Partisanship on prominent display in congressional hearing rooms. One focusing on a judge nominated for a future lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. The other focusing on the past — what the FBI knew about purported wiretaps of Trump Tower and potential Russian intervention in the election. NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron has been watching both.
Let’s start with the House Intelligence Committee. We heard three takeaways from that hearing.
The first was FBI director James Comey confirming an investigation into the relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Comey prefaced his remarks by saying the FBI doesn’t usually comment on ongoing investigations except in unusual circumstances where it’s in the public interest.
Comey: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. … Because it is an open, ongoing investigation and is classified I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining. … We just cannot do our work well or fairly if we start talking about it while we’re doing it.
The second takeaway from the hearing was Comey saying there is no evidence supporting President Trump’s claim that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
Rep. Adam Schiff: Director Comey, was the president’s statement that Obama had his wires tapped in Trump Tower a true statement?
Comey: With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wire tapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.
The third takeaway was the head of the NSA disputing the idea that Washington could have asked British intelligence to do the surveilling for us.
Schiff: Did you ever request that your counterparts in GCHQ [Government Communication Headquarters] should wiretap Mr. Trump on behalf of President Obama?
Adm. Mike Rogers: No, sir, nor would I. That would be expressly against the construct of the five eyes agreement that’s been in place for decades.
Schiff: And the five eyes are some of our closest intelligence partners, and Britain is one of them?
Rogers: Yes, sir.
Schiff: Have you seen any evidence that anyone else in the Obama administration made such a request?
Rogers: No, sir, and again my view is the same as Director Comey. I have seen nothing on the NSA’s side that we engaged in any such activity nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity.
While Democrats on the committee focused on wiretaps and collusion, Republicans wondered aloud how all this stuff got leaked — illegally.
Simultaneously with that hearing the Senate Judiciary Committee began four days of hearings on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
First the senators — all 20 of them — gave their own opening statements.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: Judge Gorsuch appears to have a comprehensive originalist philosophy. It’s the approach taken by jurors such as Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, former Judge Bork. While it’s gained some popularity within conservative circles, originalism, I believe, remains outside the mainstream modern constitutional jurisprudence.
Sen. John Cornyn: Because of your qualifications and demonstrated record of following the law, other than a few special interest groups, I believe you’ve got a broad spectrum — really surprisingly broad spectrum — of people supporting your nomination.
In mid-afternoon, Judge Gorsuch delivered his opening statement. He painted himself as compassionate, decent and well within the mainstream.
Gorsuch: I’ve served with judges appointed by President Obama, all the way back to President Johnson. And in the 10th Circuit we hear cases from six different states, covering two time zones and 20 percent of the continental U.S. But in the West, we listen to one another, respectfully. We tolerate, we cherish, different points of view and we seek consensus whenever we can. My law clerks tell me that 97 percent of those 2,700 cases I’ve decided were decided unanimously and that I’ve been in the majority 99 percent of the time. That’s my record, and that’s how we do things in the West.
Questioning of Gorsuch begins tomorrow morning.