A major New York Times story that helped spawn the unproven Trump-Russia collusion narrative for months in Washington was debunked Thursday by former FBI Director James B. Comey.
Asked by Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, whether the story was “almost entirely wrong,” he answered, “Yes.”
In response to a similar question by Sen. James Risch, Idaho Republican, Mr. Comey said that “in the main, it was not true.”
“The challenge, and I’m not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is that people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on and those of us who actually know what’s going on are not talking about it,” Mr. Comey elaborated.
Mr. Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that when the Times story appeared Feb. 14, telling a story of numerous contacts between Russian intelligence and President Trump’s campaign people and associates, he knew it was not true.
He first double checked with the intelligence community and then alerted both Republican and Democratic senators not to believe the Times.
It was a rare public moment in Washington. A former FBI director was totally discrediting a major investigative story by the nation’s most influential newspaper and, in doing so, backing President Trump.
That February, FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe disclosed to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the Russian probe, by then eight months old, had not turned up evidence of collusion. Mr. Priebus obtained FBI permission to release the information and did so on a Sunday political-talk show.
The Times story took on enormous importance since the political Left, and Democrats, relied on it to spin the Russian collusion story in Congress, cable TV and the internet.
The Times lede was a blockbuster: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.”
Mr. Comey said that “many many stories” on the FBI’s Russia probe “are just dead wrong.”
In a sense, Mr. Comey, whose testimony on his meetings with Mr. Trump is considered damaging, was supporting the president’s regular refrain that Washington’s liberal press establishment specializes in “fake news” about him.
Conservatives have said they think the Times story, and other questionable narratives, are fed by Obama administration officials and holdovers in the federal government who are trying to sabotage Mr. Trump.
Nearly a year into investigating Russia’s attempt to influence the election by hacking Democratic Party computers, former intelligence officials and some lawmakers say there exists no evidence of Trump-team collusion with the Kremlin’s efforts.