Is there a link between President Trump’s breathtaking allegation that former president Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower and the Russian plot to sway the American election against Hillary Clinton?
Both matters were the subject of long-awaited congressional testimony by FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency chief Admiral Michael Rogers. Their performance, compelling though it was, put neither controversy definitively to rest, for now or probably forever.
On the Trump wiretap tweets, the FBI director unequivocally confirmed what everyone — including every sentient creature at the Trump White House — already knows: there is zero evidence for Trump’s charge that his predecessor engaged in Watergate-like criminal behavior. There will be no more authoritative statement that Trump’s allegations were bunk than what Comey offered. Yet this will not stop Trump from denying the truth. Our president is an incurable and congenital liar.
On the Russian plot, Admiral Rogers reconfirmed the finding of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russians had mounted a plot to interfere in the election for the purpose of helping Trump. Comey revealed the explosive fact that there is an ongoing FBI investigation of “coordination” between Russia and associates of the Trump campaign. Neither he nor Rogers would say more.
With the critical question of collusion left unresolved, we remain in an ambiguous position, one that will require patience until the FBI and congressional investigations are completed. In the interim we will only see mounting speculation based upon the growing body of evidence in the public domain.
But two general observations can be formulated, which pertain both to Trump’s tweets and to possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin.
Is it really the proper role of the press secretary — or any human being — to subsume his own will to the will of his superior and jettison the basic obligation of democratic discourse and human decency: to be truthful? The historical echoes could not be darker.
In totalitarian countries people accepted this kind of obedience either because they were in the grip of a poisonous ideology, or because the alternative was prison, torture, and death. Fleischer the functionary, like Spicer the functionary, embrace blind obedience freely and willingly. When the history of the Trump era is written, their abnegation of personal responsibility will deserve more than a footnote.
Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law. Follow him on Twitter @gabeschoenfeld