When Democrats like Lieu say they say they see smoke rather than fire, however, they are no longer referring to the campaign. They are discussing Trump’s conduct in the White House.
It would be easy to explain away the stories about Trump saying he fired “nut job” Comey to get him off his back about Russia as smears from anonymous leakers, even with the White House’s failure to issue an unequivocal denial, if the president himself didn’t seem preoccupied with the Russia investigation.
In fact, Trump undercut his own administration’s careful messaging on Comey’s firing to raise the Russia probe in his interview with NBC’s Holt and on Twitter. This after defensively mentioned he had been assured he wasn’t under investigation himself in his own statement announcing Comey’s dismissal.
“The Russia concerns were overplayed from the beginning,” said a former Republican national security official. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there shouldn’t have been concerned, but they were overplayed based on the evidence.”
Yet even some who share that assessment now believe that Trump has given his opponents a new opening into what only recently looked like a dead end.