Now there is official confirmation from the heads of the FBI and the National Security Agency that an investigation has been underway since July into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, the continuing work of a hostile nation’s decades-long undertaking to destabilize our government and other western democracies.
And that investigation includes a counterintelligence probe of whether there was coordination between the Russian intelligence services and those working on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his transition team.
While the news media has reported on the Russian hacking and campaign investigations, Monday’s sworn testimony of FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers before the House Intelligence Committee was extraordinary. One reason was the need to disclose the investigation in the public interest.
“This is one of those circumstances” when it is warranted, Comey said — although he refused to disclose details or whether specific individuals were involved.
There were no revelations Monday that the FBI had evidence of collusion between Trump campaign advisers and the Russians. And while the Russians were poking around voter registration databases, the intelligence officials said there is no evidence that Russian meddling manipulated the vote tally or changed the outcome of the election.
Even more extraordinary than the disclosures, however, was the public repudiation of Trump’s allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. “I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said. And Rogers dismissed White House suggestions that British intelligence was responsible for the surveillance. The president can’t get away with this distraction any longer.
The testimony was devastating, but then the proceedings got surreal. As the five-hour hearing progressed, Trump or a surrogate tweeted mistruths and misrepresentations of the two officials’ words. The @POTUS account used video of a partial Comey answer to tweet, “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.” Earlier, @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “. . . there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it.” Trump ruling out only himself from collusion may be telling.
During the hearing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to distance the White House from anyone likely to be under investigation. Spicer called fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn a “volunteer.” No, he was a major foreign policy adviser. Spicer said Paul Manafort, who was the campaign manager for months and worked on the transition, had only a “limited role in the campaign.” Actually, he called the shots through the GOP convention, leaving only when questions surfaced about his business ties with Russia-aligned leaders in Ukraine.
The hearing began with Republicans trying to shift the attention to media leaks, but it ended on a very different tone. Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) pleaded with Comey to complete the investigation quickly. “There is a big gray cloud that you have now put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country,” he said. That there is. — The editorial board