Opinion: Something important lost in the hysteria about Trump, FBI

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks while chairman Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sits nearby, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, May 10. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Here’s something you may have missed while you were googling “impeachment” last week: A Republican senator and a Democratic one coming as close as possible to saying President Trump is not under FBI investigation, without saying it.

The senators in question were the Senate’s judiciary committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, and the ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein. They made their remarks Thursday — about a week after then-FBI Director James Comey testified before the committee and refused to confirm or deny that the president was the subject of an FBI probe, and two days after Trump fired Comey and referred in his termination letter to the latter’s assurances, “on three separate occasions,” that the bureau was not investigating him.

I’m quoting the entirety of Grassley’s prepared remarks about Trump and the FBI, even though they’re going to make this post almost unbearably long, because I think it’s important right now to read them in full:

“On a different topic, Mr. Comey testified before the Judiciary Committee last week. Senator Blumenthal asked him whether the FBI had ruled anyone out as a potential target of the investigation of allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. In response, Mr. Comey stated: ‘Well, I haven’t said anything publicly about who we’ve opened investigations on. I briefed the Chair and Ranking on who those people are.’

“Mr. Comey was asked if the FBI is investigating the President. He refused to answer. Mr. Comey said he didn’t want people to over-interpret his refusal, but that he wasn’t going to comment on anyone in particular. He thought it would put him on a slippery slope of having to answer who else is or is not under investigation. That could reveal who is being investigated.

“I understand why he took that position, but I don’t agree — at least not when it comes to the President and senior government officials. The American people deserve to know if senior government officials are under active criminal or intelligence investigation.

“Mr. Comey did brief Ranking Member Feinstein and me on who the targets of the various investigations are. It would not be appropriate for me to reveal those details before the professionals conducting the investigations are ready. So, I will not answer any questions about who are targets of the ongoing Russia investigations. But I will say this: Shortly after Director Comey briefed us, I tweeted that he should be transparent. I said he should tell the public what he told Senator Feinstein and me about whether the FBI is or is not investigating the President.

“On Tuesday, the President’s letter said that Director Comey told him he was not under investigation. Senator Feinstein and I heard nothing that contradicted the President’s statement. Now Mr. Comey is no longer the FBI director. But the FBI should still follow my advice. It should confirm to the public whether it is or is not investigating the President. Because it has failed to make this clear, speculation has run rampant.

“The intelligence community said that one of the Russians’ goals is to undermine the American public’s faith in our democratic institutions. Wild speculation that the FBI is targeting the President in a criminal or intelligence inquiry is not just irresponsible and unfounded. It provides aid and comfort to the Russians and their goal of undermining faith in our democracy.

“So, what I suggest is that before this Committee does anything more on this matter, that all the Members get briefed by the FBI on what is actually going on.

“Hopefully, that will help temper some of the unsubstantiated statements that have been made.”

There’s a lot to unpack there. It’s worth noting right off the bat that Trump is not the only person in Washington who wanted to know if he was under investigation. Grassley and Feinstein also wanted to know, and were told. And there really is no room for interpretation in Grassley’s remarks about what they were told:

  • “Senator Feinstein and I heard nothing that contradicted the President’s statement.”
  • “Wild speculation that the FBI is targeting the President in a criminal or intelligence inquiry is not just irresponsible and unfounded. It provides aid and comfort to the Russians and their goal of undermining faith in our democracy.”
  • “I suggest … all the Members get briefed by the FBI on what is actually going on. Hopefully, that will help temper some of the unsubstantiated statements that have been made.”

For her part, Feinstein replied with these remarks:

“Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman. I very much appreciate what you’ve said, and it’s very accurate, and we were briefed. And the nature of the briefing was a counter-intelligence and criminal investigation that the FBI was carrying out, and more than that I will not say, either.”

Folks, this is not Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings accusing each other of ill intentions during a House hearing. It’s the opposite of that: a Republican and a Democrat going about as far as they can go to warn their colleagues and others — in the media and elsewhere — from speculating about Trump in a way that undermines faith in our democratic institutions. Remember when I wrote last week that this is the time for Congress to do its job? This is Congress doing (part of) its job.

Let’s pause here and note that, sometimes in the course of investigations, people who weren’t the subject of a probe become the subject. It is within the realm of possibility that this could happen with Trump. But is it likely? After months of investigation, and given the obvious priority the FBI would place on knowing whether the president of the United States had colluded with a foreign power during his election campaign?

***

With all this in mind, let’s consider one more time Trump’s firing of Comey. On the one hand, we have Trump and now Grassley and Feinstein indicating he was not the subject of an investigation — and no one saying, certainly not on the record and for attribution, that he was. On the other hand, we have a continued drip-drip-drip of stories about the probe — most of them connected to Michael Flynn, the retired general who was briefly national security adviser before Trump fired him.

Imagine you’re Trump, and you have been assured multiple times the investigation is not about you but (as far as we in the public are aware at this time) chiefly about someone who is already out of your administration because he lied about his interactions with representatives of the Russian government. And yet, you continue to see speculative news stories about possible wrongdoing by yourself. Would you not be frustrated? Would you not want to know why the FBI director continued to allow this speculation when he could end it? Would you not wonder if this made him (to use the word at the focus of the most inflamed criticisms of Trump) not loyal to the office of the president? Is there not room in the various accounts of Trump’s supposedly impeachable dealings with Comey — which, let’s remember, have either been described by Trump himself or by anonymous sources in news stories who admit to not being privy to their interactions — for this kind of frustration with, and re-evaluation of, Comey by Trump?

Look, this alternate explanation could blow up tomorrow — precisely because we still are, relatively speaking, at the very beginning of this story. We don’t know where the story will end up because there are so many facts about it that we don’t know. However, look at what we do know, based on what has been said on the record by people who have first-hand knowledge of the investigation — such as acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who testified last week that there had been no effort to impede the investigation, which he described as having adequate resources (knocking down another anonymously sourced narrative against Trump). Or what has been said by those, like Grassley and Feinstein, who oversee the people carrying out the investigation.

When we look at what we do know, the claims of obstruction of justice don’t hold up. Not based on the evidence — not conjecture, eager interpretations or unsubstantiated claims, but evidence — currently available.

***

One last thing (for now). This is not so much a defense of Trump as it is a recognition that, when we are considering something as grave as whether the president has committed an impeachable offense, it is worth making certain there is no other feasible explanation. When the like of Grassley and Feinstein — and Republicans who have not exactly been sycophants for Trump, such as Sens. Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham — shoot down the notion the president is quashing an investigation concerning himself, that’s worth our attention. When their statements indicate a frustration with the FBI of their own, mirroring the president’s frustration, that’s worth our attention as well.

In the current environment, though, there seems to be virtually no room for such talk. You’re either with Trump or against him, to borrow from one of his predecessors. Some observers have labeled the conservative part of the middle ground between those attitudes as “anti-anti-Trump,” and called it irresponsible, but I think that’s overly simplistic, too.

It is possible to acknowledge that Trump, for a variety of reasons, challenges our norms and expectations of elected officials for the worse. His lack of preparation for his current office was apparent from the day he launched his campaign, and almost four months into the job he continues to take (at least) two steps back for each step forward. There are real consequences to this. His administration betrays a distinct lack of professionalism and competence, and he bears complete responsibility for that — not only because he hired them (the “best people,” remember?) but because his own lack of knowledge, discipline, self-awareness and humility create most of the problems he and those who work for him find themselves in. Heaven help us when the problems actually start coming from our adversaries.

But it is possible at the same time to acknowledge he’s the duly elected president of the United States, and that one’s disgust for him (and, let’s be honest, potential for political gain) cannot lower the standard for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, nor justify the kind of self-inflicted damage on our democratic institutions Grassley mentioned. It’s damn frustrating to watch both currently dominant streams of our political debate — pro-Trump and anti-Trump — be, to such a large degree, so thoughtless and hollow.

Rejecting both sides doesn’t make me pro-Trump any more than it makes me anti-anti-Trump, or anti-Trump for that matter. I prefer to think of myself as deeply worried for my country, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Reader Comments 0

333 comments
sssinff
sssinff

Trump sharing classified information with Russia. Can't wait for your take on this one, Kyle!

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Holy Molly folks, a new path from the Left on eliminating Trump.

Just switch to a Parliamentary System.

And here I was thinking the lunacy would have bounds.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Most successful in keeping its citizens disenfranchised from enormous power and wealth for the longest time, perhaps.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Starik @JohnnyReb

Nothing if your home is England.

To suggest we have it here turns your back on 241 years of the most successful nation ever and is extremely unpatriotic.

Your suggestion is not surprising, however, since it is typical liberal that when you don't like the rules instead of abiding by them you want to change them.

And of course, if you can't get them changed by legislature, you turn to the courts where liberal judges legislate from the bench twisting and turning the law's intent.

AllienNRathos
AllienNRathos

my buddy's mother makes 78 per hour on the internet and she has been unemployed for 7 months... the previous month her profit was 12859 just working on the internet for 2 hours a day.. check this link

 ●▬▬▬▬☛www.cashneways.com .

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

"...all of us should begin contemplating the conditions under which—not now, maybe not even a year from now—the constitutional remedies for dealing with a president utterly incapable of fulfilling his duties with elementary probity and competence will have to be implemented."

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Finn-McCool

BS

We survived 8 years of Obama and Trump can run circles around Barry.

I know

You think Obama was a genius compared to Trump.

That's because you can't separate the wheat from the chaff and you have a propensity to believe anything wrapped in the false notion of equal rights.

Trump deals in reality.
Obama was and remains a snake oil salesman.


lfelton
lfelton

@Finn-McCool You mean how to deal with a President you don't like? We already have a way...it's call voting. The Constitution already deals with anything else.


Now you know how we felt for eight years.

JoanneTHoerrloie
JoanneTHoerrloie

So much for Eugene kids playing and thriving in their own schools. Interesting, this is a VERY 'non diverse' school. Did I say that right? Now Sheldon will be the 'feeder' school for the U of O. Eventually you can't hire dad's of all your potential tecruits.. Patience. This Taggert honeymoon will be over soon. Lots of talk, very little actual historic results.Unfortunately the local kids are the ones who suffer.>>>>>>▬▬▬▬▬☛O❥❥www.cashneways.com

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Trump can share classified information.   The problem is that the intelligence he shared came from a partner country, and Russia is not part of the allied group.  He could have put both our agents and the foreign agents life at risk.  They can deny it, but the partner nation will know and likely stop the intelligence flow.  

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Hedley_Lammar @JFMcNamara I would suspect that the partner who was violated leaked it to the press as cover for their actions in removing the agents.  


They have surveillance on Trump, but couldn't let that be known.  It's amateur hour all around.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@JFMcNamara

So you believe the WaPo over the National Security Adviser?

Of course, because WaPo is anti-Trump.

Never mind truth.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Well, what is the National Security Advisor supposed to say? Trump did it? That would incense our partner nation and be a major breach of protocol domestically angering both sides of the aisle.

The authors have the classified information that was shared in detail and WaPo has an excellent record on this type of thing. Trump's administration is known for lying and disfunction. Accusations against Obama, Rice, the inauguration count, voter fraud. And Comey have all been false with multiple explanations from his staff.

At this point, WaPo has more credibility.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

The debate is over


Trump is not competent enough to be President of the United States


He must be removed. 


The sooner we can get it done the country can regain some dignity under Pence and we will have a functioning Government again.



Starik
Starik

@Hedley_Lammar If we switched to a parliamentary system we wouldn't have to wait almost 4 years. Could Trump get by a vote of No Confidence today?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

 “As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law,” the report said.

In addition, his national security adviser, who was at the meeting, told the Post nothing was shared that was not already publicly known.


Monkey lib still run around with hair on fire, monkey likes throwing fit.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

 You look at the number of illegals crossing the border, practically nonexistent, just because of the threat to build the wall and the intent, demonstrated intent to enforce the law. The numbers are way down. Jobs are coming back. Corporations, planning, building new plants, which will lead to new jobs. There are good things. They’re just not being reported on, and that’s not all.


Monkey lib no like, America do good, that's bad.


https://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2017/05/15/trump-supporters-still-support-trump-and-it-drives-the-haters-nuts/

Starik
Starik

@AndyManUSA#45 @DulceT.Wilson So far the economy, especially the stock market is ok - except for GDP growth, which may get better. One subject Trump knows is what is good for business, but not much else.

Dumporangebuffoon
Dumporangebuffoon

Our boy Andy Man just loves drinking that Kool aide  until it makes him finally vomit.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

If you want to know who's approval rating numbers are really dropping off the charts, do a poll of the monkey media.


I pretty sure Trump is beating them by 30 points or more.

Dumporangebuffoon
Dumporangebuffoon

How many more acts of treason does Trump and his crew of traitors need to commit before  the Cons quit drinking Trump's Kool aide????

Dumporangebuffoon
Dumporangebuffoon

@AndyManUSA#45 @Dumporangetyrant Your boy promised to have ISIS wiped out by now along with 25 million new jobs, cheaper health care for everyone and a trillion dollars passed   for infrastructure. What happened? Too busy committing  criminal  obstruction of justice and giving secrets to Russian agents in the White House?

Resist Trump
Resist Trump

National embarrassment. International pariah. Menace to society. Danger to global peace and stability.

Donald

J

Trump

Chief Twit

lovetrumpshate
lovetrumpshate

Kyle: Instead of harping on little irrelevancies, why not simply admit that your party doesn't have the integrity to serve as a check on the power of this lunatic? What's that you say? You don't have the integrity to call them out on that?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

anonymous sources, anonymous sources....Oh yes the convenient anonymous sources. The WaPo just loves their anonymous sources.

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit Remember "Deep Throat?" Anonymous sources are a vital tool for the press and the country.

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit @Starik That's your belief. Why a veteran would be so loyal to a draft dodger escapes me.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik @SGTGrit  Only veterans have the option of saying whose a dodger of military duty and who is not. You are entitled to your opinion and so am I. Obama was not a friend to the military. Trump, is a friend by the military who supports him. As an old vet, I'll go with the young vets. Semper Fi.

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit @Starik Trump betrays the military who still support him, through sheer ineptitude. Would you want Trump as a superior officer?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik @SGTGrit  In a combat situation, of course not. But as a Commander and Chief that defers to the military, yes I do. You should read McMasters, Dereliction of Duty...A really good read for everyone.

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit @Starik  Truman was right to fire McArthur.  LBJ should have fired Westmoreland. One of the major villains of the Viet Nam fiasco was MacNamara, who was a corporate exec. I just ordered McMasters' book, just for you.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Little monkeys have short memory, either that or they are brain dead -


(CNN) - When it comes to Russia, the Obama administration has been talking about “pressing the reset button.” It’s meant to symbolize a possible new start in U.S./Russian relations, which “crashed” after Russia invaded Georgia last August.

So when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greeted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva Friday before sitting down to their working dinner, she was all smiles when she presented him a small green box with a ribbon.

Lavrov opened it and, inside, there was a red button with the Russian word “peregruzka” printed on it.

"I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: 'We want to reset our relationship, and so we will do it together.' ...

"We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" she asked Lavrov, laughing.

“You got it wrong," said Lavrov, as both diplomats laughed.

“It should be “perezagruzka” [the Russian word for reset]," said Lavrov."This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means ‘overcharged.’”

A quick comeback – and recovery – from Clinton: "We won't let you do that to us, I promise. We mean it and we look forward to it."

breckenridge
breckenridge

The United States has been fighting proxy wars against Russia all over the globe for the past 6 decades.  Russia is not a friend and ally.  Russia is our enemy.

Dumporangebuffoon
Dumporangebuffoon

@breckenridge Explain that to the Trumpsters on this blog who think Trump  is the greatest thing since sliced white bread and that the whole Russia collusion investigation is a Dem. attempt at revenge. Those boys are drunk on Trump's Kool Aide..

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge  Why Obummer didn't seem to think so nor did Hillary. Do you need proof?

bu22
bu22

@breckenridge Name one since the 1970s.  Russia is not our enemy.  They just aren't our buddies (as Obama seemed to think-wink, wink-I'll have more flexibility after the election).