FBI Director James Comey, left, and Director of the National Security Agency Adm. Mike Rogers, testify during for a House Intelligence Committee hearing in Longworth Building on Russian interference with the 2016 election, March 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Remember when Ted Cruz, earlier this month, said that Jeff Sessions’ meeting with the Russians was “a nothing burger”? I thought of that often today when, for reasons I still do not understand (was it a Lenten observance?), I subjected myself to the hours-long House Intelligence Committee questioning of FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.
Yes, it was a spectacle. But not in the way I had assumed. I didn’t learn anything I did not already know about the so-called (mis-called) “Russian Hacking” meme that the Democrats are so eager to disseminate.
But I did learn something about the possibilities for political grandstanding that such meetings afford. Democratic representative after Democratic representative used his or her time not so much to ask questions but to deliver little sermons on the perfidy of Donald Trump and various people associated with his campaign or administration (Rex Tillerson, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Carter Page, et al.).
It wasn’t quite “Are you now or have you ever been . . .” but it was close. You don’t have to have that good a memory to have found the whole exercise amusing: Democratic politicians abandoning the “1980s asking for its foreign policy back” in order, suddenly, to castigate Russia as a threat to U.S. national security and even (if you can believe it) wrapping themselves in the flag ofpatriotism (yes, really) to denounce Donald Trump.
My own feeling is that the Dems must be very, very worried to go down that street. And what did it all add up to? Nada. Which is to say, rien. Nichts. Zilch. Nothing.
Russia was trying to influence the U.S. election. So what else is new? As Director Rogers noted, they've been doing that for “decades.”
The Russians hacked the DNC and funneled some of John Podesta’s emails to Wikileaks. Embarrassing to Mr. Podesta, no doubt, since they revealed that the DNC really was in Hillary’s pocket and was tilting the campaign against Bernie Sanders. However, the Russians also tried to hack the RNC. But the RNC had better security, so that didn’t go anywhere.
The Russians don’t like Hillary: so what? Neither do I.
There is no evidence, none, that the Russians did anything to change votes or affect the outcome of the election.
The intelligence community is pursuing an investigation into the whole subject but so far has come up with nothing — zilch — to suggest that there was any collusion or “coordination” (Director Comey’s preferred word) between the Trump world and the Russians.
So far, too, there is no evidence to support Donald Trump’s Twitter claim that he had been “tapped” by Obama, though the fuzziness of that claim and the huge amount of surveillance in play mean that we really don’t yet have a definitive answer to this question: Were Trump or his associates put under surveillance by the Obama administration?
Was that it? Almost. There actually was one bit of news. If you are looking for a crime in this whole scenario, the one crime we know was committed was when someone “unmasked” Mike Flynn’s name and leaked it to the press in connection with a couple of exchanges he had with the Russian ambassador. That, as was stressed by Republican interlocutors as well as by James Comey, was a felony punishable by up to 10 years in the slammer.
To my mind, that was the big news of the day. If I were the person who did the leaking, I would not be sleeping so well. I’d be jumpy. I’d start at unexpected noises or surprising movements. For it seemed pretty clear from what Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that no stone was going to be left unturned in search for the culprit. And Director Comey added his voice to the charge, noting that whoever it was should be thumped hard as an example to others.
So to recap: 1) the nothing burger is still a nothing burger. The heads of various agencies have said with one voice that “there is no evidence” of any criminal collusion between Donald Trump and his associates and the Russians. 2) The one crime we know was committed was the unmasking of Mike Flynn’s name. Maybe we’ll never know who did it. But I wouldn’t bet on that. In fact, I predict we’ll know within a couple of months. And then? I think that person’s friends might want to buy a set or two of striped pajamas. He (or she) is likely to need them.