Yet, among Republicans and Democrats questioning Comey, you would have thought you were hearing two separate hearings. Democrats focused on the epic charges of alleged election tampering, while Republicans spoke almost exclusively of unmasking.
The unmaskee in this case is Michael Flynn, who briefly held the post of National Security Advisor under Trump until he was fired for lying about having conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn's activities were uncovered by FBI surveillance and then made public in leaks to news media.
By Monday night, Trump aide Kellyanne Conway summarized the day's hearings this way on Fox News: "The unmasking of an American citizen through intelligence leaks should concern everyone. We learned about that today."
Period. No mention by Conway of collusion with the Russians. And no mention of the day's other headline: that there is no information to support Trump's wild accusation that Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Obama.
Over on CNN, left-leaning pundits insisted there was so much "smoke" in Trump’s dealings with Russia that there must be "fire." But the Trump apologists on the panel only wanted to talk about the horrors of unmasking.
Trump has crafted a parallel universe for his followers. When bad news comes along––as it seems to with increasing frequency––Trump fires off wild tweets. Accusations in the tweets, no matter how farfetched, must, of course, be investigated. The investigation, naturally, is given equal weight with more serious matters––at least in the minds of Trump supporters.
And then, through artful marketing, a single word is invoked to grab the public's attention. Unmasking!
Ironically, whoever leaked Flynn's name is arguably a national hero. The Trump administration took no action to fire him, despite the president's full awareness of his activities, until leaks made it impossible for Flynn to stay.
But on Capitol Hill we were reminded repeatedly by Republicans, led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, that such leaking is "a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison."
Meanwhile, Trump himself has already employed his favorite words, "fake news," to dismiss the FBI's investigation into his ties with Russia, even before the probe is completed.
Trump and his staff have yet to prove they know much about governing. But they are forces to be reckoned with in the increasingly important war of words.
(c) Peter Funt. Distributed by Cagle syndicate.