The media and the White House waged all out war this week over the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The White House was caught in between conflicting statements about why President Trump fired him, while the media overhyped anonymously-sourced stories (some of which were shot down) and dialed their Russia hysteria up to ten.
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe's testimony yesterday provided some Xanax for the paranoid “this is a coup” conspiracy crowd when he confirmed that, despite alarmist reporting this week, the Russia investigation is still adequately-resourced and unimpeded.
But regardless of your opinions on the Comey firing, there's a broader point here that needs to be mentioned because very few of those covering the Russia investigation seem to be including it in their reporting.
Despite an FBI investigation and a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, there is still no evidence that suggests President Trump colluded with the Russians - or that he's even under investigation himself.
The two senators leading the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley (R) and Diane Feinstein (D), revealed as much this week, via an underreported story by the Washington Examiner's Byron York. Those two senators, who have been informed about the classified list of who the FBI is investigating, essentially admitted that Trump is not on it:
In a carefully-written statement, Grassley said that he and Feinstein were indeed briefed by Comey on the particular individuals targeted in the current FBI investigation. And Grassley strongly implied — in fact, did everything but come out and say directly — that the president is not one of those individuals.
This matches much of what we know about the FBI's investigation, thanks to unceremonious leaks about who the FBI is looking at (Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Mike Flynn) and what they're looking at.
These reports are proof that an investigation is happening, but not that they've found something. Take these headlines, for example:
- Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates (January 19, 2017)
- CNN exclusive: Grand jury subpoenas issued in FBI's Russia investigation (May 10, 2017)
- Mike Flynn Offers to Testify in Exchange for Immunity (March 30, 2017)
- Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence (February 14, 2017)
Each of these sensational stories generated a flurry of media coverage and “this is it!” delight from the left, only to quickly fade away - because they are not evidence that Trump or anyone actually did anything illegal (as a pair of CNN hosts surprisingly pointed out the other day). This cyclical media pattern has become so frequent and predictable that data guru Nate Silver wrote a piece on it:
But it’s also possible that Comey’s firing is just the latest in a series of short, exciting bursts of activity that don’t ultimately produce any lasting momentum or do all that much to undermine Trump. This has mostly been the pattern of these Trump-Russia stories so far.
Senator Feinstein, who also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russia's role in the 2016 election, revealed last week on CNN that she has seen no evidence so far of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Senator Richard Burr (R), the chairman of that committee, said the same thing this week.
I give Senator Feinstein credit for being honest. Many on the left, though, have a political incentive to make it seem like President Trump himself is actively under investigation. They continue to operate as if the big Trump bunker bomb is just around the corner, hiding under some yet-unturned rock, hoping to run out the clock on Trump's agenda until they can get back into a position of power.
But this is a political struggle - not a legal one.
Admittedly, there could someday be a smoking gun moment that fulfills the impeachment scenario. It also could be possible that the investigation ends with indictments for Stone, Manafort, Page, or Flynn and ends there. But none of that has happened yet. Both the media and partisans in Congress have a responsibility to at least be honest about that.