At 6:35 a.m. on Monday, a few hours before the House Intelligence Committee convened its first public hearing on Russian involvement in the U.S. election, President Donald J. Trump asserted once more that the issue was nothing more than an elaborate political distraction. “This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” he tweeted, adding, a short time later, “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” He went on, “The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!”
Less than forty minutes into the hearing, James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., provided the latest official confirmation that the “Russian story” is not “FAKE NEWS.” It is, rather, the most serious legal scandal to confront a sitting President in nearly two decades. In an extraordinary public statement, Comey disclosed not only that the bureau is investigating Russian meddling in the campaign but that it is also looking at what relationship the Trump campaign might have had to that meddling. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election,” Comey said. “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 coördination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” Comey, who had previously avoided confirming the existence of the investigation, acknowledged that it had become a matter of public interest to do so.
Things did not end there. A few minutes later, answering questions from the committee, Comey calmly delivered yet more damaging news for the White House. Asked if he could confirm Trump’s tweets on March 4th that Barack Obama took steps to “tapp my phones” during the election, Comey said, “I have no information that supports those tweets.” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, has tried to source his boss’s fiction to a Fox News pundit’s remark that Obama relied on British intelligence agencies to conduct the surveillance. Fox itself has renounced that claim, and British intelligence officials have called the assertion “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” On Monday, Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, who testified alongside Comey, was asked whether he agrees with the British view, and his answer was “Yes, sir.” (Asked on Monday afternoon whether Trump will apologize for his remark, Sean Spicer said no.)
Last year, Comey was lambasted by Democrats for releasing information during the campaign about his agency’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server—for him, Monday’s hearing solved some problems while probably creating new ones. It demonstrated his independence and credibility at a moment when many wondered if he would be free to operate under the pressures imposed by Trump. But, because he also disclosed that the investigation of the Trump campaign began in July, Democrats will now want to know more about why he decided to inform voters about developments in the Clinton probe while keeping the Trump matter a secret.
You can read the rest at the New Yorker.