In his opening statement at the House Intelligence Committee hearing on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) spoke about what questions they hope to investigate. (Reuters)

This post has been updated.

For anyone hoping Monday would be the day Republicans finally repudiated President Trump’s wiretapping claim once and for all and started deeply probing Russia’s alleged Trump advocacy, the morning’s events were sorely disappointing.

From the very start of the House Intelligence Committee’s first public hearing on Russia and the 2016 election, it became clear that Republicans were offering a message very much in lockstep with the one being put forward by the White House — up to and including on the wiretapping claim.

At the start of the hearing, committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) again acknowledged there was no evidence of Trump’s specific claim. But then he handed Trump a major talking point, saying that Trump and those close to him could have had other forms of surveillance “used against” them.

“We know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower,” Nunes said. “However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”

This mirrors the White House’s effort to move the goal posts on Trump’s claim, pointing to the possibility of “incidental collection” having ensnared Trump and his team. But this kind of surveillance wouldn’t have been targeted at Trump, as Trump alleged, nor would it have been authorized directly by President Barack Obama, as Trump claimed.

Still, Nunes put it out there. And you can bet the White House will snatch it up.


House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) questions FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Nunes’s next move also hewed closely to the White House’s messaging. After FBI Director James B. Comey dropped some major news by confirming the FBI is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign, Nunes began his line of questioning by echoing another key White House talking point: knocking down the straw man of Russia having actually hacked vote totals in the 2016 election.

With his first questions, Nunes asked both Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers whether there was any evidence of vote-hacking. He did it state by state with Rogers to punctuate his point, asking first about Pennsylvania, then Wisconsin, then Florida, then North Carolina, then Ohio. Rogers first noted that the NSA doesn’t do domestic surveillance, and then answered each state with a “No, sir.”

The White House has often pointed to the lack of vote-hacking to suggest Russia didn’t actually influence the election. But the intelligence community never suggested Russia engaged in this behavior; its allegations have always been about hacking of emails and spreading of information. Yet that’s where Nunes began the question-and-answer portion of the hearing.

There was also a heavy focus on rooting out leakers. Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), who questioned Comey and Rogers after Nunes, delved at length into how much damage leakers are doing to national security — another key Trump talking point. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) would later pick up on this point.

And there was one point in the hearing in which Nunes suggested that evidence could emerge linking the Hillary Clinton campaign to Russia and asked Comey what the FBI would do with such information.

Both of these talking points, as it happens, were tweeted by Trump just hours before the hearing.

Trump has surely put Republicans in a tough spot with his Obama-wiretapped-me allegation. And these Republicans have had no choice but to state the obvious about that specific claim: that there is no evidence of it.

But that’s about as far as they’re willing to go in repudiating him right now. Otherwise, their rhetoric on the whole Russia issue very much echoes Trump's — almost as if press secretary Sean Spicer was on the dais asking questions himself.

And any illusions that these hearings would turn into bipartisan, kumbaya probes focused on Russia’s alleged role in helping Trump and debunking Trump’s specific claim quickly disappeared.