During today’s public hearing, FBI director James Comey and NSA director Admiral Michael Rogers faced questions from the House Intelligence Committee on the topic of Russia. As Comey himself explained, the discussion that followed was a rare break from standard procedure:
“As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters.But in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so. This is one of those circumstances.”
All told, the hearing lasted close to five hours, so here’s a quick rundown of what happened:
What Questions Were Asked?
The type of questions the committee members asked were split neatly on party lines. Democrats focused on all things Russia, while Republicans instead concentrated on the leak of classified information to the media.
Citing a desire not to give weight to speculation, correct or otherwise, about the investigation, Comey refrained from answering many questions. Still, Comey cautioned committee members not to “draw any conclusions from the fact that [he] may not be able to comment on certain topics.”
What Did We Learn?
While Comey refused to answer most questions, he did make two very definitive announcements:
- Since July 2016, the FBI has been investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Russia government.
- Neither the FBI nor Department of Justice have any evidence to support Donald Trump’s assertion that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
In addition, Admiral Rogers rebuffed the White House’s claims that then-President Obama asked the British intelligence agency, GCHQ, to spy on Trump.
How Did the White House Respond?
Before Comey even had a chance to meet with the House Intelligence Committee, Donald Trump took to Twitter to deny any coordination with Russia and suggested that the FBI should be focused on finding the source of leaks instead.
And despite Comey’s warning not to draw conclusions based on his responses (or lack thereof), the official White House Twitter account did just that:
FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia. pic.twitter.com/cUZ5KgBSYP
— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
That tweet ignored the context of Comey’s comments, which were in line with his stated refusal to comment on an open investigation. In Trump fashion, both his personal Twitter account and the White House handle stood their ground, putting the administration at odds with the FBI, DOJ and NSA.
While it is possible that the FBI’s investigation will find nothing, the mere possibility that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia absolutely warrants investigation. At best, Trump’s connections with Russia are ill-advised but coincidental. At worst, members of Trump’s circle actively worked with a foreign adversary. The citizens of the United States have the right to know if members of their government are compromised and by whom. Until the investigation is complete, the White House has to contend with growing suspicion hovering over the administration’s every move.
Likewise, the leaking of classified information is a felony and should also be investigated. Leaks have been a thorn in the side of every administration and Trump’s is no different. These two issues were so significant that James Comey made the rare exception to speak publicly about them, so the public should take these stories seriously.
Unfortunately, until the investigation is complete, speculation will continue to overshadow facts. But only when we have answers can we be sure the government is beholden not to a foreign country but rather to those it should belong to: the people of the United States.