Monday’s extraordinary House Intelligence Committee hearing confirmed for Americans something that’s real and something that’s not. The difference between the two is a distinction President Donald Trump seems incapable or unwilling to understand, but the rest of us should.
First, what’s real: FBI director James Comey confirmed that his agency is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether associates of Trump were in contact with the Russian government.
Importantly, that investigation includes whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. More importantly, that investigation has yet to conclude there was any connection. But the fact that there’s evidence to suggest possible collusion between the president’s campaign and a foreign enemy reinforces the need for a special prosecutor to oversee such an investigation.
That need was abundantly clear at Monday’s hearing as both Democrats and Republicans used Comey’s appearance for political purposes. The stagecraft included ranking Democratic committee member Adam Schiff wondering aloud about all the “coincidences” involving Trump associates and Russia, as well as Republicans frequently attempting to shift the focus away from Trump and Russia to leaks about Trump to the press.
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(One question, perhaps political, that was left unasked Monday: Why did Comey refrain from announcing this investigation during the election? He wasn’t nearly as reticent about publicizing that the FBI was revisiting Hillary Clinton’s emails just weeks before Nov. 8.)
The other big news from Monday’s hearing involved what wasn’t real. Comey also told the House committee that the FBI had “no information” to support Trump’s allegations that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower.
That adds to the list of officials and agencies denying this falsehood – a list that includes the Department of Justice, Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, and the British government.
That last denial was necessary because Trump press secretary Sean Spicer speculated last week that British intelligence might have wiretapped Trump at Obama’s request. The notion was ridiculous, and British officials were livid at the suggestion.
That’s the thing about falsehoods. Once you let one loose, you sometimes get in more trouble chasing it around. It’s a lesson Trump didn’t have to learn on the campaign trail, but being president means your words have more weight.
It should go without saying that Trump needs to apologize to Obama for wrongly accusing him of a felony. He also should apologize to the U.S. intelligence community for suggesting that it participated in the crime, and to British officials for somehow turning this into a global mess.
Sadly, it also goes without saying that Trump’s ego won’t allow him to make any of those apologies. Instead, Spicer refused Monday to back down from the wiretapping allegations, and Trump was defiant as always.
His FBI director, however, served the American people by clarifying which allegations were real enough to investigate further, and which weren’t. The Russia allegations might or might not eventually diminish Trump, the office he occupies, and our credibility on the global stage. The wiretapping allegations already have.