After FBI Director James Comey’s bombshell announcement that the agency is indeed investigating whether anyone in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia, various Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee spent much of the first hearing into Moscow’s meddling in our 2016 election questioning Comey’s logic and impartiality.
They suggested that Hillary Clinton’s campaign should also be investigated, focused on leaks about the inquiry rather than on the hacking itself and hinted that former President Barack Obama was behind the leaks.
Given the seriousness of foreign interference in our democratic process, you’d think that learning what did and did not happen — and how we can prevent future incursions — would be the chief concern of lawmakers. Or that they’d at least prefer to come across as if that were the case. But no and no.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the committee, asked Comey “if this committee, or anyone else for that matter, someone in the public, comes to you with information about the Hillary Clinton campaign … will you add that to your investigation? Their ties to Russian services, Russian agents, would that be something of interest to you?”
Of course, Comey said, but Nunes persisted: “Do you think it’s possible that the Russians would not be trying to infiltrate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, get information on Hillary Clinton?” Then he implied that the same FBI director who had infuriated Democrats when he announced before the election that an investigation into Clinton emails wasn’t closed after all might somehow turn a blind eye when it came to the former secretary of state: “I just hope that if information does surface about the other campaigns, not even just Hillary Clinton’s but any other campaigns, that you would take that seriously also.”
It was highly unusual for an FBI director to acknowledge an ongoing investigation — one that Trump had written off as “fake news.”
Thankfully, a couple of Republicans did seem more interested in Russian interference than in how the public learned about it, and the three best questions during Monday’s hearing all came from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who praised the FBI director’s determination to “follow the facts wherever they lead.”
How were Russian efforts to undermine this election different from those in years past, she asked. What did we do to counter those efforts? And what can we expect in the future? More such meddling in 2020 and maybe 2018, Comey said. Especially if we don’t find out what happened in 2016.