It is hard to exaggerate how damaging Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing has been to President Donald Trump, on three critically important points:
1.) James Comey, the head of the FBI, publicly confirmed that since July, his agency has been actively investigating not just the successful effort by Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election on Trump’s behalf, but beyond that to possible coordination between Trump associates and the Russian government.
That second investigation into possible collusion by the Trump campaign or associates continues, Comey said, while refusing to go into details.
2.) Comey also stated emphatically that his agency had no evidence to support bizarre claims by Trump that he and his campaign had been wiretapped under orders from President Obama. The FBI director further stated that the Justice Department as a whole also has no evidence whatsoever that might support that groundless claim.
To refresh your memory about the source of those claims:
Sitting at Comey’s side, Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, confirmed in public session that it too has zero evidence to support Trump’s claim.
“My view is the same as Director Comey,” Rogers said. “I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity or that anyone ever asked us to engage in any such activity.”
3.) Under questioning, Rogers further agreed that it had been “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous” for Trump spokesman Sean Spicer and Trump himself to suggest that the NSA, unable to spy legally on Trump, had instead recruited its British counterparts to do so. That would breach multiple laws and treaties in both countries, Rogers pointed out.
Rogers further confirmed that Trump’s false suggestion — repeated in a high-profile press conference last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel — had angered his British intelligence counterparts and possibly damaged the relations between the NSA and the British.
I think it’s important to note how sleazily and irresponsibly Trump had offered that suggestion, even after it had been exposed as false. Here’s the video:
“We said nothing,” Trump claims. “All we did was quote a very talented legal mind, who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it. It was a statement by a very talented lawyer, on Fox, and you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”¹
It’s classic Trump misdirection, his way of saying something that is completely irresponsible and nutty while slyly dumping the responsibility elsewhere. You know, like this:
“(Ted) Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being — you know, shot… That was reported (by the National Enquirer) and nobody talks about it.”
“I will say there are people who continue to bring (the death of Vince Foster) up because they think it was absolutely a murder ….”
“You know, some people say that was not his birth certificate.”
Well, SOME people now say that the charges of possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia are substantive enough to launch an investigation that is now eight months old and continuing.
One of those people happens to be director of the FBI.
UPDATE at 3:45 p.m.: The House Intelligence Committee has now concluded its public hearing. My reactions?
The revelation from FBI Director James Comey that his agency is conducting a criminal, counterintelligence investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia came as a surprise to me. I have always thought it unlikely that such direct collusion had occurred, but apparently Comey has enough indication of a problem to justify an investigation that has now gone on for nine months now, with no end in sight.
I will still be surprised if actual criminal charges are filed in the case. But I found it very interesting that as the televised hearing went on, White House spokesman Sean Spicer went to the podium to desperately try to create space between the Trump campaign and certain figures from the Trump campaign. Spicer even described former campaign CEO Paul Manafort as someone who had “played a very limited role for a very limited time” in the campaign and close adviser Mike Flynn as a “volunteer.”
In other words, Manafort, Flynn, Roger Stone and others are now looking upward at the undercarriage of a bus.
In the wake of today’s testimony, it is also established fact now that Trump falsely accused President Obama of tapping his telephones and wiretapping his conversations, and that he has also falsely accused British intelligence of involvement. A decent, responsible person would apologize to Obama and Britain. Trump has proved himself to be neither.
Finally, this is a tweet from Trump’s official presidential account, rather than his personal account. It makes a claim — “the NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process” — that is simply untrue, as the video attached to the tweet makes clear.
This is one arm of the Trump administration putting verifiably false words into the mouths of the FBI director and NSA administrator, which would be extraordinary in any other administration.
¹Fox News has since said that it has no evidence whatsoever to back the charge by its commentator, Andrew Napolitano.