James Comey
Credit: Rich Girard/Flickr

In his opening statement to the House Select Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election, FBI Director Comey said:

As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations. Especially, those investigations that involve classified matters. But, in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so, as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances. I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence 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.

That is a huge announcement in and of itself. Things are just getting underway. I’ll be updating here as other news breaks.

11:00 am – Comey says that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department has any evidence to substantiate Trump’s tweets that Obama wiretapped him – which they have investigated. He also says categorically that Obama could not have ordered such wiretaps personally.

11:08 am – NSA Director Rogers says that no request was made to UK to surveil Trump – and that to do so would be illegal.

11:30 am – It’s clear Rep. Gowdy is more interested in prosecuting leakers than whether or not the president’s campaign colluded with Russians – he’s grilling Comey about the release of information about Michael Flynn’s contacts, but not getting much by way of specifics. Gowdy is also threatening that reauthorization of FISA section 702 will be in jeopardy if leaks are not prosecuted.

11:40 am – I’m going to post a section of Rep. Adam Schiff’s opening statement because it does a good job of articulating the questions that are critical to learning whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russian attempts to influence the election.

Here are some of the matters, drawn from public sources alone, since that is all we can discuss in this setting, that concern us and should concern all Americans.

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises Wikileaks, says he loves them, and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents’ emails, telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.

On August 8th, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in a speech that he “has communicated with Assange,” and that more documents would be coming, including an “October surprise.” In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0, and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence. Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published. “Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #Crooked Hillary.”

In the weeks that follow, Stone shows a remarkable prescience: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #Lockherup. “Payload coming,” he predicts, and two days later, it does. Wikileaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up to election day.

On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit, RT, and other Russian entities in the past. In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over its hacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about this secret conversation. The Vice President, unknowingly, then assures the country that no such conversation ever happened. The President is informed Flynn has lied, and Pence has misled the country. The President does nothing. Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the President is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The President then praises the man who lied, Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.

Rep. Schiff went on to say that all of those events might have been a coincidence. But they might not have been – and that is what needs to be investigated. He called for an independent prosecutor to do so in addition to Congressional oversight committees and the FBI.

12:08 am – Schiff just pursued an interesting line of questions to Comey that pointed to why Putin would affirmatively support the election of Trump. For example:

  • Would Putin prefer a candidate who criticized NATO?
  • Would Putin prefer a candidate who was open to overturning Russian sanctions?
  • Would Putin prefer a candidate who supported actions like Brexit?

Eventually Comey responded in the affirmative.

12:30 pm – Don’t know if this was a mistake or a slip of the tongue – but Rep. King just said that the Steele dossier that was released by Buzzfeed was “almost all” of the dossier. That raises a question of whether there is more.

12:50 pm – Rep. Speier explores the business dealings between Sec of State Tillerson and Russia – specifically Igor Sechin and Rosneft.

12:53 pm – Rep. Ross-Lehtinen asks how Russian interference in the 2016 election was different than previous elections. Comey talks about how “loud” it was this time – almost as if they wanted us to know what they were doing in order to amplify it and sow discord and distrust in our democracy.

1:15 pm – It is worth noting that Comey said the FBI had been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials since last July. His letter to Congress about Clinton (which has been demonstrated to have influenced the election outcome) was sent on October 28th.

1:30 pm – It’s clear that in addition to suggesting that the leaks are lies, the Republican line coming out of this committee is that Comey’s statement that the FBI is currently investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia is the source of the “cloud” that disrupts our democracy rather than the possibility of coordination.

1:40 pm – As the committee takes a break, it’s worth noting that whoever manages the @POTUS twitter account for Trump is trying desperately to tell a different story about what we’re learning.

1:50 pm – When it comes to the statement from Comey that the FBI has investigated whether or not Obama wiretapped Trump and found nothing to substantiate that claim – this sums it up well:

2:35 pm – Rep. Himes addressed a couple of the inaccuracies included in the above tweets from the @POTUS account – specifically that the statement “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process” is not true.

2:50 pm – Under questioning from Rep. Stefanik, Comey says that the practice has been to update Congressional leaders on significant investigations on a quarterly basis, but a decision was made to NOT notify them of this one until the last month because of its sensitivity.

3:20 pm – Rep. Gowdy is excoriating the political process of Congressional investigations that allow hearsay and media reports as compared to the justice process which doesn’t. One can only wish that he had expressed similar misgivings during the hearings he chaired about Benghazi.

With that…they’re done.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.