Before FBI Director James Comey began his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, President Donald Trump was back, compulsively tweeting — and underscoring the growing perception that his allegation that President Barack Obama had Trump’s “wires tapped” is nonsensical, his attachment to reality fleeting and his concern about Russian interference in the election on his behalf is palpable.
He tweeted: “James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” (Interestingly, he limited the denial of collusion to him, POTUS, only.) Certainly, he had been rattled by a parade of Republican lawmakers affirming there was no evidence of wiretapping. He was right to be anxious.
Comey did in fact confirm that the FBI is currently investigating Russian interference with our elections, including any links with members of the Trump campaign, and whether the latter constituted any crimes. A short time later, Comey lowered the boom. What about evidence of wiretapping, as Trump claimed in tweets? Comey was succinct: “I have no information that supports those tweets.”
That testimony is not “fake.” Trump cannot change the fact that his own national intelligence team is attempting to determine whether a foreign power tried to manipulate our election. Try as he might, there is no way for Trump to discount or conceal that reality. The stone-faced Comey crisply providing definitive, unemotional testimony that was compelling, as was that of National Security Agency chief Michael Rogers, who, with furrowed brow, often answered with a simple yes or no.
Comey’s statement was not surprising, but it was nevertheless devastating. To hear the head of the FBI in essence call the president a liar or wide-eyed conspiratorialist is bracing, if not humiliating, for the chief executive. And reflecting on the morning tweet, Trump now seems desperate, childish and vulnerable. He’s been tripped up by his own grandiose lies. At some level he must know it.
Perhaps now Republicans can stop treating the president’s outbursts seriously. They need to call them what they are: Wild lies and accusations designed to distract from the very real investigation into Russian attempts to throw the election his way.
In just a few brief lines, Comey eviscerated whatever credibility Trump still had. Whether the intelligence agency will find evidence of collusion remains to be seen. But what we do know is that Trump will not be able to lie his way through this nor distract the public.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who appeared Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” made an interesting observation. “It’s going to go down in the history of Mother Russia as the greatest covert action campaign, not because President Trump won,” he said. “There was no manipulation of the vote-tallying machines. It’s going to go down as the greatest covert action because it drove a — created a wedge, whether real or perceived, between the White House, the intelligence community, and the American public.”
Well, it will also go down as the greatest covert action in history because Russia sought to manipulate the outcome of our election and provided assistance to the Trump campaign. Moreover, Vladimir Putin has convinced a significant chunk of the American electorate that Trump is “illegitimate.” (One poll shows 57 percent of young voters between 18 and 30 consider him “illegitimate.”) And worse, it’s convinced many Americans that our president’s word cannot be trusted.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.