He couldn’t have been more clear.
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on Monday. “And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
We simply don’t know whether the Trump campaign actively coordinated with the Russian government to gain an advantage in the election, if the campaign was unwittingly manipulated by the Russians, or whether the two parties only crossed paths.
The investigation began in July, around the time of the Republican National Convention — notably when the GOP softened its support for Ukraine against Russian aggression. It’s unclear how long the investigation will continue, but it’s likely to leave a cloud hanging over the president for some time.
“Because it is an open, ongoing investigation, and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining,” Comey told the committee.
Meanwhile, one senses that the mesmerizing chimera of lies the president has constructed as a false reality around him is beginning to crumble, even to his GOP enablers in Congress that are desperately clinging to the illusion of stability.
The president has stubbornly stuck to his claim, made during an impulsive early-morning tweetstorm at Mar-a-Lago on March 4, that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the campaign — in the face of wide-ranging refutations and without offering a scintilla of evidence. As a sample: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
Compounding the damage from the lie right up to the eve of the House Intelligence Committee hearings, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the outlandish suggestion, based on a commentary by Andrew Napolitano on Fox News, that Obama outsourced spying on then-candidate Trump to the British intelligence service GCHQ.
The next day, March 17, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly said British officials received assurances from National Security Advisor HR McMaster that the ridiculous claims wouldn’t be repeated.
Even as McMaster was performing damage control with his British counterparts, Trump stuck to his original whopper in a statement that seemed to make German Chancellor Angela Merkel recoil in distaste.
“As far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said, alluding to 2013 revelations about surveillance on Merkel by the NSA.
If statements from the ranking Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate and House intelligence committees were not sufficient, Comey put the final nail in Trump’s credibility on Monday.
“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets,” the FBI director testified. “And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. And the Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The Department of Justice has no information that supports those tweets.”
Hyperbole and trash-talking on the campaign trail is one thing, but when a commander in chief reflexively lies in the presence of visiting head of state and his press secretary besmirches the reputation of our closest ally, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking him seriously in the midst of a foreign crisis.
It would be naïve to imagine Trump being chastened under any circumstances, but in the middle of a congressional hearing in which the nation’s top law enforcement confirms that your closest aides are under investigation and practically calls you a liar, you would expect the president to maybe lay low for a couple hours.
Instead, he preposterously tweeted: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
In the evening, like the magnate that buckles under pressure and impulsively flies to Vegas for an escape, Trump slipped out of the White House to relive his glory days on the campaign trail with an appearance at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky.
“This place is packed,” the president exulted, according to a report in the New York Times. “We’re in the heartland of America, and there is no place I would rather be.”
For a moment, he could avoid the pointed questions that are becoming harder and harder to answer.
“We sacrificed our own middle class to finance the growth of foreign countries,” Trump said. “Ladies and gentlemen, those days are over.
“We won’t be played for fools, and we won’t be played for suckers anymore,” he added, without a hint of irony.