No matter how the White House tries to spin the testimony of FBI director James Comey to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, the damage can’t be denied. Though it merely confirmed what everyone already knew, Comey’s statement that an investigation into possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign has been going on since last summer provides ammunition for the president’s critics. Even more than Comey’s willingness to add his voice to those officials who have dismissed the president’s foolish tweets about the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower, the FBI inquiry gives a measure of credence to the conspiracy theories about Russia that liberals have been using to undermine the president.
But despite the seriousness of the administration’s predicament, it is still worthwhile pointing out that one key element of the Democratic narrative about Trump and Russia is still utter nonsense. The notion that Russian efforts succeeded in stealing the presidential election from Hillary Clinton has no basis in fact.
As both Comey and Admiral Michael Rogers of the National Security Agency affirmed, there is no doubt that the Russians undertook activities designed to undermine faith in American democracy. It is equally true that the Putin regime preferred to see Trump rather than Clinton elected president of the United States. But the notion that these dots must somehow connect in a plot between Trump and Putin to steal the election requires faith in the sort of discredited claims (such as the Steele dossier) and conspiracy theories that Democrats laughed at when they were put forward by the far Right against Obama.
Yet Democrats are making progress toward achieving a more realistic goal: casting doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency by claiming, as almost all Democratic members asserted during the Comey hearing, that it was Putin’s intervention that put him over the top.
Whatever the Russians did or didn’t do, Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump won the 2016 election on their own. Congress and the FBI do well to investigate what the Russians were up to last year. But claims that they stole the election are the laments of sore losers, not the product of rational analysis.