WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey made one thing abundantly clear Monday: There is zero evidence that Donald Trump or Trump Tower was wiretapped during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign.
"I have no information that supports those tweets," Comey told House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California, confirming that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department had found any evidence of the alleged wiretapping after a very close look.
Comey's denial of wiretapping comes on the heels of similar statements by former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former president Barack Obama and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.).
For Trump to continue to make the case that he was wiretapped by Obama during the 2016 election, you must believe that the current FBI director is lying in a public, nationally televised congressional hearing. And that the former director of national intelligence was lying. And that Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, is lying that Britain was not involved in a wiretapping program at the behest of the American government.
That's a very, very, very, very tough sell.
Now, there are ways around this — and a number of the Republican members on the Intelligence Committee are taking Trump's lead in suggesting them. The prime pushback is that when Trump used the word "wiretapping," he didn't actually mean wiretapping. Instead he meant a broader palette of potential means of surveillance. And so, by denying, specifically, the words "wiretapping," Comey and the rest are playing word games and not broadly denying that someone, somewhere was watching or listening to the Republican presidential nominee.
It is possible — in the broadest sense of that word — that such a theory could have some validity. But it is the longest of long shots, and to believe it, you have to believe that people like Comey and Clapper purposely obfuscated when asked direct questions about whether Trump was being surveilled.
Given Comey's flat denial of any evidence of Trump Tower being wiretapped, there will be increased pressure on both Trump and Republican members of Congress to back off that position and apologize for it. Reps. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) and Will Hurd (R., Texas) have already called on Trump to apologize to Obama. It's hard to imagine that other GOPers won't follow that lead in light of Comey's testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.
Trump is another matter. His offhand remark at a joint news appearance Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that perhaps he and she had both been wiretapped by the Obama administration suggests he isn't planning to leave the issue alone — much less apologize for it.
And we know that for 35 to 40 percent of the public, that will be enough; they simply trust Trump more than they trust any intelligence official or media outlet.
But that's sort of beside the point. Trump is the president of the United States. There is now ample evidence that a very serious accusation he made about a former president is simply not true. Standing by it now is simply irresponsible.