When FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, the surreal conversation in the opening session seemed more like a Hollywood movie than typical C-SPAN TV fare.
Most dramatic was the news that, yes, the US government is undertaking a counterintelligence investigation of the presidential election. Investigators are not simply looking into whether Russia interfered with the election — by now that is a fact confirmed by 17 of the country’s intelligence agencies. Now the FBI is looking into who from Donald Trump’s campaign might have helped the Russians. This might include Trump himself. Seriously.
In the opening hours of the hearing, three questions competed for airtime:
1. Was there anything to Trump’s tweet suggesting that former president Barack Obama wiretapped him during the campaign?
2. Could the intelligence chiefs confirm for the public that there is an investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, and what could they say about it?
3. Why are leaks coming from inside US intelligence agencies, and what will be done about it?
Here’s what we heard:
There is no evidence that Obama wiretapped Trump.
Both Comey and Rogers said there was absolutely no evidence that Obama ordered a wiretap on Trump or his campaign. Further, there is no ability for any American citizen or a president to order a wiretap. Only a judge can do that. There is no evidence that a judge ordered one either.
This question was asked by lawmakers of both parties early in the hearing, and then the conversation moved on to other issues.
There is an investigation about Russia’s ties with the Trump campaign.
Just a month ago White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said on “Meet the Press” that there was really nothing to an investigation of the campaign and Russia. In fact, it was fake news. Today lawmakers were told that, in fact, that there has been an intense investigation going on since July. Comey said he wasn’t allowed to say who specifically they are investigating, but he suggested it is people very close to Trump.
Republicans tried to shift the focus to leaks.
Before the hearing, Trump was once again taking up the cause of leaks from inside the government. It may have been a way for him to signal how Republican lawmakers could have his back.
There was a lot of time spent on the criminal nature of releasing classified material and whether it was also criminal for a journalist to publish that information. But in the end, it was a lot of talk about theory and the law, but there was no development that could drive news away from the investigation.
How will Trump respond?
As it happens, Trump will hold a campaign rally in Kentucky tonight. Will he continue to make the case that he was wiretapped? Will he criticize the FBI? Or will he ignore all of the above and just talk about his Supreme Court nominee and health care?James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp