FBI Director James Comey unleashed two blockbusters Monday during his sworn testimony before Congress that were as astonishing as they are alarming. He confirmed that the bureau is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, along with any links or potential coordination with the campaign of President Trump. Comey also said that the FBI and the Justice Department have no information to substantiate Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama had him wiretapped during the election. Trump’s own mendacity, lack of impulse control and disregard for his own office have landed his already shaky, eight-week-old administration in a swamp of his own making.
National Security Director Michael Rogers said the intelligence community is highly confident the Russians interfered with the goal of tipping the election to Trump. He also rejected allegations by the Trump administration that he asked British intelligence to spy on Trump, which would have violated U.S. law and international agreements governing intelligence-gathering.
Trump’s contempt for the public and his own office is becoming more evident by the day. He irresponsibly spouts baseless accusations of lawbreaking by his predecessor and smears long-standing allies, heedless of the damage he is doing to his office, let alone his own credibility. Some have dismissed his rantings as distraction. But it’s more than that. He may have found a new method of dissemination, but Trump’s tactics go by an old name: disinformation. That’s when a government figure or entity knowingly spreads false information to mislead public opinion or obscure the truth. It can be traced back to the 1920s and, of course, Russia, which formed an office then specifically for the spread of disinformation.
Trump seems to have a particular affinity for disinformation. Even now, confronted with the testimony of his own appointed officials, Trump refuses to back off, insisting instead — again, with no evidence — that Democrats concocted the story about Russian interference. Trump should, at this point, admit his error, apologize forthrightly, and move on.
Sadly, we have no confidence he will do so. Regrettably, it also appears the country cannot rely on Congress to act as any kind of backstop. As evidenced by its line of questioning Monday, the GOP-led intelligence committee, to its shame, seems more obsessed with leaks — and punishing reporters who brought the information to light — than with Russian interference itself.
The need for an independent investigation is more obvious than ever, but we have little faith Congress will call for one. And there is an urgency here. In a chilling statement, Comey said of the Russians, “They’ll be back. They’ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018.”
Trump should appoint an independent counsel, if only to prove he has nothing to hide. If he fails to do so, Americans should ask themselves why.