After Thursday’s testimony from James Comey, there’s finally consensus regarding the president.
No, not the one in Washington. The one in Moscow.
Partisans, after all, interpreted the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing through predictable prisms: Some Republicans found Comey’s comments exculpatory, while some Democrats found the former FBI director’s descriptions of his meetings with President Donald Trump as proof of obstruction of justice.
Rather, there’s consensus on President Vladimir Putin, who leads a Russian government that interfered in the 2016 election, a fact unequivocally confirmed by Comey.
Coming to consensus on the Kremlin can hopefully result in Congress coming to consensus on the Russia probe, too.
Because despite the divides in the Beltway and beyond, Russia’s attack on our democracy is an attack on America. And there is no constituency for a foreign government — particularly one as adversarial and amoral as Moscow’s — manipulating our democratic process.
“This investigation is not about relitigating the election,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “It’s not about who won or lost. And it sure as heck is not about Democrats vs. Republicans. We are here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple. Not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process: our presidential election.”
North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, also sought to establish the extent of Russian involvement. Burr asked Comey if he had any doubts if Russia attempted to interfere in the election, whether it was behind the computer intrusions and subsequent leaks of Democratic entities’ e-mails, and whether it was behind cyberintrusion of state voter files.
Comey calmly said he had no doubts.
And the concern was even tri-partisan, with Maine’s Angus King, an independent, establishing that the Russian aggression wasn’t a one-off, but part of a long-term strategy.
“Yes, sir,” Comey concurred. “It is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It really is an American thing.”
This “American thing” is the thing.
Which is why it’s imperative for Congress — and Americans — to repress partisanship and summon patriotism in the quest for truth.
“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever,” Comey testified. “The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that. It is a high-confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community, and the members of this committee have seen that intelligence. It’s not a close call. That happened. That’s about as unfake as you can possibly get. It is very, very serious, which is why it’s so refreshing to see a bipartisan focus on that. This is about America, not about a particular party.”
Refreshing, indeed. But political reflexes may revert, and sharp partisan divides may make it more difficult to proceed with the probe.
If so, senators, representatives and Special Counsel Robert Mueller should make geopolitics, not domestic politics, their North Star since the threat from further Russian attacks is a direct danger to democracy. And should Congress need a reminder of the necessity of comity, Comey’s clarity on Putin’s Russia should steel them.
“We have this big, messy, wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time, but nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for except other Americans ...,” Comey told West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. “They’re coming after America, which I hope we all love equally. They want to undermine our credibility in the face of the world. They think that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them. So they’re going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible. That’s what this is about and they will be back. Because we remain — as difficult as we can be with each other — we remain that shining city on the hill. And they don’t like it.”
They may not. We should. Enough to preserve it by protecting what makes it possible: democracy.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:20 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.