Editorials

EDITORIAL

Russia probe needs independent overseer

FBI Director James Comey, left, joined by National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2017, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

AP PHOTO

FBI Director James Comey, left, joined by National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday.

The information forthcoming from Monday’s House Intelligence Committee querying of FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers was a clear rebuke of, and should be a colossal embarrassment to, President Trump.

Despite the president’s tweets to the contrary, former president Barack Obama did not orderor arrange any wiretapping of Donald Trump, those officials said. Washington has been consumed with that question since Trump made his wiretapping accusation several weeks ago.

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But on Monday, in response to questions from Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, Comey made it clear that Trump’s claims weren’t true.

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” said Comey.

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Nor did the Obama administration ask British intelligence to wiretap Trump, as the Trump White House has suggested, said Rogers. “I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we have engaged in such activity, nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity,” he said.

That is important news. Americans need to realize that the president has tweeted something explosive, reckless, and untrue. And, further, that though we now have top officials saying under oath that his assertion and other White House insinuations aren’t supported by any evidence, the White House refuses to back down.

FBI Director Comey also officially stated that his agency was looking at possible collusion between Trump’s campaign circle and the Russians.

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But though all that information is valuable, other aspects of the hearing served as a troubling index of the Republican appetite for rigorous oversight of this erratic White House. GOP committee members seemed less interested in possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives than in expressing their vexation with intelligence community leaks that have cast Trump’s team in an unflattering light. And on seeing those leakers punished.

Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, last seen leading the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi, an obvious attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton’s election chances, went so far as to read a list of Obama administration officials who had access to, and thus the ability to leak, that information.

Representative Mike Conaway, Republican of Texas, disputed the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian intervention was designed to help Trump, engaging in a long (and ultimately unsuccessful) hair-splitting attempt to suggest that the Russian interference should be seen as anti-Hillary Clinton rather than pro-Trump. Chairman Devin Nunes said that though there was “not a physical wiretap” of Trump Tower, “it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used.”

Overall, then, the hearing did not create confidence that the Republican-led Intelligence Committee is committed to getting to the bottom of this matter. Just as the Department of Justice should appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI investigation,Congress needs a special, high-profile panel specifically charged with probing this matter.

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