by Terry H. Schwadron
So, now we know — and we don’t.
After the public hearings with FBI Director James B. Comey on Monday, there is some kind of criminal investigation into links between people in the Trump campaign (and Team Trump) and Russian influence in the election, that it has been going on since last July, and that there is no truth to the “wiretapping” allegations made by President Trump.
Or, to listen to the White House, this material is all to be dismissed. The only thing that matters is that someone leaked information to reporters.
The purpose of these congressional hearings is to bring some light to the situation. Or it isn’t. The political reason to have them is to give some formal setting for the same kind of he-said, he-said counter-play.
I hesitate about drawing conclusions until after reading through the myriad accounts of the hearings, believing that there may have been more there than the headlines. But despite hours of testimony, the public record remains pretty threadbare. If anything, the main idea here seems to be that things are serious enough that the FBI needed to speak unusually about the fact of an investigation because there are too many untruths in public circulation.
Why isn’t everyone’s hair on fire to say, what? A criminal investigation of the sitting administration? We impeached Bill Clinton over a lie about sex, we wanted to lock up Hillary Clinton over bad email protocol, but involvement in an investigation of Russian manipulation of our election systems is just another day?
What we don’t know about Russian involvement in the election remains vast, starting with the basic question about why Donald Trump favors closeness with Russia over other American international goals.
Still, it is pretty stunning to hear that the FBI believes that it must pursue a criminal investigation involving the White House. And to hear Comey and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the head of NSA, said that the President is talking trash.
But some questions nag:
- If the FBI has been investigating since last July, why didn’t Comey and the FBI find reason to confirm that until now? Specifically, as Comey was taking all kinds of heat for publicly discussing looking at possibly “re-opening” investigation of issues related to Hillary Clinton and emails, why would he not mention that the Trump campaign was also being investigated? Wouldn’t that have eliminated the idea that the FBI was putting a thumb on the election scale?
- The investigation is described as “criminal,” meaning that the FBI has probably cause from whatever it is probing to raise it from being a general investigation to a criminal one. Without naming names, what exactly does that mean?
- What does the Justice Department, the White House and Congress now know about stopping activities that might fall into such criminal review, and are they doing anything about it?
So far, only a few individuals have lost their jobs: Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, was dismissed for lying to his involvement to the Vice President, not for making contacts, and yesterday, Andrew Napolitano, the Fox commentator who broadcast, apparently with no evidence, that Obama used the British to wiretap on Trump Tower, was pulled from the air.
It is difficult without guidance to know how the contacts among people associated with the Trump campaign and various Russians at different levels knit together into an understandable plot. What is not difficult to see is that investigations involving politicians need to be free of politicians.
Bring on the independent figure who can lead this investigation, please.
Politically, this hearing failed to change any minds. For sure, the idea that there is a criminal investigation has no standing for Trump supporters, who dismiss anything critical about their hero. And for those persuaded that Team Trump is evil incarnate, the news merely confirms the standing opinion that the President should find a way to step aside.
The single audience for whom this hearing should be important is the President himself. Perhaps it should remind him that his intemperate tweets and statements just make life chaotic and confused.