Did Obama administration spy on Trump using flimsy evidence? Let's find out
If the Justice Department and FBI are, as we've been told incessantly over the past year, not merely patriots but consummate professionals incapable of being distracted by partisanship or petty Washington intrigues, why are Donald Trump's antagonists freaking out over the fact that an inspector general will assess whether political motivation tainted an investigation into the president's campaign? The American people should get a full accounting of what transpired during 2016. Isn't that what we've been hearing since the election?
You believe President Trump is corrupt. We get it. But surely anyone who alleges to be concerned about the sanctity of our institutions and rule of law would have some cursory curiosity about whether an investigation by the administration of one major party into the presidential campaign of another major party was grounded in direct evidence rather than fabulist rumormongering.
Otherwise any administration, including Trump's, could initiate an investigation for whatever cooked-up superficial reason it wants. Then, when a constitutionally empowered oversight committee demands information about that investigation, the DOJ could accuse it of "extortion" and stonewall for years.
I don't know if there's a big conspiracy by the deep state. I doubt it, in fact. But it's pretty obvious to me that leaders of our institutions aren't above spying. Then-CIA Director John Brennan spied on the legislative branch and lied about it to the American people. Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spied on the American people through a domestic surveillance program and lied about it to Congress. Although the Obama administration never tweeted nasty attacks on journalists, it did spy on and prosecute them. It's completely plausible that those in the upper echelon of law enforcement saw Trump as a threat and then used wobbly evidence as the pretext to investigate his campaign. If not, it'll be good to clear their names.
A truly silly New York Times headline last week read "FBI Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims." You can call it whatever makes you happy, but in the real world, the act of furtively gathering information about someone else is called spying.
Perhaps all of this will lead to nothing exciting. Perhaps the competing narratives that have sprung up around Trump and Russia will end far less dramatically than either of their champions hope. But when rule-of-law enthusiasts keep arguing the DOJ is independent of the president and then turn around and argue that a congressional oversight committee shouldn't have the right to ask the executive branch for documents pertaining to its inquiry, one begins to suspect that perhaps some of the hyperbolic rhetoric we've been hearing over the past two years has been little more than partisanship.
Most of those arguing that Trump is attacking the constitutional system by demanding the DOJ investigate its conduct know well that he has full authority to do so. Many sat quietly for eight years of executive abuse. It's not as if the president instructed the DOJ to stop following the law, after all. He had as much ammunition to ask for an investigation as Democrats had when asking for a special counsel.
Presidents ask the DOJ to do all kinds of things all the time. If the attorney general doesn't like it, he can resign. If the folks running the DOJ or FBI don't like it, they can quit. If Congress doesn't like it, it can impeach the president. That's the constitutional system under which every president, including Trump, functions.
Is Trump pushing the issue for political reasons? Of course. If special counsel Robert Mueller doesn't come back with any evidence of collusion -- all the other indictments and criminality he has found matter, of course, but they have nothing to do with the impetus for the investigation -- it will be all the more important to figure out what the previous administration was up to. Precedent and history matter.
The New York Times recently ran a 4,000-word ostensible overview of the FBI's Trump-Russia probe, which fed the impression that investigators were tougher on a hapless Hillary Clinton -- whose accidental blunders and honest mistakes ruined her chances of election -- but ignored Trump's nefarious ties to a foreign power. The problem with this tale, as it stands now, is that there was an abundance of evidence suggesting that Clinton was engaged in criminal activity -- sending numerous classified and top-secret documents via unsecured servers, destroying evidence, etc. Perhaps Mueller will bring the goods at some point. But to this point, there has not been any evidence to back up the hysteria that followed 2016. It's completely reasonable to find out what prompted it.
If, as I've been assured by numerous smart people, the FBI and DOJ would never ever engage in such partisanship or recklessness -- or maybe ineptitude -- then a methodical accounting of events leading up to the special counsel investigation would help them.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist.