In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee today, Monday, 20 Mar 2017, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his agency is in fact investigating whether the Russian government attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election, and who if anyone colluded with them in their actions. As well, he spoke at some brief length on the process involved in ordering wiretaps, stating that President Obama could not have tapped the phone lines at Trump Tower during the election.
Before I go on, let me just say that his testimony is still underway, as is that of NSA Director Mike Rogers, and that the House investigation into this subject is ongoing and will certainly continue well past today’s press-rich staged event before the cameras.
Director Comey is a professional, and he is very good at his job. That job, to be specific to this instance, involves keeping the representatives of the public (in this case the House Committee) informed on those subjects they wish to learn about while carefully not revealing the details of any case the FBI may be building against someone, and while not through action or omission defaming a person who may be innocent. As such, when listening to his testimony, it’s more important to take note of what he doesn’t say than to what he does.
One thing he did say was that the Justice Department has authorized him to discuss the election investigation, though not in great detail. What he did not say was who is suspected of what, whether the Russian government, business interests, or individuals hoping to get rich by selling information. He did say — again, and with rather more certainty than last time — that no vote totals were directly changed in any of the borderline states through hacking. He did not say who did hack and what they got.
Additionally, as I said, Director Comey expressly stated that Trump Tower was not wiretapped by order of President Obama during the 2016 election campaign. He further said that he has no evidence to substantiate the wiretapping claim made by President Trump earlier this month. What he did not say was anything about whether conversations might have been monitored through other means than wiretaps, or whether recordings of some calls might not have been made from the other end. This last is important specifically because we know that the NSA routinely monitors the communications of foreign diplomats in the United States as a precaution against espionage, and it’s germane because at issue is conversations that may have taken place between Trump campaign and transition workers and the office of the Russian Ambassador.
It is also worth mentioning that the most common motivation for a foreign government to interfere in a nation’s election process is to reduce the confidence of that country’s citizens in that process. This is, after all, the very reason the United States routinely interferes in Russian, Middle Eastern, African, and South and Central American elections. Of course, we tend to call it “spreading democracy”, but much of the rest of the world views it otherwise. (I’ve written about this at greater length elsewhere.)
As a final observation, I’d like to point out something Mr. Comey did actually say. When explaining the difference between today’s testimony and earlier public statements about candidates for elections, he told us that the reason the FBI had more latitude to talk back then was that those were completed investigations. This does imply rather strongly that the FBI has not ruled out much of anything with regard to the consequences of the ongoing Russia inquiry.
Again, remember that these hearings are still underway. I’ll do my best to keep you informed as we learn more. For now, though, it’s important to note that nothing whatsoever has been concluded by the House or the Committee; any statements will be opinions, and preliminary. For more up-to-date information, I’d suggest checking out the feed at APNews.com later today.
UPDATE: President Trump has clarified that he got his information from watching the news. Fox News has benched commentator Napoleatano, the probable origin of this report, and has publicly stated they have no evidence to support his comments on the subject.