(ANTIMEDIA) Even in Washington D.C. politics, FBI Director James Comey is a confusing figure. With only ten days left before the 2016 election, Comey revealed the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. That announcement played extremely well for Donald Trump and resulted in a backlash from Democratic lawmakers Dianne Feinstein of California and Tom Carper of Delaware, who authored a letter demanding a briefing on the investigation.
Then, earlier this month, the New York Times revealed that Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject President Trump’s claims that Trump Tower was wiretapped by the Obama administration. Comey’s request came in response to two early morning tweets sent out by President Trump on March 4th.
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee unloaded a barrage of questions upon Comey, and while he refused to comment on several of their inquiries, he did reveal two ground-shaking facts from inside the intelligence community. While both of his revelations were damaging to the Trump White House, specifically their desire for credibility and to put the Russia investigation behind them, he also failed to provide Democrats the nail-in-the-coffin moment they were hoping for.
Firstly, Comey admitted for the first time on public record that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. Devin Nunes of California, a longtime Trump ally and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, sought to combat any sense of collusion between the Trump administration and Moscow. “Do you have any evidence that Russia cyber actors changed vote tallies in the state of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio?” he asked National Security Administration director Mike Rogers. In each case, Rogers responded negatively but did stress that the NSA “is a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization, so it would be fair to say that we are probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer.”
President Trump tweeted out the exchange with the caption “the NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.” In what was indubitably a first, Democratic lawmaker Jim Himes of Connecticut fact-checked the president’s Twitter account during the congressional hearing, asking, “That’s not quite accurate, that tweet?”
“It’s hard for me to react to that, let me just tell you what we’ve said is. We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, [and] have no information on potential impact because it’s never something we’ve looked at.”
Trump’s own inner circle is not helping his case. Confidant Roger Stone has been a spur in the heel of the administration’s efforts to rid themselves of the Russian controversy. Stone has boasted about a relationship with Wikileaks insiders, including Julian Assange. Though Assange has denied that Russian state actors were behind the DNC leaks, 17 American intelligence agencies concluded the Kremlin was involved — conclusions that apparently remain questionable. And Monday’s hearing didn’t give Democrats’ hopes of exposing collusion the extra boost they needed.
Nevertheless, in his opening statement, Comey said the ongoing FBI investigation “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.”
In a surprising moment, Comey also said the Russians “wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her, help him.” Even so, reports seem to indicate that President Trump intends to keep James Comey on in his role as FBI Director. While the commander-in-chief has a bittersweet relationship with the intelligence community, it would be extremely unusual for him to remove Comey.
In a second bombshell, Comey stated that the FBI has no information leading them to conclude former President Barack Obama “wiretapped” the Trump campaign. President Trump has refused to back off those claims. On Friday, in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump joked that “as far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common.” He defended his statements, saying the allegations of wiretapping were “made by a very talented lawyer on Fox.”
The White House seems to have been backed into a corner with the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings. These are likely to last for a few days, though they certainly haven’t been nailed to the wall. Unfortunately for Democrats, who had previously smelled blood in the water, they received no confirmation of their consistent allegations. Trump’s claims weren’t vindicated, either.
In D.C., even Democratic sympathizers are beginning to characterize the Trump administration’s’ relationship with Russia as a room full of smoke. And to the chagrin of Democrats, Comey’s statement that Trump’s wiretapping tweet was unfounded didn’t seem to rattle Trump allies.
The partisan stalemate continues.