Till now, out of everything we knew about the special counsel investigation into “collusion” with Russia, the biggest head-scratcher has been why Attorney General Jeff Sessions was still at his job and what he might be doing to justify a paycheck. But now, we may have an even bigger one: South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy’s odd responses to questions about the appropriateness of spying on the Trump campaign.
Gowdy, Devin Nunes and seven other House members received an hour-long briefing on May 24 after the Justice Department had refused to comply with a Congressional subpoena to provide documents relating to what reporter Mollie Hemingway describes as “an individual who was secretly gathering information on the Trump campaign on behalf of the federal government.” (Translation: SPY.) They received a classified briefing that, importantly, still did not provide the documents that would have satisfied the subpoena. In fact, Mark Meadows said afterwards that no documents –- zero –- were shown. According to Hemingway, a spokesperson for Gowdy repeatedly refused to answer questions about what, if any, documents were presented.
This is the meeting that was prefaced by a brief appearance by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Trump attorney Emmet Flood to call for transparency. It appears they wasted their breath.
But Gowdy apparently didn’t need to see any documents to be convinced of what DOJ officials were telling them at the meeting. Such credulity seems strangely out of character for someone like Gowdy, a seasoned prosecutor who knows better than to believe people who continue to hide mountains of evidence. Yet for some reason, he took the DOJ’s “briefing” at face value. After the meeting, he said the FBI had done nothing inappropriate in their investigation of Russian interference. Never mind that we know for a fact spying was done; we have it from such disparate sources as The New York Times, The Washington Post, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and three people who have gone on record as being approached by the confidential informant (spy). We even know who the spy is, and his background as a spy. And Gowdy himself has suggested that an informant was used to collect information (to spy); the weird thing is that he’s now saying it was okay.
Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) jumped on his words as a “debunking” of the alleged spying. Not to say that spying wasn’t done, because we know it was, but Gowdy seemed to be saying that such activity is routine and should be accepted without question, even under these circumstances. He said the FBI was doing what his “fellow citizens” would have wanted them to do. (Mr. Gowdy, you can count this fellow citizen out.)
Yet, as Hemingway points out, he seemed unclear on a few aspects of the investigation, such as whether the FBI had been conducting a counterintelligence or criminal probe. He said he hadn't encountered the word “spy” in his work as a prosecutor, but his work has been only on the criminal side. He wants Mueller to be able to complete his investigation while admitting he doesn’t know the scope of it. In one interview, he mentioned Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton as others who share his perspective, including them with “those who have seen the information.” But there is no evidence that they have seen the information, either.
Gowdy, Rubio, Cotton and anybody else who is ready to cave to bureaucratic power should read the latest column by go-to legal mind Andrew C. McCarthy, on just how hard it’s supposed to be to get a FISA warrant. To get a warrant to surveil Carter Page, the FBI would have had to give the court evidence that he was a clandestine agent of Russia, but the only evidence suggestive of that was in the unverified Steele “dossier.” And it remains unverified; if the FBI had ever verified that claim, Page would have been charged. He wasn’t.
McCarthy makes the case for the avoidance of political spying in America except in cases of serious wrongdoing. “We have an important norm in this country against political spying,” he says, “(as) a matter of tradition, of democratic institutions, of constitutional principles, and of modern history’s Watergate chapter. The incumbent administration must not use its awesome counterintelligence, counterespionage and law enforcement powers against its political opposition absent compelling evidence of egregious misconduct.”
When McCarthy goes on to put Trump’s perceived softness towards Russia into historical perspective, Mitt Romney, in citing Russia as our most serious threat, is about the only one who comes out unscathed. Appropriately (because no one was sent in to spy on HER campaign), Hillary’s ties with Russia are cited: the $145 million given to the Clinton Foundation, the $500,000 to Bill for a brief speech, and the fact that she was “neck-deep in the Uranium One scandal.”
His point is “that after 30 years of embracing and empowering Moscow, it is not credible --- particularly for an administration that was among the worst offenders --- to say ‘We had to use spies and FISA surveillance against the Trump campaign due to suspicion that Trump might embrace and empower Moscow.’” As we’ve said, if the administration had been acting in good faith, it could have done things it did not do: interview Page and Manafort, for example, and certainly inform Trump of its concerns. But this was not good faith –- it was very obviously a massive case of political opportunism.
But one thing remains unclear: the reason for Trey Gowdy’s odd failure to grasp that. Now, what do we say, class? If something doesn’t make sense, there’s a key piece of the puzzle still missing.
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