This would be a good time to do something about the red menace of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Instead, we’re talking about the Red Raiders of Texas Tech.
FBI Director James Comey, testifying Monday about his agency’s investigation into Russia’s attempt to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump, explained why it was “a fairly easy judgment” that Trump was Putin’s favored candidate: “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.”
But Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, was having none of it. “Yeah, that logic might work on Saturday afternoon when my wife’s Red Raiders are playing the Texas Longhorns.” Conaway doubted such reasoning “all the rest of the time.”
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Comey tried to be patient. “Whoever the Red Raiders are playing, you want the Red Raiders to win,” he explained. “By definition, you want their opponent to lose.”
Conaway was fourth and long. He scrambled to formulate another question, then punted: “Well, let me finish up then.”
Comey’s testimony confirmed what was widely suspected: The FBI is investigating whether the president’s campaign colluded with a powerful American adversary in an attempt to swing the election. But instead of being shaken from complacency and uniting to make sure this never happens again, the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee mounted a reflexive defense of Trump.
The partisan response made it plain that there will be no serious congressional investigation, nor any major repercussions for Russia. We were attacked by Russia – about this there is no doubt – and we’re too paralyzed by politics to respond.
Trump, whose claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower was dismissed by Comey on Monday, continued to fire his weapons of mass distraction Monday morning, tweeting about ties between Hillary Clinton and Russia and claiming “the real story” is who leaked classified information.
This is to be expected from Trump. The disheartening part was that most Republicans on the panel, which is supposed to investigate Trump, instead slavishly echoed his excuses.
Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., underscored that there was no “evidence that Russia cyber actors changed vote tallies.” (There was also no allegation that they had.) He also pronounced himself “extremely concerned about the widespread illegal leaks” (much more so than the potentially illegal actions that the leaks exposed).
Reading from Trump’s cue card, Nunes asked Comey to regard as “serious” the alleged Clinton campaign ties to Russia. In one exchange that sounded more sandbox than hearing room, Nunes asserted that “it’s ridiculous for anyone to say that the Russians prefer Republicans over Democrats.” The chairman urged Comey to tell his investigators not to believe “that somehow the Republican Party watered down its platform” on Russia.
Rep. Thomas Rooney, R-Fla., pronounced himself concerned about the “unmasking of Gen. 1 / 8Michael 3 / 8 Flynn’s identity,” which denied him “the constitutional protections that we all enjoy.” (The “unmasking” of the former Trump national security adviser was in the service of demonstrating that he spoke falsely about his contacts with Russia.)
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who led a multiyear Benghazi investigation packed with innuendo and damaging leaks, repeatedly denounced the “felonious dissemination” of secrets, supposedly by the Obama administration, and the “hearsay” that is impugning the Trump team.
Comey may have handed Trump the presidency with his announcement just before the election that he was reopening the Clinton email investigation. But he redeemed himself somewhat Monday with a lyrical defense of “our wonderful, often messy, but free and fair democratic system.” Said Comey: “When there’s something from a foreign state to disrupt that, it’s very serious. It threatens what is America.”
The Russians, Comey warned, “will be back” to disrupt future elections. “And one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sowed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.”
The chairman seemed more concerned about the political threat. Nunes told Comey flatly that “we don’t have any evidence” of wrongdoing by Trump and his associates and asked the FBI director to hurry the investigation. “There is a big gray cloud that you have put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country,” Nunes said.
But the FBI director didn’t put the cloud there. The Russians did. And if Nunes would consider country before party, he’d recognize that the cloud isn’t over Trump’s White House; it’s over all of us.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.