The investigation into what role Russia played with respect to influencing the 2016 U.S. election now spans multiple federal agencies and both the House and Senate intelligence committees, with some of the biggest revelations yet coming this past week.
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee held its first hearing on the issue, but much of the drama of the last few days has been over what happened after the hearing. Indeed, Republicans and Democrats have spun wildly different versions of what happened there, with Trump and his allies seeking to divert attention to the president's own allegations involving his predecessor and wiretapping.
What's the Big Takeaway From the Hearing?
As ATTN: reported on Monday, there were three major points made at the House Intelligence Committee hearing:
- FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the bureau is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
- Comey said there was no information to support Trump's claims that former President Barack Obama ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to wiretap Trump Tower.
- Republicans focused on who leaked information to the press, rather than the content of the leaks.
What Happened After?
Intelligence committees are secretive bodies that deal with classified information that only a small circle can see. But on Wednesday, Chairman Nunes took the unprecedented step of personally briefing President Trump on the investigation involving the latter's own team (Nunes himself was part of the president's transition). Schiff responded by questioning his counterpart's fitness to lead the committee.
Wait, Nunes Shared Information With President Trump About an Investigation Involving President Trump?
He did, a move that had jaws dropping.
While the exact details of what Nunes said to Trump haven't been made public, Politico described the briefing as him sharing evidence providing an unnamed source claiming that "Trump transition team members were caught up in incidental surveillance of foreign targets," and that these Trump aides had their names revealed to investigators. Nunes publicly repeated the allegation at an impromptu press conference after the meeting.
Trump immediately claimed vindication for his charge that Obama had "wiretapped" him. Meanwhile, Democrats seethed that Nunes was out of line and was compromised by his previous role working for Trump. Schiff accused his counterpart of acting as a "surrogate of the White House."
On Thursday, Nunes apologized for going over the heads of his fellow committee members, but his credibility was sapped to the point where even Republican Senator John McCain claimed Congress couldn't be trusted to continue the investigation, and that it should be handled by an independent panel.
Democrats Also Dropped a Bombshell
Schiff went on Chuck Todd's "Meet the Press Daily" to drop a bomb of his own regarding alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. "I will say there is evidence that is not circumstantial," Schiff told Todd, "and it is very much worthy of investigation."
He didn't get into what the evidence was, but CNN seemed to confirm it by publishing a report claiming the FBI possesses information "that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign."
Who Has the Most Heat on Them?
At this point, it's hard to tell. On Monday, Comey acknowledged that Trump himself is being investigated, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was revealed on Tuesday as once having had a lucrative consulting deal to help advance the political interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to various sources, Manafort, longtime Trump friend and media bon vivant Roger Stone, and former Trump adviser Carter Page are all likely being looked into on suspicion of ties to Russia. The FBI is even investigating the use of social media spamming of stories by Trump-friendly outlets such as Breitbart and RT.
Trump Denies All This, Right?
Completely. Trump and his team have issued dozens of denials regarding contact with Russia, some that contradict publicly available information. Trump himself has called the investigation "fake," "fake news," a "witch hunt," and "totally biased."
What Happens Next?
Still to come are hearings by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees. The House Intelligence Committee has another hearing on March 28 with both administration and intelligence officials slated to be in attendance.
Ultimately, the FBI could recommend prosecutors bring a case to a federal grand jury for indictments and, should findings indict the president, the House could initiate impeachment against Trump.