The FBI Is On The Case — And Other Takeaways From The House Intel Hearing

The FBI Is On The Case — And Other Takeaways From The House Intel Hearing
  1. The FBI Is On The Case — And Other Takeaways From The House Intel Hearing
    At an hourslong public hearing on Monday , FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his agency is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and pushed back against President Trump's allegations that he was wiretapped by former President Obama. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also heard from Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers about Russia's general attempts to influence the U.S. presidential election and the…

At an hourslong public hearing on Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his agency is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and pushed back against President Trump's allegations that he was wiretapped by former President Obama.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also heard from Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers about Russia's general attempts to influence the U.S. presidential election and the controversial, possibly illegal leak of classified information to the press.

The congressional intelligence committees rarely hold public hearings — their work is often done behind closed doors. And you can see why, as Comey and Rogers responded to question after question by saying they weren't able to comment in an unclassified setting. They frequently limited themselves to confirming the contents of a report issued in January, which said the Kremlin actively attempted to help Trump during the presidential campaign.

But despite the difficulty of discussing classified data in an open hearing, there were a number of revelations. Here are a few highlights:

Yes, Virginia, there is an FBI investigation.

Until Monday, the FBI had not publicly confirmed if it was investigating allegations that officials from the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin as Russia was waging an influence campaign to try to shape the U.S. election.

At the hearing, Comey said:

"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."

No Evidence Of Trump's Wiretapping Allegations — And Not For Lack Of Looking

Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that "Obama had my 'wires tapped.' " His administration has stood by the explosive, unfounded allegation even as lawmaker after lawmaker has stepped forward to say there is absolutely no evidence to support it.

The White House tried to expand the definition of "wiretapping" to include all forms of surveillance, but there has been no evidence to support even the broader claim.

Comey said, "I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI" and the broader Justice Department. No president has the authority to unilaterally order a wiretap anyway, he said.

Over the past few weeks the White House shifted to claiming that a British intelligence agency was surveilling Trump Tower on Obama's orders — another claim devoid of evidence that has also been strongly rebutted at the highest levels.

Rogers was asked if he had ordered such surveillance. 'No, sir, nor would I," Rogers said, noting that would violate a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement.

Misleading Presidential Tweets Continue, Even Mid-Hearing

Several past tweets, like the ones mentioned above, were occasionally introduced into the hearing for discussion — but a very recent tweet was also raised as an issue.

Jim Himes, D-Conn., read aloud an @POTUS tweet from mid-hearing, about the hearing, claiming that Comey and Rogers had testified that "Russia did not influence [the] electoral process."

In fact, the two men had testified that there was no evidence Russia directly changed votes, like by hacking voting machines. But as they later noted, they didn't comment on the question of overall influence — their agencies have not evaluated whether or not Russia had successfully affected the election.

"It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today," Comey said, when asked to essentially live fact-check the presidential Twitter account. "We don't have any information on that subject."

Another tweet from the presidential Twitter account noted Comey was "refusing to deny" a briefing to Obama. That, too, was misleading; Comey repeatedly told the lawmakers not to read too much into his inability to comment on a question, because there were so many constraints on what he was allowed to discuss.

Lawmakers Divided On Prioritizing Russian Activity Or U.S. Leaks

We should note, as a caveat, that lawmakers from either side of the aisle said it was important both to investigate Russia's activities and to protect classified data.

But there was an obvious difference in how the committee's Democratic and Republican lawmakers approached the questioning.

The Democrats, for the most part, emphasized the possibility of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. They acknowledged a lack of hard evidence, but said that is a reason for more investigation, not less.

Ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., exemplified this approach in his lengthy opening remarks. He included a timeline of interactions between the campaign and Russia and questioned whether changes to the GOP platform, among other things, were "coincidences" or signs of collusion. If the latter, Schiff said, that would be a "shocking betrayal of democracy."

(Trump has long denied such allegations. On Monday Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager who was among the people named by Schiff and other Democrats as having suspicious ties to Russia, issued a statement saying there is "constant scrutiny and innuendo" around his connectio…

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