Straining at the tweet and swallowing the camel has become Washington’s favorite pursuit, and it was on tiresome display at Monday’s Congressional hearing with Jim Comey. Out of it came two clashing headlines: “Comey Denies Obama Ordered Wiretapping on Trump,” “The FBI is Investigating Trump’s Links to Russia.”
In other words, the core claim underlying Trump’s tweets is true: people acting on the authority of Obama opened an investigation into Trump’s campaign, then criminally leaked mention of it to friendly news outlets in an attempt to derail his election. When is Obama going to apologize for that?
Were the Republicans less feckless and docile to the media-determined parameters of any discussion, they would have kept the focus on the outrageousness of Obama investigating an opposing party’s candidate at the height of an election campaign. But their first instinct is always to distance themselves from Trump, not defend him.
So unlike Adam Schiff, who prosecuted the case for the Dems ruthlessly, the Republicans dithered, striking Comey with the flat of the blade. Instead of probing his vague answers, they complacently accepted them before trailing off into the next series of unilluminating questions.
“I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey replied to one of Schiff’s leading questions. Why didn’t Republicans ask him to elaborate? Was he saying that the FBI didn’t investigate the computer server connected to Trump Tower (as reported by Circa News)? Was he saying that his investigation hasn’t intercepted a single one of Trump’s communications? He would have declined to answer these questions, but that refusal to answer would have cast doubt on the authority of his categorical denial. After all, if he can’t describe his investigation into the Trump campaign, how can anybody be sure that it excludes Trump’s communications?
Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, couldn’t match Schiff in partisan zeal and rigor, as evident in his giving Schiff fifteen minutes of opening remarks while restricting himself to five minutes of them. In his sheepish remarks, he defensively treated the media’s outrage at Trump’s tweet as if it were the first and most important matter that he needed to address. Why let the hearing become a referendum on Trump’s tweeting? Why place the emphasis on that and not on the one suggestive remark Nunes did make, which he didn’t pursue very effectively and asserted more weakly than necessary, that “it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates”? Still possible? Given that any investigation involves surveillance of some kind, it is not possible but certain that FBI agents have engaged in those activities.
The insufferable Louise Mensch of Heat Street, the anti-Trump activist who got one of the criminal leaks last fall about the FBI investigation, says that the FBI sought “incidental” interceptions of “Trump’s campaign.” How are they incidental if sought? What does it matter, in terms of violated privacy, if the wiretap was on the Trump campaign’s phones/computers or the phones/computers of the person/institutions with whom the campaign may have been communicating? It is an intercepted communication either way, a point only literalist dolts and partisan weasels would deny while obsessing over whether “Obama personally ordered a wiretap on Trump’s phone…”
According to Circa News, the FBI used “traditional investigative methods” to probe Trump’s computer server. Why didn’t any of the Republicans ask Comey if his agents ever saw Trump’s communications in the course of that investigation? Again, Comey would have refused to answer, but at least his non-answer would have gotten people thinking about the abusive character of an open-ended investigation of a candidate’s campaign during an election season.
And what was Comey doing investigating the Trump campaign in the first place? Where did Comey get the idea to investigate the Trump campaign? That subject deserved more attention than it received at the hearing. Republicans made no use of the existing news accounts that point to John Brennan, the most partisan of Obama political appointees, as the instigator of the “multi-agency” investigation into Trump. What convinced Comey to trust John Brennan’s judgment?
If the Republicans had a real counterpart to Schiff, they would have loudly pointed out that Comey’s mere confirmation of an investigation vindicates the thrust of Trump’s tweets. They could have spent the hearing drawing out the implications of that admission. No matter how the Dems and the media spin it, no matter how many semantic games they play, Obama authorized a multi-agency investigation into a political opponent, which necessarily involved violations of that opponent’s privacy.
Notice that even the shorthand of the media’s headlines bears out the shorthand of Trump’s tweets. Some of them say that the FBI is investigating “campaign associates,” but others say that the FBI is investigating “Trump.” For all the partisan angling, blather, and word games, Trump and these newspapers finally agree: Obama was investigating him.