"I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed." -- FBI Director James Comey, before Congress, March 20, 2017
Don't make the mistake of believing that yesterday was just another day in Washington. It was anything but. You may think you know who James Comey is or Mike Rogers is, or what the Democrats or Republicans will ultimately do, but it cannot be known at this stage. Normal is off the rails, big time.
For context, go back and listen to Comey's testimony, and every time the Democrats ask him if he has evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Putin government, he says, "I can't answer that." That most likely means "yes." In fact there is little doubt that substantial evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives in the run-up to the election does exist, in abundance. So much so that analysts are wondering why the Russians did not do more to conceal their incursions.
Democratic House members Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Jackie Speier were brutal. Each asked detailed, precise questions citing specific communications and events involving Donald Trump, his closest supporters and Russian functionaries in the lead-up to the November 8th, 2016, U.S. presidential elections. Each time they asked, Comey was forced to say, "I can't answer that." A full list of questions Director Comey declined to answer appears below.
Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, looked the part and pressed his case relentlessly. There were no witnesses and no responses, but he left no doubt that if there had been, he had the goods.
Try not to lose sight of the big picture: The FBI is investigating the president of the United States and his closest advisers for ties to to the Russian government. Specifically, to determine if the president won the election with the aid of Russian actors. That is, in political terms, a nuclear bombshell and foreshadows the very real likelihood of a constitutional crisis.
Anti-Russian demagoguery ran rampant during yesterday's proceeding. Russia was defined as an adversary, an armed invader of Crimea, and a suppressor of democratic institutions worldwide, among other things. For such accusations to be leveled by American members of Congress invites well deserved counter-accusations from nations around the world. Beware the new red scare. It appears to be coming.
The confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch could factor into this equation. If confirmed, Gorsuch could potentially participate in any cases related to the Trump administration or its Russian entanglements that might come before the court. If it comes to that. So yes, the Gorsuch hearings matter.
Fasten your seat belts, folks. This has the potential to get very wild and crazy. We live in interesting times.
List of questions Comey declined to answer via CNBC:
[Be aware that this list of questions does not by any means encompass the entire scope of alleged (often documented) contacts between Trump, Trump associates, Trump officials, Trump family members, and Putin government players. It merely recaps the questions that were asked at yesterday's hearing. -- ma]
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.: "Was there any request made by the FBI or Justice Department to wiretap Donald Trump, turned down by a court?"
Schiff: "Are you aware that [Roger Stone] was a partner of Paul Manafort?" (Stone has been an adviser to Trump. Manafort was the Trump's campaign chairman until he resigned in August.)
Schiff: "Do you know how Mr. Stone would have known that Mr. Podesta's emails were going to be released?" (John Podesta was chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.)