This morning, members of Congress had a confidential briefing about suspected Russian hacking. We don’t know what exactly was said, obviously, but Democratic members emerged furiously angry, yelling about FBI director James Comey and darkly promising the public will hear more later. So that’s reassuring!
The Hill reports that a number of Democrats emerged from the meeting convinced that Comey is “unfit to to lead the agency:”
“I was non-judgmental until the last 15 minutes. I no longer have that confidence in him,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said as he left the meeting in the Capitol.
“Some of the things that were revealed in this classified briefing — my confidence has been shook.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, delivered a similar condemnation.
“I’m extremely concerned — extremely,” he said.
“I’ll just — I’m very angry,” echoed Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.).
None of that is, uh, very specific. One Congresswoman is now calling for an independent commission on the hacking allegations, suggesting that she thinks the FBI can’t be trusted to handle the investigation.
It would certainly be nice to know what the hell is going on here. In the meantime, the Department of Justice announced yesterday that they’re investigating how the FBI and Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
And in yet another fun wrinkle, both the Washington Post and the Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, are saying today that retired general Michael Flynn, a member of the Trump transition team, had contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States the same day the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian officials from the U.S. and imposed sanctions against the country. Here’s how the Post’s David Ignatius tells it:
According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Living in a poorly-written spy thriller is, frankly, getting kind of stressful.
Update, 3:30 p.m.:
The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman has more details on the meeting from an unnamed source; some of the anger apparently stems from Comey’s refusal to clarify at all, even in private, whether the FBI is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia:
In that earlier hearing, Comey said he would “never comment” on a potential FBIinvestigation “in an open forum like this”, raising expectations among some attendees of Friday’s briefing that Comey would put the issue to rest in a classified setting.
But according to sources attending the closed-door Friday morning meeting, that was not the case. As such, frustration with Comey was bipartisan and heated, adding to intense pressure on the director of the FBI, whose conduct in the 2016 election itself is now being investigated by an independent US justice department watchdog.
One of Ackerman’s sources adds that Comey refused to answer much of anything, leading to an angry discussion with members of Congress about his previous willingness to talk publicly about the Clinton email investigation:
One source in the meeting said Comey would not answer “basic questions” about the FBI’s current investigative activities. The FBI chief was grilled “over and over again”, according to the source, about his standards for acknowledging FBI investigations, with legislators repeatedly bringing up Comey’s dramatic public confirmation that the bureau was revisiting classification issues with Hillary Clinton’s private email server days before the election, as well as his summer press conference announcing that he would not seek indictment.