House Intelligence Committee members spent much of their five-hour-plus hearing Monday asking loaded questions that they knew neither FBI Director James Comey nor NSA Director Mike Rogers were at liberty to answer.
The main revelations popped out early in the grilling. As expected, neither agency found any sign that former President Barack Obama or anyone in his administration carried out the wiretaps of which President Donald Trump keeps speaking.
Comey also confirmed the FBI is investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia as part of a broad investigation into the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts.
Having already elicited the news of the day, Republicans and Democrats made their questions into debating points. Viewers tried to read hints and nuances into the deliberately vague answers.
Playing defense — with the president exposed as peddling a fable — GOP majority members raged that laws must have been broken when details of federal probes leaked out.
The Republicans fought to discredit the Democratic narrative that Vladimir Putin was the real victor in last year’s U.S. election.
For example, Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) asked if election systems had been hacked or altered in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina or Ohio (all states where Hillary Clinton foundered).
For dramatic effect, he asked about each state, one at a time.
The answers, of course, were all “no.”
Democrats asked questions clearly meant to expand on earlier official conclusions that Russian government officials attempted to influence last year’s American election.
They sought to highlight the possibility of Trump campaign collusion — and pounded away at earlier documented financial ties between Trump and Russian businesses.
Republican members hammered away at a Washington Post from story Jan. 9 that said then-national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador, despite denying it later.
Are these leaks being investigated? Who met with whom? What was discussed? Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.) talked about the abrogation of a “sacred trust.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) noted through his questions that Obama and five top aides had access to the information in question.
Both Republicans quizzed their witnesses in line with what Trump had been tweeting a few hours earlier. “The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information,” Trump tapped.
But Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) addressed one of the most nagging issues by asking: “Why is Trump acting the way he is? Do the Russians have anything on him?
“Here’s a guy who will attack everybody, from the cast of ‘Hamilton’ to the intelligence community to Sen. [Chuck] Schumer.
“But in the face of unbelievable violence or bad behavior, he puts this halo around Vladimir Putin.
All day the bottom line answers, time after time, from Comey and Rogers were that they can’t reveal specifics — who’s being investigated or for what or why or any time frames.
But that didn’t stand in the way of everyone making the point they wanted to make.