentially ominous for the White House. We won't know for sure what the fallout will be until the investigation is concluded and we see if there are any indictments," he said.
If the FBI indicts Trump campaign staff, it would keep this issue on the public agenda for the next year or more, and it would distract the White House from its policy agenda and make it more difficult to pass controversial legislation, West said.
The longer-term ramifications could be negative for the administration, he added.
Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of Congress and the Presidency, told Xinhua there was no smoking gun at the hearing, but the lack of comment on certain lines of questioning by Comey speaks volumes about the wide scope of the ongoing investigation into Russia's alleged interference.
The hearing, and the fact that Comey went so far as to acknowledge that there is an investigation, demonstrates the seriousness with which both the FBI and the Congressional Intelligence Committee take the issue of the alleged Russian interference, Mahaffee said.
As much of the scope remains classified to protect sources and methods, as well as to protect any evidence that may be applied to any potential criminal charges, there was little that could be said beyond the acknowledgement of the investigation, Mahaffee said.
This investigation will be of interest to those who worry about the impact of alleged Russian interference, and those concerned about leaks of classified information coming from within government, he added.