3 Major Takeaways from Congress' Hearing on Russia and the U.S. Election

March 20th 2017

Dave Fonseca

For months, political conversation in the United States have been dominated by questions of the role played by the Russian government in the election of President Donald Trump. On Monday, some answers were revealed.

The U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee, which has been tasked with investigating alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, held its first public hearing on Monday.

There were three major takeaways.

1. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey confirmed that the agency is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

This major development comes as Trump has repeatedly insisted that allegations of cooperation between his campaign and Russia were fabricated in order to discredit his presidency.

On the eve of the hearing, Trump tweeted his interpretation of statements made by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

However, Trump has been criticized for misinterpreting Clapper, who didn't outright claim there was no evidence of Russian influence over the U.S. election, but said during a January Senate hearing that the intelligence community "can’t gauge the impact that [Russian interference] had on choices that the electorate made. There is no way for us to gauge that."

During Monday's hearing, Comey stood by the January intelligence community report, which found that there was indeed a Russian effort to influence voters by harming the reputation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

2. Both Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael Rodgers said there was no information to support Trump's claims that former President Barack Obama had ordered either domestic or foreign intelligence agencies to wiretap Trump tower.

When asked about Rogers and Comey's statements, and if it would lead to Trump retracting his claims, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "No. We started a hearing. It’s still ongoing. And then, as Chairman Nunes mentioned, this is one of a series of hearings that will be happening.”

3. Republicans are focused on leaks.

As Aruna Viswanatha noted in the Wall Street Journal's live blog "two separate hearings are underway." While Democrats focused on allegations of Russian interference and Trump's claims about illegal wiretapping, Republicans were most curious about how information about National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's meeting with a Russian ambassador was leaked.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) pressed Comey on how he would investigate the leak of Flynn's phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which eventually lead to his resignation.

Gowdy said that the leak would be very damaging to the upcoming efforts to renew section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the director of National Intelligence and the attorney general to monitor the communications of people reasonably believed to be outside the United States, even if they are talking to U.S. citizens.

However, some commenters suggested that Gowdy's line of questioning was actually intended to distract from the FBI's investigation into Russian interference.

"GOP strategy to focus on leaks is a smear-the-messenger-to confuse-the-message defense and truly pathetic," said John W. Dean, former White House counsel to former President Richard Nixon. "Clearly, Trump has no defense."