President Donald Trump produced a running commentary on FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to Congress. Thanks to the length of the hearing and the immediacy of Twitter, Comey was able to comment on the president’s commentary without leaving his seat.
It was a nearly real-time exchange Monday that circled back on itself, like a cat chasing its tail.
Trump tweet: “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.”
The Facts: No such assurance was offered by Comey or his fellow witness at the hearing, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. They did not offer any conclusions about whether Russia succeeded in influencing the election.
Comey, asked about the tweet while he was still testifying: “I’m sorry, I haven’t been following anybody on Twitter while I’ve been sitting here.”
He went on: “We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it’s never something that we looked at.”
He confirmed, though, that the FBI is investigating whether and how Russia tried to shape the election, a probe he says includes any potential coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia’s government.
Trump tweet: “FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia.”
The Facts: “Refuses to deny” is true, but perhaps misleading.
Throughout the hearing, Comey declined to deny any assertion made by his questioners that mentioned Flynn or any other individuals, explaining that the FBI is not in the business of correcting or verifying such reports.
Flynn helped Trump in the campaign, became national security adviser at the start of Trump’s presidency and was fired after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia’s top diplomat to the U.S.
Trump tweet: “FBI Director Comey: fmr. DNI Clapper ‘right’ to say no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump Campaign.”
The Facts: Trump leaves out an important nuance in this tweet about the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
Comey agreed there was no evidence of collusion in a report prepared by the U.S. intelligence community under Clapper, but that’s different than saying no such evidence has been discovered.
The Jan. 6 report does not take up the question of contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Instead it focuses on Russia’s actions, via cyber operations and propaganda, to try to help Trump’s election chances and hurt Hillary Clinton’s.
Clapper indeed said he had seen no evidence of collusion at the time he left government. But he updated that comment Monday with a statement from spokesman Shawn Turner, saying Clapper “could not account for intelligence or evidence that may have been gathered since the inauguration on January 20th.”
Comey, when asked if he was aware of collusion between Trump associates and Russia, beyond the findings of the report: “It’s not something I can comment on.”
Rogers: “Likewise, I’m not going to comment on an ongoing investigation’s conclusions.”