FBI Director Comey gets to shoot down a Trump alternative fact on live television
Before Donald J. Trump's wiretapping allegation took its turn from the weird to the even weirder this week (and more about that in a bit), a national television audience got the chance to witness a Trumpian "alternative fact" debunked in real time. During Monday's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump was on Twitter triumphantly proclaiming that "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process," along with a C-SPAN clip.
But what Mr. Trump may possess in excessively wishful thinking, he lacks in reporting skills. That wasn't what FBI Director James Comey or the NSA's director, Admiral Mike Rogers, told committee members at all. So Rep. Jim Himes, apparently a follower of @POTUS on Twitter, asked Mr. Comey if the president's tweet was accurate within minutes of its posting. Mr. Comey said no. "We've offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it's never something we looked at," he testified. "It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today, because we don't have any information on that subject."
And so, fake news debunked, end of story, right? Well, if there's one thing we've learned about Mr. Trump's allegation that President Barack Obama authorized pre-election wiretapping of Trump Tower, it's that it's just not going away, thanks mainly to the president and his allies. It was bad enough that spokesman Sean Spicer felt obliged to describe Mr. Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort as having a "very limited role" in the campaign (which is a bit like describing Mr. Trump's children as having a very limited tie to their father instead of owing half their chromosomes to him) after Mr. Manafort's name was invoked about two-dozen times at Monday's hearing. Now, it appears Mr. Manafort is a lot more closely tied to Vladimir Putin than merely to Mr. Trump, having allegedly taken millions of dollars in payments from a pro-Russian party in Ukraine.
Confused? Wait, it gets a lot worse. As we observed earlier in this week, House Republicans on the intelligence committee seemed to be more seriously invested in giving President Trump cover than in conducting an evenhanded examination, often focusing on leaks instead of the core issue of Russian interference in the last election, for example. Apparently deciding the committee hadn't sucked up to the president quite enough, Chairman Devin Nunes on Wednesday dashed over to the White House to tell the fellow whom the intelligence committee is allegedly scrutinizing that he had seen evidence that U.S. intelligence had "incidentally" collected information under FISA warrants on members of the Trump transition team, and it had been "widely disseminated," to his personal chagrin. Afterward, the president told reporters that he felt "somewhat" vindicated after his Nunes chat — whatever that means.
Wait, didn't Rep. Nunes just leak information about intelligence gathering with his claim of multiple FISA warrants? Isn't that what he and fellow in-the-tank committee members like Rep. Trey Gowdy have been fretting about — incautious tossing about of secret stuff? Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee have discovered that their chairman is more lap dog than watchdog, and they aren't alone in that view. Republican Sen. John McCain was shaking his head Wednesday evening, too, calling Mr. Nunes' actions "very disturbing" and speculating that Congress might be better off with an independent commission to investigate Russian interference — as Democrats want.
So here's the thing about Mr. Trump's claim about his predecessor giving him "The Wire" treatment: It clearly didn't happen, and all this smokescreen nonsense, from whether his staff was watched by somebody somehow at some time or ended up recorded because they talked to someone worthy of a FISA warrant (in Trump-speak, we call this a "bad dude") isn't helping his cause. Better for everyone if the public heard fewer alternative facts on a matter for which most Americans want clear and truthful answers.