In a first for Congressional hearings, James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was asked to say under oath on Monday if the official Twitter feed of the President of the United States was lying about the testimony he was still giving.
The extraordinary moment came after Comey had confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that there is indeed an ongoing counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the election of Donald Trump as president and “whether there was any coordination” between the Trump campaign and the Russian effort.”
Comey also stated categorically that there was no evidence to support the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower, speculation Trump himself had stated as fact in a moment of Breitbart-induced delirium earlier this month.
After those revelations, Comey and Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, were asked by Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the intelligence committee and a former member of Trump’s transition team, if they had any evidence that Russian hackers had tampered with the counting of votes in the small number of states that swung the electoral college in Trump’s favor. Both men replied that they did not.
Video of that exchange was soon posted on the president’s official Twitter account, @POTUS, which is managed by Trump’s former caddy and current social media director, Dan Scavino. The president’s Twitter spokesman, however, added a caption which mischaracterized the testimony of the two men as proof that “Russia did not influence electoral process.”
That was incorrect. Comey and Rogers had instead both made it plain that they stood by their earlier assessment, in a report that was partially declassified on January 6th, that Russia had indeed hacked the email accounts of Democratic officials, and provided stolen messages to WikiLeaks, in order to damage the electoral chances of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
A short time later, the two men, who were appearing before the committee largely to clear up confusion caused by the president’s earlier tweets — about “the Russia story” being “fake news” and President Obama “tapping my phones in October” — were asked by Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, if the new @POTUS tweet was a fair summary of their testimony.
Comey and Rogers replied that they had offered no judgement as to the effectiveness of the Russian campaign on the opinions of American voters when they said that there was no evidence of tampering with the actual vote-counting in the swing states.
As the New Yorker correspondent Ryan Lizza noted, the White House seemed to have shot itself in the foot by live-tweeting its misleading account of the testimony before the hearing was over.
Good lesson for the president: wait until your top intelligence officials are finished testifying before mischaracterizing their testimony.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) March 20, 2017
The same official government account was also used to misrepresent Comey’s refusal to go along with Rep. Trey Gowdy, who seemed intent on planting the baseless theory that former President Obama could have leaked the news that Trump’s disgraced national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had lied about discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Before the hearing was over, Trump’s Twitter spokesman also falsely claimed that Comey had agreed with the premise that there was “no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump Campaign.”
In fact, Comey had merely agreed that there was no evidence of that two months ago, when the January 6th intelligence assessment was released. He made it clear in his opening statement on Monday that the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and the Russian government to determine “whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts” was “ongoing.” That investigation, he added, “will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”