Just after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, in a windowless hearing room in the basement of the Capitol, former homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson began testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee, answering lawmakers' questions about Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
A few blocks away, in a similar windowless hearing room, with similar wooden desks and a similar cavernously tall ceiling, similar lawmakers asked similar questions of another group of intelligence officials about a similar topic.
But a morning filled with hearings about Russia has become routine in Washington.
Johnson, who served under President Barack Obama, sat in a House intelligence hearing discussing what he knew about Russian interference in the 2016 election during his time in office. (Johnson left his post in January, when President Trump was inaugurated.) At the other end of the Capitol complex, Samuel Liles, acting director of DHS's cyber division; Jeanette Manfra, DHS's acting director of national protection; and Assistant FBI Director Bill Priestap, head of the bureau's counterterrorism division, testified about much the same thing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And little of what they said was groundbreaking. In fact, the witnesses mostly echoed their intelligence community counterparts who have testified in recent weeks. Their main points have been discussed exhaustively, both in congressional hearings and in the public sphere. Their analysis came down to a few key facts: Russia interfered in the 2016 election through a far-reaching influence campaign, but didn't change actual vote tallies by hacking into voting machines. (Liles did make news when he announced that hackers attempted to hack election systems in 21 states, but never got close to changing vote tallies.)
So why do intelligence officials keep returning to the simple fact that Russia interfered in the election, over and over?
The most obvious reason is that they don't see much of a response from the Trump administration — and probably feel like Trump himself isn't taking the allegations against Russia seriously.
It isn't hard to see why. Trump has repeatedly called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt” and “fake news” and attacked the credibility of career law enforcement officials overseeing the investigation.
Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017
When asked bluntly whether Trump believes Russia interfered in the election at his daily press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer offered an amazing non-answer: “I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing.”
That's code for: I'm not going to answer that, because the answer wouldn't be helpful to the president. Which, in a way, says it all: The White House press secretary won't discuss the president's official position, because it goes against everything we've been told by Democrats, Republicans and every intelligence agency in the United States.