The White House responded to a day of damaging testimony to Congress on Monday by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers with a series of tweets intended to cast the news in the best possible light. However, in at least one instance, Comey himself directly disputed the administration’s interpretation.
The official @POTUS account sent out a series of clips from the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing into the 2016 election, focusing on three issues: Russian efforts to influence the vote, allegations that the Trump campaign was wiretapped, and the leaks to the media about contacts between Russian officials and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey said that the Department of Justice was looking into Russian interference with the election and potential ties to the Trump campaign but that he had no information to support the president’s claims, on Twitter, that Trump Tower had been wiretapped on the orders of former President Barack Obama.
The first tweet concerned Comey’s answer to a question by Rep. Trey Gowdy on whether he had briefed President Obama on the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. “I’m not going to get into either that particular case … or any conversations I had with the president, so I can’t answer that,” Comey replied. The White House tweet framed this exchange as “Comey refus[ing] to deny” that he briefed the president. In fact, it was one of dozens of times over the course of the hearing that Comey declined to answer questions, whether from Republicans or from Democrats, because he said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
The second tweet read, “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process,” and included a clip of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., asking Rogers whether foreign agencies had specifically changed vote tallies in a number of states. The tweet conveyed the impression that the NSA was confirming that there had been no influence of any sort on the election, while the question was in fact confined to the narrow issue of whether Russia had hacked into the election results.
After a break, Democrat Jim Himes of Connecticut read aloud the POTUS tweet. In response, Comey disputed the White House’s conclusions, pointing out that the FBI and NSA had not investigated whether Russian disinformation, propaganda or hacking of Democratic National Committee emails might have changed voters’ minds.
“We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact, because it’s never something we looked at,” Comey said.
“So it’s not too far of a logical leap to conclude that the assertion that you have told the Congress that there was no influence on the electoral process is not quite right?” asked Himes.
“It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today, because we don’t have any information on that subject,” said Comey. “That’s not something that was looked at.”