On March 20th, I wrote an article about Director Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. The headline was, “Comey Testifies, Says Nothing”. Today, he testified as a private citizen before the Senate, and the story is the same. Once again, James Comey said nothing, and he said it well.
As is expected (and, indeed, perfectly natural) from such a political animal, Comey spoke at great length about the nothing that he had to say. He began by telling us a lot of things that we knew already, including a refusal to repeat his formal statement (which you can read here). He refused to answer questions put to him on intelligence sources and active investigations. And he dropped quite a few hints here and there. But there were no stunning revelations; there was no smoking gun revealed.
Which is all entirely as it should be. If he’d said less, he would have been in contempt; had he said more, he would have been violating confidentiality and undercutting the FBI in active investigations.
With particular respect to the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Comey reiterated the following:
- Nobody had their votes directly altered by Russians.
- There was an email hack, and Comey thinks it was Russia.
- State voter files were hacked, and Comey thinks it was Russia.
- President Trump was not under investigation.
(I’d just like to mention that, aside from his conviction that Russia was responsible — a position recently denied by Putin in person — all this is exactly what I said in my own article on the topic written just after the elections. Go me!)
He also stated on several occasions that the major media frequently gets these things wrong, publishing stories that are completely off-base and misleading the public as a result. He also clarified that it’s perfectly natural for them to do that. Here’s some quotes from the official transcript:
Comey: Yes, there have been many, many stories based on — well, lots of stuff, but about Russia — that are dead wrong.
Cotton: On February 14th the New York Times published a story, the headline of which was “Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence.” You were asked if that as an inaccurate story. Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?
Risch: Okay. So again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?
Comey: In the main, it was not true. And again, all of you know this. Maybe the American people don’t. The challenge, and I’m not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is the people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on… We don’t call the press to say, hey, you [got] that thing wrong about that sensitive topic.
Again, none of this is surprising. We already knew the news gets it wrong all the time. Heck, even I have probably made a mistake or two, from time to time. It happens. And that’s entirely without considering editorial bias and deliberate influence from the owners and advertisers. (Which you don’t get here. I’m completely unbiased, dammit! …OK, well, maybe not, but at least I don’t give a crap about my advertisers.)
The only true revelations from the testimony were things that he didn’t say, that he either danced around or outright refused to answer. These are worth exploring:
- The Steele Dossier: During the campaign, some salacious material about Trump’s personal behavior was assembled and then leaked to the press. The purpose was to suggest that Trump had blackmail potential. Comey refused to comment on it but did state that Trump was not under investigation. This lends itself to the conclusion that it could not be discussed for fear of compromising intelligence sources, but not that the dossier itself was factual.
- Vnesheconombank (VEB): Comey could only say in public that he knew of its existence. Since this is a verified organ of the Russian state, it tells us that investigations are ongoing with respect to this entity. Since it’s used to fund all sorts of potentially questionable transactions, that’s not at all surprising; economic espionage is almost in their bylaws.
- General Flynn: Beyond stating that it’s not at all unusual for members of a Presidential transition team to meet with foreign ambassadors, Comey repeatedly refused to go into any detail on General Flynn’s activities or any investigation into them. While this confirms that he is indeed a person of interest in an investigation, it doesn’t tell us anything else — about Paul Manafort or Devin Nunes, for example. It does tell us that Trump probably had no direct ties to the Russian government at any point, and it implies that he knew of none that may have existed, but that’s purely informed speculation on Comey’s part.
About the only substantive item that I learned from the testimony, the statement, and what I know of the memos is that American intelligence very probably has been able to track financial transactions between the VEB and either (1) those responsible for the election-related “spear-phishing” hacks or, more likely, (2) those responsible for conveying that information to Wikileaks. Putin’s interview explains better than I could the far greater likelihood of the latter.
The Bottom Line:
“There are two things I know to be true. There’s no difference between good flan and bad flan, and there is no war in Albania.”
-CIA Agent Charlie Young, “Wag The Dog”
After listening to Comey’s testimony, there are a few things we know to be true that we only strongly suspected before today. First, President Trump probably acted inappropriately and certainly made Director Comey feel very uncomfortable. Second, former A.G. Loretta Lynch probably acted inappropriately and made Director Comey feel uncomfortable enough to take independent action. Third, it’s likely that none of this is at all actionable. And fourth, that if Russia did indeed interfere with the election, it’s because they wanted to reduce the confidence of American citizens in our electoral process.
I’ve mentioned that fourth one before, because it’s generally misunderstood and well worth exploring. As Senator Angus King put it (and Comey agreed), “I don’t think Putin is a Republican or a Democrat. He’s an opportunist.” Russia is our rival internationally, and as such it’s in their interest to weaken us. The nastiness during the last election cycle demonstrates that at least someone is very motivated to do so.
Bear in mind: Nobody actually hacked a voting machine. The only thing changed were some people’s hearts and minds, and that was done through the selective release of targeted truth surrounding some extremely well-crafted lies. It could be said that the only thing really hacked was the American news media.
We need to be on our guard this next time, folks. I’ll do my best to be here.
PS: During his interview with Megyn Kelly, Putin came out in favor of us getting rid of our Electoral College. I’m not; I’ve explained my reasons, but now I’ve got another one: We should keep our Electoral College precisely because Putin doesn’t want us to.
The full text of today’s testimony can be accessed through official government channels, particularly C-SPAN, but the version hosted on Politico is far more readable. It can be read here: