Don’t expect FBI Director James Comey to reveal much about the bureau’s months-long investigation of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia when he speaks publicly before members of Congress on Wednesday. In fact, there’s no guarantee Comey and his agency will ever fully lay bare those findings for the American public, because such investigations rarely end in criminal charges that offer a full picture. Some measure of information will certainly come to light through multiple congressional investigations. And political pressure will fall on Comey and the Justice Department to make public what investigators have learned.
The most obvious vehicle for disclosing details of a government investigation is through a criminal indictment, but counterintelligence investigations such as the one into President Donald Trump’s campaign and its possible ties with Russia rarely end with charges. These cases involve extremely sensitive sources and methods that officials are loath to drop clues about. American officials often conclude that spy-related activity they uncover isn’t actually criminal in nature, or can be addressed through a tool other than prosecution.
“The vast majority of counterintelligence investigations will never see the inside of a courtroom,” said former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa, an associate dean of Yale Law School. “The purpose of a counterintelligence investigation isn’t to find people, build a criminal case and put them in jail.”
The purpose, instead, is to root out spies.