Updated on March 20 at 5:46 p.m. ET
With just two sentences on Monday, FBI Director James Comey cast a long, dark shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump and the campaign that resulted in his election.
“I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey said in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. “That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Comey’s declaration was not a surprise; reports about a federal probe involving Trump have been swirling for months. But his decision to publicly confirm that the sitting president’s campaign is under investigation for possibly colluding with a foreign power to undermine an election was a stunning revelation, and one whose significance both Democrats and Republicans immediately recognized.
“By your announcement today, there is now a cloud that undermines our system,” Representative Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican, pointedly told the FBI director. Under questioning, Comey said that the FBI began the investigation in late July. That disclosure will likely inflame Democratic criticism that Comey chose to publicly discuss the bureau’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the closing days of the 2016 election but did not reveal it was also investigating the Trump campaign and Russian meddling.