Donald Trump seeks to shrug off FBI probe – but still puts his spin machine into overdrive

The FBI investigation is not likely to reach a conclusion any time soon

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How can a day of such political drama be both extraordinary and business as usual, all at the same time? 

Firstly, the remarkable: the director of the FBI confirms that the sitting US President is part of an ongoing espionage probe into an alleged effort by Russia to interfere with the election that bore him to the White House. He also says there is no proof to support the President’s claim that his predecessor wiretapped him.

Then, the business as usual: moments later, the White House says the probe has uncovered no such collusion and disassociates Donald Trump from many of those likely to be part of the FBI probe. Then, in the post-fact, create-your-own-facts world of the White House briefing room, it adds that Mr Donald Trump stands by the wiretapping claim that has just been publicly rubbished.

In any normal political environment, the events that played out on Monday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, would have been very damaging to the President.

James Comey had just confirmed federal agents were looking at possible collusion between Russia and Mr Trump’s campaign, and if “crimes” had been committed as a result. Then, he poured cold water on the startling claim about Barack Obama which Mr Trump has failed to provide any evidence to support.

But, as has been said a thousand times, these days are anything but ordinary. Mr Trump had already denounced the events as politically motivated and said the Democrats have pushed the story of Russia’s alleged involvement as “an excuse for running a terrible campaign”. It is very likely that his supporters will agree with him.

FBI Director James Comey questioned over Michael Flynn's payment from RT

“FBI Director Comey: fmr. DNI Clapper ‘right’ to say no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump Campaign,” Mr Trump said on Twitter, using the official presidential account rather than his personal one. 

Later, he added: “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.”

An indication of how the White House will play this in the coming days came from press secretary Sean Spicer, who told reporters: “Following this testimony, it’s clear that nothing has changed. Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on the record to say there is no evidence of a Trump Russia collusion.”

He added: “The Obama CIA director said so, the Obama director of national security said so. And we take them at their word.”

Mr Spicer was asked about various associates of Mr Trump – former campaign advisors Roger Stone and Carter Page, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and former national security advisor Michael Flynn – whose names had been included in questions by Democratic members of the committee that morning.

Mr Spicer said Mr Manafort had a “limited role” in the campaign, that Mr Flynn was “a volunteer”, and that Mr Stone also “only worked briefly”. He said Mr Page was among various “hangers-on” who in truth had little to do with the President’s team.

“Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things,” Mr Spicer said of the FBI investigation into possible links with Russia.

“I mean, there’s a point at which you continue to search for something that everybody who’s been briefed hasn’t seen or found. I think it’s fine to look into it but at the end of the day, they’re going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else has had. So you can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t matter.”

It is important to remember. that to date, for all the noise and for all the accusations, no hard evidence has been provided to show collusion between Mr Trump and Russia. Mr Trump is adamant that none exists. 

Until such evidence emerges, it’s likely that the majority of the 60 million or so people who voted for the New York tycoon are going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

If this all seems remarkable, it is. And it’s also business as usual.

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