Comey's refusal to comment during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing drew a perplexed response from Sen. Angus King, who noted the "irony" of Comey's lack of comment given that he shook the 2016 campaign by telling Congress the FBI was reviewing emails thought to be related to Hillary Clinton's private server.
"You didn't say one way or another whether even there was an investigation underway?" King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, asked Comey.
Comey responded, "Correct. I don't, especially in a public forum, we never confirm or deny a pending investigation."
"The irony of your making that statement here I cannot avoid," King said.
After the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, tweeted: "Director Comey refused to answer my question about whether the FBI has investigated Trump campaign contacts with Russia."
Less than two weeks before Election Day, Comey notified Congress that the FBI was reviewing emails later revealed to be related to the bureau's investigation into Anthony Weiner's sexting. Then, two days before the election, he later told Congress the FBI had not found anything new to change its recommendation that Clinton not be charged in the matter.
Some members of the Clinton team, including
former President Bill Clinton, have since cited the FBI's last-minute bombshell as one of the reasons for their stunning electoral defeat.
The FBI has previously looked into alleged ties between Russia and Trump's campaign.
The FBI opened an investigation that involved former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his firm's ties to the ousted, pro-Russian president of Ukraine, CNN's Evan Perez reported in August.
, CNN reported the FBI had multiple investigations involving connections between Russia and Trump's orbit. At the time, the government had not announced criminal connections in any instance.
During his testimony at Tuesday's hearing, the FBI director did say he believed Russia had attempted to hack multiple Republican targets. The FBI joined a report from the intelligence community last week accusing the Russian government of being behind several hacks related to the election, including stealing Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails and providing them to WikiLeaks for public consumption. The report accused Russia doing this to hurt Clinton and help Trump.
Russia has denied involvement in the hacks and dismissed the public version of the report, as has WikiLeaks.