The White House tweeted Monday that the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency told Congress Russia did not influence the 2016 presidential election. But to borrow a phrase from the administration’s own parlance, that’s actually fake news.
The tweet, which came from the president's official government Twitter account and was sent out by his staff, tries to bolster the claim with a clip from Monday’s high-profile congressional hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers.
The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process. pic.twitter.com/d9HqkxYBt5— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
If you’re generally predisposed to give the Kremlin a pass, the exchange superficially appears to back Trump’s repeated insistence that Russian interference in the election had no effect on the outcome of the race.
But Comey and Rogers were actually answering a very specific question — whether or not Russian hackers changed actual vote tallies in the crucial battleground states that decided the election. They were clearly not saying what Trump claims they were.
“Do you have any evidence that Russian cyber actors changed vote tallies in the state of Michigan?” House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes asked Rogers.
“No, I do not, but I would highlight we are a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization, so it would be fair to say we are probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer,” Rogers replied.
“How about the state of Pennsylvania?”
Nunes proceeded to ask the same question regarding Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, to which Rogers provided the same exact response.
Then Nunes turned to Comey and asked the same question.
“Comey, do you have any evidence at the FBI that any votes were changed in the states that I mentioned to Adm. Rogers?” Nunes asked.
“No,” Comey said.
Contrary to Trump’s tweet, Comey and Rogers are not denying that Russia interfered with the election. They’re instead saying they don’t have any evidence that hackers actually changed the vote counts by manipulating the machines doing the tallying or somehow casting fraudulent ballots.
The Trump tweet is not only making a false claim about the matter being discussed in the clip; it’s also at odds with an already established fact: There’s a consensus in the intelligence community that Russia interfered with the election to help Trump win the White House.
In January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of its report on Russia’s interference in the US presidential election, and revealed that the FBI, CIA, and NSA concluded with “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin deliberately sought to tip the election in favor of Trump.
The president’s official Twitter account also had other tweets about the hearing that were just as bizarre. Linking to a clip of an exchange between Rep. Trey Gowdy and Comey, the account tweets that “Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia.”
FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia. pic.twitter.com/cUZ5KgBSYP— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
It’s true that Comey declined to answer the question by saying that he couldn’t get into any conversations he had with Obama before Trump took office. But it’s unclear what the Trump administration is trying to get at with the tweet. It’s also not obvious what kind of political points are scored by suggesting that a sitting president was briefed on a legitimate national security concern while still in the White House. What is clear is that Trump is using a public platform to try to undermine his own FBI director by exploiting one of scores of “no comment” responses Comey gave to questions from lawmakers.
One might expect that Trump’s official government Twitter account, mainly handled by his staff, would show a bit more restraint than the one that the president himself uses. One would be wrong.