During FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee today, there was an extraordinary, almost surreal moment that perhaps more than any other defines the bizarre political world in which we are currently residing.
And, no, it didn’t come when Comey publicly confirmed what most everyone in Washington has long since assumed: that the FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
Rather, it came later, when the committee’s ranking Democratic member, Representative Adam Schiff of California, asked Comey about Trump’s recent tweetstorm in which he accused President Obama of wiretapping his phones during the 2016 campaign.
Following the lead of pretty much every public official who has commented on this story, Comey quickly and decisively shot down the president. “I have no information that supports those tweets,” said Comey. He then went a step further and said that the Department of Justice had asked him to pass along that it too “has no information that supports those tweets.” The head of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers, took a similar view and said there was no evidence to support Trump’s assertions.
Read between the lines and what we have here are the director of the FBI and the director of the National Security Agency, in effect, calling the president of the United States a liar.
The revelation that Donald Trump says things that are not true is not exactly earth-shattering. It’s on par with discovering that the Pope is Catholic, the sky is blue, and water is wet.
It’s simply no longer shocking or surprising to discover that the man holding the nation’s most powerful office says things that are untrue, like making up a completely fictitious charge against his predecessor. It’s also practically par for the course to hear the heads of the nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency and the government agency responsible for electronic surveillance confirm that in testimony to Congress. All this is a good reminder of the extent to which Trump has, in 60 short days as president, utterly degraded and debased our nation.
In non-bizarro America — i.e., in the 200 plus years before January 20, 2017 — an unsubstantiated charge of lawbreaking by a sitting president against his predecessor would be a profound national scandal. There would be demands for an apology and talk of impeachment or even resignation. Instead, President Trump, via his hapless spokesperson Sean Spicer, continues to claim that his claims about Obama are true.
Additionally, in non-bizarro America — after the revelation that the president of the United States and his campaign aides were being investigated for an act, which if proven, could represent a treasonous offense — both political parties would be falling over themselves demanding a congressional investigation.
Instead, in the House Intelligence Committee today, Republican members of the intelligence committee spent much of their time decrying the evil of government leaks. Congressman Trey Gowdy, whose Select Committee on Benghazi turned leaks orchestrated to embarrass 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, into an art form, was in particularly high dudgeon. Amazingly, he and his colleagues focused their attention on news reporting that revealed former national security adviser Mike Flynn had lied not just to the vice president, but also to the American people and possibly the FBI (a felony) about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
That Flynn, had these reported leaks not happened, would still be lying about those contacts — and would likely still be national security adviser and thus vulnerable to blackmail by the Russia government — seemed to be of little concern to Republican members of the committee. Instead, Republicans seemed to take their cues directly from Trump, who tweeted this morning: “The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!’’
While they are at it, Congress might also want to look into why the president believes classified could be capitalized in that sentence.
Of course, Trump also said on Monday “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign.”
Now we know that’s not true either.
In non-bizarro America, such blatant examples of presidential dishonesty and slanderous charges of illegal surveillance, plus direct evidence of FBI investigations into potentially treasonous acts by aides to the president (and perhaps the president himself), would spark the mother of all constitutional crises.
Instead, it’s just another Monday in Trump’s America.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Gl0be.