Remember when James Comey testified last week that, “in the main,” a New York Times article from February 2017, asserting that the Trump campaign had “repeated contacts with Russians,” was “not true”?
Comey’s comment on that probably didn’t come as a big surprise to most viewers. But his editorial aside was arresting:
The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters — about writing on classified information is the people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on and those of us who know what’s going on are not talking about it, and we don’t call the press to say, “Hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic.”
So, to be clear:
“We don’t call the press to say, Hey, you got that thing wrong.”
Everyone understands that, I imagine. Not the FBI’s job to run around with a mop and spray cleaner after the New York Times.
But it’s awfully interesting how it was apparently nobody’s job to correct the misimpression, rampant in the infosphere for months now, that President Trump is under investigation by the FBI for “links to Russia.”
A post at Conservative Treehouse got me thinking about this. In it, blogger “sundance” assembles a case that dozens of congressional leaders had been briefed, weeks before Comey’s testimony on 8 June, that Trump wasn’t under investigation. This is sundance’s summary:
James Comey also admitted he told congressional leadership the exact same thing, repeatedly. Specifically, James Comey stated he informed: •Paul Ryan, •Nancy Pelosi, •Mitch McConnell, •Chuck Schumer, •Devin Nunes, •Adam Schiff, •Richard Burr, •Dianne Feinstein and •Mark Warner.
James Comey personally told Republican and Democrat leadership, and both the Senate and House intelligence committees, that President Trump was not under investigation.
Also included at the post is a clip of Marco Rubio asking Comey his now-famous, pointed question: why, out of all the leaks surrounding the “Russia” investigation, the one thing that had not been leaked was that Trump was not being investigated. (The clip is embedded here as well.)
In posing that question, Rubio alluded to the fact that the top leadership of Congress had known for weeks that Trump wasn’t under investigation.
As sundance says: Think about that for a minute.
If all the people he lists were told Trump wasn’t being investigated, that means that everyone who counts in Washington knew – and then some. Besides the party leaders in both houses, committee members and top staffers knew. Even if sundance overestimates the number of Hill employees who had reason to be certain of the facts, we’re still talking about everyone who would be a go-to source for the media on this topic.
Given the way Washington leaks like a sieve, it really is extraordinary that all these people knew Trump wasn’t being investigated, and it was supposedly in nobody’s lane to let the American people know that.
It’s a legitimate question whether everyone sundance cites knew. Comey himself confirmed in the 8 June hearing that the party leaders in both houses knew (the “Gang of Eight”; see video clip). A Washington Post report on 19 May referred to a post-Comey briefing to the Gang of Eight on the status of the “Russia” investigation, and mentioned that a current White House official – not Trump – was under investigation at that point. That level of specificity is a pretty clear indication that everybody involved knew – all together now, people – that Trump was not being investigated.
As to the committees, specifics about what the intelligence committees were told are sparse, although the opportunity has been there in closed-door hearings with Comey. One thing that is pretty definite is that the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee was told in May, by Comey.
In fact, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee – Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein – made brief public statements after the closed-door session with Comey in May, basically saying that Trump wasn’t being investigated, and urging Comey to clear that up for the public. Byron York summarizes:
In a carefully-written statement, Grassley said that he and Feinstein were indeed briefed by Comey on the particular individuals targeted in the current FBI investigation. And Grassley strongly implied — in fact, did everything but come out and say directly — that the president is not one of those individuals.
Grassley’s statement included the “who, me?” language by which everyone who knows anything has justified not telling the people whether our president is under investigation:
It would not be appropriate for me to reveal those details before the professionals conducting the investigations are ready. So I will not answer any questions about who are targets of the ongoing Russia investigations. But I will say this: Shortly after Director Comey briefed us, I tweeted that he should be transparent. I said he should tell the public what he told Senator Feinstein and me about whether the FBI is or is not investigating the president.
At any rate, the House Intelligence Committee was briefed by Comey in a closed-door hearing the week before the appearance with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Comey briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee in February, the day after his 15 February assurance to Trump that the president was not being investigated (the third such assurance Comey gave to Trump). Given what Comey was saying to others at the times of those briefings to the intelligence committees, and the brief allusions in the 8 June hearing, sundance’s conclusion looks solid.
I disagree with sundance on his analysis that everyone from Paul Ryan to Trey Gowdy and James Lankford is part of a Trump-hating deep state. (I understand the deep state to be defined differently, for one thing, having few if any elected officials in its ranks.)
But I keep circling back to the remarkable point that there is supposed to be some convention that compels all these knowledgeable people to remain silent, when they know the president is not under FBI investigation. Their silence certainly leaves the media free to keep a false narrative alive for months.
It has also left congressional Democrats free to exploit the garbled implication about the president, so they can argue, for example, that no substantive business should be done while he is “under investigation.” Chuck Schumer made this argument in March, as a way of opposing a vote on Justice Neil Gorsuch.
It’s superficial and a bit foolish to focus on Comey – whatever his undoubted shortcomings – when there are so many senior officials in Washington who have also known for quite some time that Trump wasn’t under investigation. (That said, after getting an extended look at Comey’s very particular rule-set for justifying public corrections – which somehow never works out to Trump’s benefit – it was a downright thigh-slapper to see the Justice Department wanting corrections from the White House for its statements about Comey being fired. Suppose the White House did get some things wrong. Why should Trump have all the fun of being defamed through uncorrected omissions or misstatements?)
Here’s the deal. Argue as you will about why these in-the-know D.C. folks would feel compelled to remain silent; the end result is still the wrong answer. If some compulsion to be silent, imposed by your process, is yielding the wrong outcome, then you’re doing it wrong. There’s a problem with something: your priorities, your premises, your inputs. The answer cannot be that the only option is for the entire United States of America to be dangled in limbo by a procedural convention.
Yet here we are, being haunted by the wrong answer for months, while so many people knew the right one. The only conceivable reason to not come clean to the public was to reserve the FBI’s option of not alerting the president if he might be an investigative subject. But that’s manifestly an unrealistic goal. Just for starters, any idiot could infer that possibility from the fact that there was an investigation at all. (The same goes for not alerting the Russians, on the off chance that it would set them a-scramble in some way if the president were investigated. First of all, they already know it could happen. Second, they’ll know before almost anyone else if it does happen.)
This is not a hard call to make. The logistics of investigation alone tell us that: there is no way to investigate the president in an above-board manner, but without his knowledge. The Secret Service will stop you if nothing else does.
No investigation is of such overriding importance that trying to keep the option to investigate the president a secret, and thereby a political cloud hanging over his administration for months, is the right price to pay. And that’s the only thing that was even potentially being kept secret, since the entire world has known for months that the investigation itself was underway.
In closing, it must be pointed out that if departments of the U.S. government colluded to investigate the president in secret, that would be strong evidence of the prelude to a coup. Whether these people know what they’re doing or not – and their demeanors and behavior are too often unhinged to convince me they’re calculating in any cool-minded way – what they’re doing is the opposite of righteous.