Comey reveals Trump-Russia probe
President Trump’s ties to Moscow were thrust back into the spotlight this week after FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the agency is investigating whether members of the president’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey said it was unusual for the FBI to disclose an investigation’s existence, “but in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, recounted reports of the Trump team’s connections to Russia, noting that the president’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had worked for pro-Russian figures in Ukraine and that adviser Roger Stone had communicated with Guccifer 2.0—the Twitter account believed to be a front for the Russian group that hacked top Democrats’ email accounts. Schiff said that if Trump associates did collaborate with Russia, it would be “one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.” Comey declined to reveal details of the ongoing investigation.
In another blow to the administration, Comey said he’d found no evidence to support the president’s tweeted allegations that former President Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower during the election. But after the hearing, committee chairman Devin Nunes (RCalif.) claimed he’d seen intelligence reports that agencies may have “incidentally” intercepted communications by Trump or members of his transition team during surveillance of foreign nationals. The president said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ revelation.
What the editorials said
Trump is eroding public trust with a seemingly endless stream of exaggerations and falsehoods, said The Wall Street Journal. “A parade of intelligence officials, senior Republicans, and Democrats” have refuted Trump’s wiretap claims, yet he clings to them “like a drunk to an empty gin bottle.” Two months into Trump’s presidency, Gallup has his approval rating at 39 percent. No doubt he “considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he’s a fake president.”
Comey’s acknowledgment that the FBI is investigating Trump’s campaign “is a breathtaking admission,” said The New YorkTimes. Now the top priority must be to shield the agency’s inquiry “from meddling by the Trump administration, which has shown a proclivity to lie, mislead, and obfuscate with startling audacity.” An independent prosecutor must be appointed and a bipartisan select committee tasked with finding ways to protect our democratic institutions from foreign interference.
What the columnists said
Democrats have found their Joe McCarthy, said Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal. Schiff is everywhere touting “circumstantial evidence of collusion,” because Democrats believe a Trump-Putin link is “their ace in the hole” that will destroy the president. But “even if Trump associates colluded with Russia,” there’s no evidence they affected the election’s outcome, said David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com. The idea that “the proletariat in Pennsylvania” cast their votes for Trump after reading the hacked emails of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta “is a fantasy”—and a sad attempt to cover up Hillary Clinton’s many failures.
Democrats reasonably ask why Comey waited until now to disclose an investigation that began last July, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. After all, he seemed eager to discuss the FBI probe of Clinton’s private email server at the height of the presidential campaign. But if Comey made a “historic error” in October when he announced the reopening of the Clinton email inquiry, a “fall announcement of the Russia investigation would’ve been just as bad.” FBI directors should reveal investigations when they’ve had time to develop, or when Congress demands it. “None of these conditions existed when Comey threw Clinton under this bus.”
In an era of hyper-partisanship, “our political system isn’t prepared for this kind of thing,” said Zack Beauchamp in Vox.com. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) spent substantial time in the hearing insinuating that Obama officials illegally leaked classified intelligence about contacts between Russia’s ambassador and Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, “to gin up controversy about Trump.” Republicans don’t seem to realize that this hearing was convened to discuss possible collusion between Trump’s team and a hostile foreign power. “Partisanship may well be destroying our ability to get the bottom of an issue of vital national concern.”