What odds can I get in Vegas that the eventual IG report about this will find that (a) nothing illegal happened in 2016 but (b) having one party’s presidential nominee investigated by a DOJ run by the other party is “problematic,” to put it mildly, and creates an appearance of impropriety that undermines public confidence in the justice system?
Double or nothing that it comes with a recommendation for Congress to establish new guidelines for how the Department should handle counterintelligence probes that involve political campaigns in the future.
Anyway, an interesting answer here by Chris Wray at this morning’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing to a question about “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016. The bottom line in his response — no, he hasn’t seen evidence of illegal surveillance — doesn’t quite capture the tenor of his full reply.
“Thank you,” said [Jeanne] Shaheen. “Do you believe, Director Wray, that the FBI and its agents spied into the 2016 presidential campaign operation?”
“Well again, I want to be careful how I answer that question here, because there is an ongoing Inspector General investigation,” said Wray. “I have my own thoughts based on the limited information I’ve seen so far, but I don’t think it would be right or appropriate for me to share those at this stage, because I really do think it’s important for everybody to respect the independent Inspector General’s investigation, which I think this question start — this line of questioning starts to implicate, and I think it’s very important for everybody to have full confidence in his review.”
When Shaheen followed up by asking him if he had evidence of illegal surveillance, he responded with “I don’t think I personally have any evidence of that sort.” The fact that he was willing to say he “personally” didn’t have info but was unwilling to state his opinion on whether there was any FBI spying seems notable to me, as if Wray has reason to believe that something untoward happened but doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of it. Did word trickle down to him somehow about the IG’s preliminary findings? Remember that Barr famously seemed credulous about “spying” too when he testified last month.
Wray’s predecessor was asked recently about last week’s bombshell NYT report claiming that an undercover female operative met George Papadopoulos in 2016 to feel him out about campaign connections to Russia. Was that spying, Comey was asked? He was less placid than Wray in answering:
“Really? What would you have the FBI do? We discover in the middle of June of 2016 that the Russians were engaged in a massive effort to mess with this democracy to interfere in the election. We’re focused on that and at the end of July we learn that a Trump campaign adviser — two months earlier, before any of this was public — had talked to a Russian representative about the fact that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton and wanted to arrange to share it with the Trump campaign,” Comey said…
“What should the FBI do when it gets that information? It should investigate to figure out whether any Americans are hooked up with this massive interference effort. And that’s what we did.” Comey said.
How many more undercover agents were used to sting members of Trump’s campaign, wondered Byron York in a column today. That’s a key question for the IG report: Did the FBI adjust its counterintelligence protocols in any way in light of the political sensitivity of surveilling a presidential campaign or did it treat Team Trump as any other outfit whom it suspected might be mixed up with Russia? Should it have adjusted those protocols and given the campaign special treatment that any other organization wouldn’t have received? Was there any political pressure from higher-ups in the Obama administration to launch the investigation or use tactics that the FBI was reluctant to use?
If there was and this was all essentially a political sting on Trump, why didn’t Obama make a bigger deal of Russian interference before Election Day, hoping that Hillary might benefit?
You’ll find Wray here more uncomfortable with the term “spying” than Barr was during his own testimony, which I understand. “Spying” typically refers to surveillance that’s unlawful and/or conducted by the enemy. Never in my lifetime of watching true-crime shows have I heard police surveillance of the bad guy described as “spying,” even when it involves wiretaps. “Spying” is what you say when you want to emphasize that surveillance is improper. Barr obviously knows that yet made a point of using that word before quickly retreating when he was called on it, insisting that he has no knowledge of impropriety at this point. Again, was that because he got some sort of preview from the IG’s office that the FBI broke the law in surveilling Team Trump or was he just spinning for POTUS by recycling his narrative that all surveillance of his campaign was bad and therefore “spying”?