So what’s changed after the big intel hearing on Trump? Absolutely nothing.
© Greg Nash

The open hearing of FBI Director James Comey and NSA head Adm. Michael Rogers brings to mind a quote by the late Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

While the American public is used to investigation committees announcing the actions of the intelligence community, this testimony reveals what the community hasn’t done: Comey and Rogers refuted President Trump’s claims that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Health Care: Trump testing czar says rise in cases is real | Obama rips Trump's pandemic response | CDC: Increasing numbers of adults say they wear masks Trump calls Fox 'disappointing' for airing Obama speech Trump blasts Obama speech for Biden as 'fake' after Obama hits Trump's tax payments MORE had ordered a wiretap on Trump’s New York tower. Rogers denied any British involvement in tapping Trump, and Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian attempts to affect the U.S. election, including ties between Trump’s campaign advisers and Russian officials.

ADVERTISEMENT

But those who were hoping for another major public relations catastrophe for Trump, one that will mark his fall, need to keep waiting.

 

The testimony indeed embarrasses the president, as it refutes his claims that he was spied on by the previous administration. However, it doesn’t carry the political taint it would have if the investigation had been carried out by the Senate or Congress (recall the Democratic accusations of Comey defaming Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGorsuch rejects Minnesota Republican's request to delay House race Biden leads Trump by 6 points in Nevada: poll The Memo: Women could cost Trump reelection MORE and directly contributing to her defeat). Instead, it was conducted by two professional, non-political civil servants.

Yesterday’s hearing was important for the American people. Even if won’t heal the irreconcilable rift between Trump and the intelligence community, it demonstrated that those in U.S. intel follow the law while being as transparent as possible. This is why Comey argued that despite the FBI’s rule to not discuss ongoing investigations, public interest requires shedding light on this complex issue.

The testimonies were also important in easing the tension between the United Kingdom and the U.S., following accusations that the GCHQ (the British equivalent of the NSA) was involved in the alleged spying on Trump. With the great challenges the Western world is facing (terror and Russian global expansion, to name just two), the U.S. cannot allow itself to alienate one of its most important allies.

However, the hearing was a lose-lose scenario. Two of the most important figures of the intelligence community have claimed that Russia did interfere in U.S. internal affairs, but they were unable to prove any Russian effect on the elections. Furthermore, while they refuted the president’s accusations of wiretapping, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), did not rule out the possibility that Trump and his advisors were spied on by other measures.

Republicans were embarrassed by the testimonies and understood that it was yet another public relations disaster. Democrats celebrated the testimonies, and couldn’t resist confronting the two executives with public information on which they were unable to comment. Gloating is never a good strategy, especially with issues that affect every American, and more so since Comey was until recently perceived by Democrats as one who directly contributed to their defeat.

Comey himself was cautious when stating that there is no smoking gun (yet?) that indicates Russian influence on the U.S. presidential elections, and was correct in refusing to answer whether specific individuals close to the president had fallen under suspicion of criminal misconduct. His reasoning, that the FBI investigates leaks of classified information, demonstrates how he wasn’t trying to hide internal wrongdoings. Even so, he should have been more diplomatic when arguing that Trump should admit he was wrong.

Important as it was, the hearing doesn’t change the basic arguments of both sides, and it doesn’t really reveal the truth (assuming there is one). With the fair assumption that President Trump will continue firing back at the intelligence community, Democrats will continue striking at the president, and the FBI will continue struggling to find the smoking gun — it seems that the entire nation loses this battle.

Shay Hershkovitz, Ph.D., is chief strategy officer at Wikistrat, Inc. and a political science professor at Tel Aviv University specializing in intelligence studies. He is also a former IDF intelligence officer whose book, "Aman Comes To Light," deals with the history of the Israeli intelligence community.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.