But in his opening testimony, FBI Director James Comey announced that a criminal investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign was indeed active and ongoing:
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
In an unusual declassified report released in January, the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency had announced that they had “high confidence” that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” and that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Comey’s statement was the first official confirmation that activities of people associated with the Trump campaign also were being investigated.
Moreover, Comey firmly rejected Trump’s tweeted claim on March 4 that former president Barack Obama had ordered wiretaps of him in the Trump Tower. “I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said. “The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.”
Comey made it clear that no president on his own could order a wiretap; such an action must be approved by a judge.
Meanwhile, NSA Director Michael S. Rogers dismissed the White House suggestion that Obama asked British intelligence to spy on Trump — a claim already angrily rejected by Britain. Rogers confirmed that such a request would be a violation of U.S. law and that such a claim by Trump “clearly frustrates a key ally of ours.”
The testimony overall was clearly damaging to the White House. But then the president’s other Twitter account tried to make lemonade out of lemons.
This was a strange claim, especially because if you watch the video, Rogers makes clear that, when asked about whether Russian cyber-actors changed vote tallies in Michigan and other states, he replied: “I would highlight we are a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization. So it would be fair to say, we are probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer.”
Indeed, when later asked about the presidential tweet, Comey said it did not reflect what he and Rogers had said: “It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today.”
Undeterred, the president’s Twitter account sent up another flare.
But this was also false. Comey was specifically talking about the Jan. 6 document issued by the intelligence agencies — a document that the Trump White House has largely ignored, except to suggest it was fake. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper later issued a statement saying it was “in the best interest of all Americans” to investigate possible Trump-Russia ties.
Comey was very careful not to discuss individuals, such as fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. He noted that the listeners were not to draw any unwarranted conclusions from his refusal to comment. But apparently his warning fell on deaf ears at the White House.
Congressman Makes Spot-On Observation About Donald Trump’s Twitter Attacks
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) made a spot-on observation about President Donald Trump’s frequent Twitter tirades: They can take aim at nearly everyone ― except Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, pleaded with FBI Director James Comey on Monday to take notice of Trump’s bizarre reluctance to criticize Russia’s authoritarian leader.
“There is intense public interest in the fact that our new president will attack anyone and everyone,” Himes said. “He will attack the cast of ‘Hamilton.’ He will attack Chuck Schumer. He will attack our allies, Mexico and Germany. He will attack the intelligence community, which you lead, associating you with McCarthyism and Nazism.
“But there’s one person and one country which is immune, which is inoculated from any form of presidential attack,” Himes continued. “No matter what the behavior, no matter if there’s a violation of the INF nuclear treaty, no matter if Vladimir Putin kills political opponents ― the new president defends, obfuscates, does not attack.”
Himes addressed Comey during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, where the FBI director confirmed the existence of an investigation into possible ties between Trump associates and Russian government officials. Comey said the bureau initiated the probe in July, but declined to speculate on how long it would take to complete.
“As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters,” Comey said. “But in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so. This is one of those circumstances.”
Himes pointed to “a series of odd connections” between Russia and Trump’s surrogates, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself earlier this month from any probe into the 2016 presidential campaign, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign as national security adviser in February after mischaracterizing conversations he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“Without exception, the individuals I quoted have dissembled or misled, maybe even lied about, the nature of those connections,” Himes said, “until the political pressure has gotten to a point where they have been fired, or recused in the case of the attorney general.”
Trump’s tweets were also the focus of another line of inquiry during Monday’s hearing, when Comey refuted allegations that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, a claim made by the president on Twitter earlier this month.
Trump's self-inflicted humiliation via Twitter
Let's all agree that no other person ever elected President would have hurled a charge that his predecessor wiretapped him. Especially not in a tweet that referred to a former President this way: "This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"
But as his supporters like to say, Donald Trump is no ordinary politician and, thus it was he who debased the presidency with wild accusations that Barack Obama organized a criminal conspiracy to wiretap him.
Inevitably, the most powerful man in the world found himself repudiated by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who told a committee of Congress and a world watching on TV that his agency had found no evidence to support Trump's charge. And, of course, Trump chose to ignore the obvious lesson in this self-inflicted humiliation and, instead, continued to indulge his inner troll.
Trump's new abuse of the presidency, and the American public, actually began hours before a House committee would question director Comey and other security leaders on the controversy. By 6:35 a.m. Monday, Trump was up and at it on Twitter, spraying distractions in short bursts.
"(Former director of national intelligence) James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!"
"The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!"
"What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians? Also, is it true that the DNC would not let the FBI in to look?"
The Russian attempt to meddle in the election and contacts between Russians and Trump associates were on the House committee's agenda. But much of the news the world awaited would come when witnesses were questioned on Trump's allegations about Obama.
Like everyone else who has paid attention to this controversy, an over-anxious Trump knew that Comey was going to shoot down his charges. His early morning tweets represented the ravings of a man who woke up with a bad feeling in his stomach about how the day would go.
Trump's pre-emptive tweets substituted media manipulation for sober leadership at a time of crisis. Only a truly inexperienced politician would fail to anticipate the damage this would do to himself, the presidency, his party, and the nation. Combine Trump's inexperience with a lifelong tendency to indulge in self-destructive behavior (see his many business bankruptcies) and you start to understand how the tweet storm began. Trump cannot resist attempting to shape reality through the media, and he has a level of self-confidence bordering on the delusional.
One can easily imagine the barrage continued as Trump hunkered before the TV like Nixon (minus the glass of whiskey) to watch the hearings and offer his instant responses. Surrounded by a staff mostly chosen for loyalty rather than competence, Trump commented with the skill of a practiced expert in the art of fake news, ignoring the big story -- Comey and the Justice Department debunked his charges against Obama -- and highlighting cherry-picked bits of testimony.
"NSA Director Rogers tells Congress unmasking individuals endangers national security," the @POTUS account tweeted. "FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia."
These two points and others offered by the President's staff were of the "dog-bites-man" variety. No controversy attends the issue of briefings given to Obama regarding Flynn, whose deceptions forced his resignation as national security advisor, and no responsible official advocates revealing the identities of people whose names are supposed to be held secret.
The real, not-fake news coming out of the hearing revolves around Comey's statement that "I have no information that supports those (Trump) tweets. We have looked carefully inside the FBI."
"The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components," Comey added, "the department has no information that supports those tweets."
In the face of Comey's testimony, Trump's reporting via Twitter is of the sort that would cause TV viewers to change the channel and newspaper readers to cancel their subscriptions. Trump's pre-hearing tweets about his election victory made him look defensive and weak. His responses during the event insulted the intelligence of the American public.
To use one of the President's favorite Twitter terms, it's "sad" to see that he still seems incapable of rising to the demands of the office he now holds. Tweets that accused his predecessor of serious crimes and function as propaganda, damage him and the nation in innumerable ways. They help explain the most recent Gallup poll, which found only 37% of Americans approve of how he's doing his job. No new President has gone so low, so fast, which is something we could say about the man himself.
Where is all of this heading? Trump and his allies got into this mess in large measure by talking out of turn. The President continued to do so by trolling Congress before and during the hearing. Given the power the legislative branch retains to investigate and compel officials to testify, this was probably a seriously bad idea.