President Trump insists that he is not under investigation by the FBI. The media insist that he is. So, who’s telling the truth? According to former FBI director James Comey, the FBI was indeed investigating ties between associates of President Trump and Russian election interference. Comey, however, demurred when asked by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) whether anyone had been “ruled out … in the Trump campaign as potentially a target of that criminal investigation.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
As Byron York of The Washington Examiner points out, Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Democratic Ranking Member Diane Feinstein (D-CA) commented on the exchange. Grassley said that Comey “should tell the public what he told Senator Feinstein and me about whether the FBI is or is not investigating the president. On Tuesday, the president’s letter said that Director Comey told him he was not under investigation. Senator Feinstein and I heard nothing that contradicted the president’s statement.” Grassley then ripped the “speculation” that had drawn conclusions from Comey’s original statements.
Feinstein then confirmed Grassley’s words: “I very much appreciate what you’ve said, and it’s very accurate, and we were briefed. And the nature of the briefing was a counter-intelligence and criminal investigation that the FBI was carrying out, and more than that I will not say, either.”
York points out:
What to make of the Grassley-Feinstein exchange? While nothing is ever completely clear in the Russia affair, it seems that Grassley was saying that Comey had told him, and Feinstein, that some individuals were targets of the FBI Russia probe, and that President Trump was not among them. That's not an exoneration; the investigation could be focused on others around Trump, and perhaps on his campaign as an organization, in a way that could eventually lead to the president.
And herein lies the problem with media coverage of the FBI investigation: we don’t know anything. We know that members of Trump’s campaign team are likely under investigation — former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and National Security Advisor Mike Flynn being the three most likely candidates for such investigation — but there is no evidence that Trump himself has been swept up in this.
That’s likely what’s frustrating Trump: that Comey wouldn’t just say so, and the media seem bound and determined not to say so. Trump actually said as much in his interview with Lester Holt on NBC on Thursday: “I know one thing, I knew that I’m not under investigation, me, personally, I’m not talking about campaigns, about anything else, me, personally, I’m not under investigation.”
This confusion has led to dishonesty on both sides. If Trump’s campaign is under investigation, that does have ramifications for Trump — but it doesn’t mean that Trump himself is under investigation. Denying those ramifications is dishonest; pretending that Trump himself is under investigation is dishonest.