Politico/Morning Consult poll: Plurality believe "spying did occur" targeting Trump campaign

This should make Democrats nervous on Muellermas Eve. They, along with the national media, have spent the past week kicking Attorney General William Barr for his observation that using a FISA warrant to surveil a Trump campaign adviser during a counterintelligence operation amounts to “spying,” whether justified or not. Despite the fact checks and the editorial scolding that resulted, a new poll from Politico and Morning Consult shows a plurality agrees with Barr:

Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they believe the Trump campaign was spied on, compared to 28 percent who said they don’t believe the president’s campaign was spied on. More than a third, 35 percent, said they don’t know or have no opinion about it.

The spying allegations — raised last week by Attorney General William Barr, who told lawmakers that he thought “spying did occur” on the president’s 2016 campaign — are largely viewed through a partisan lens. More than half of Republicans surveyed, 57 percent, said they believe the Trump campaign was spied on, while less than a quarter of Democrats, 24 percent, agreed.

Politico tries tossing in its own editorial scold in the review:

While there’s no evidence that officials spied on the Trump campaign, the attorney general’s comments still made it into a majority of voters’ news consumption.

More than a quarter, 26 percent, said they have seen, heard or read “a lot” about Barr’s spying claim, and 32 percent said they have seen, heard or read “some.” One-fifth of respondents said they hadn’t seen, heard or read much about the comments, and 21 percent were fully in the dark, saying they hadn’t seen, heard or read anything “at all” about it.

Yes, there is evidence that “officials spied” on the Trump campaign, and it’s the FISA warrant — and its multiple renewals. Law enforcement surveillance can also be described as spying, but that’s more a term of art in that context. When the Department of Justice applies for a FISA warrant, that’s not a law-enforcement activity. It’s counter-espionage, by definition, as FISA doesn’t apply to normal law enforcement. That’s a necessary activity, but it’s extraordinary to use that power on US persons — and beyond extraordinary when the target is connected to a presidential campaign of the opposition party to the incumbent president.

For some reason, the media has a difficult time connecting “counterespionage” with “espionage” and therefore to “spying.” That’s what counterespionage is, by definition. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed in 1978 to limit the FBI’s domestic counterespionage activities because Congress became appalled at the bureau’s abuses during the J. Edgar Hoover era, and by Richard Nixon’s exploitation of them. It’s not used for anything other than countering the spying done by foreign countries in the US … or at least it’s not supposed to be used for anything else.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy explained all this in his New York Post column yesterday, but also pointed out that Barr’s terminology isn’t the most important point. The big question — as Barr himself pointed out — was whether the spying was justified. And that’s not just in conjunction with the Carter Page FISA warrant:

As Barr made clear, the real question is: What predicated the spying? Was there a valid reason for it, strong enough to overcome our norm against political spying? Or was it done rashly? Was a politically motivated decision made to use highly intrusive investigative tactics when a more measured response would have sufficed, such as a “defensive briefing” that would have warned the Trump campaign of possible Russian infiltration?

Last year, when the “spy” games got underway, James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, conceded that, yes, the FBI did run an informant — “spy” is such an icky word — at Trump campaign officials; but, we were told, this was merely to investigate Russia. Cross Clapper’s heart, it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. No, no, no. Indeed, the Obama administration only used an informant because — bet you didn’t know this — doing so is the most benign, least intrusive mode of conducting an investigation.

Me? I’m thinking the tens of thousands of convicts serving lengthy sentences due to the penetration of their schemes by informants would beg to differ. (Gee, Mr. Gambino, I assure you, this was just for you own good . . .) And imagine the Democrats’ response if, say, the Bush administration had run a covert intelligence operative against Obama 2008 campaign officials, including the campaign’s co-chairman. Surely David Axelrod, Chuck Schumer, The New York Times and Rachel Maddow would chirp that “all is forgiven” once they heard Republicans punctiliously parse the nuances between “spying” and “surveillance”; between “spies” and “informants”; and between investigating campaign officials versus investigating the campaign proper — and the candidate.

The “spying” question arose last spring, when we learned that Stefan Halper, a longtime source for the CIA and British intelligence, had been tasked during the FBI’s Russia investigation to chat up three Trump campaign advisers: Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis. This was in addition to earlier revelations that the Obama Justice Department and FBI had obtained warrants to eavesdrop on Page’s communications, beginning about three weeks before the 2016 election.

The fact that spying had occurred was too clear for credible denial.

Let’s get back to the poll. Who says that spying occurred? The demos might not be as cut and dried as you’d imagine. Democrats say no, but only by 24/45. Republicans say yes, but still just 57/15. That’s not exactly the kind of all-in one usually finds on Donald Trump accusations within the GOP. Among independents, it’s only 31/22. All of these are outside the margins of error, even if they’re still relatively low figures across the board.

There are two other interesting points within the demos. First, every age group tends to lean toward believing that someone spied on Trump’s campaign in 2016. Gen-Z 18-21YOs believe it 33/23, millennials and Gen-X are nearly tied (33/27, 35/28), and boomers say yes 42/29. Second, every education level also agrees that spying took place: no/some college 37/27, bachelors 40/27, and even the usually Trump-hostile post-grads 38/32. In all three cases, the ‘yes’ exceeds the ‘don’t know’ responses.

Democrats and the media have tried to sell Barr as a nut. Thus far it looks like no sale. Without Carter Page’s name on an indictment and with Robert Mueller finding no collusion, the FBI’s counterespionage operation looks pretty fishy. At least for now, anyway.