‘Spygate:’ Trump’s Own Witch Hunt

By excluding Democrats from a classified briefing on the FBI's use of a confidential informant in the Russia investigation, the president demonstrates he's more interested in confusing the public than pursuing the truth.

Not content to accuse the FBI and the media of engaging in a “witch hunt,” President Trump is off on one of his own.

In a perverse way, perhaps we should all be grateful today that Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly have arranged for two Republican congressmen to receive a classified briefing on what Trump calls “Spygate” – the FBI’s use of a confidential source to look for inside information about Russian efforts to help Trump win the presidency.

By excluding Democratic lawmakers from the briefing, now scheduled for Thursday, Trump and Kelly have abandoned all pretense that they’re interested in serious oversight of the FBI. Instead, they’re all about misdirection, the essence of a real witch hunt. They’re determined to  shift public attention away from Russia’s meddling in our election and toward the president’s claims that the Obama administration nefariously planted a spy in his campaign.

Trump is beating that drum pretty much nonstop now. This was on his Twitter feed this morning:

Nonsense. While it’s always a good idea to keep a watchful eye on the FBI and other police agencies – they wield enormous power and on multiple occasions have abused it – there is not even a hint of evidence that the bureau has overstepped its bounds in the Russia investigation.

Remember the facts. There’s no dispute that during 2016, the FBI received alarming reports that people working for the Russian government were hacking into voting and voter registration systems across the U.S. and attempting to help Trump win the presidency. We know that Donald Trump Jr. and other senior members of the Trump campaign were eager to get their hands on damaging information the Russians allegedly had gathered about Hillary Clinton. And we know that candidate Trump publicly urged Russian intelligence agencies to release any information they may have gleaned by hacking Clinton’s email server.

Against that backdrop, the FBI quite properly swung into action, seeking out witnesses who might provide reliable information about Russian involvement – if there was any – in the Trump campaign. It apparently found just such a witness in former University of Cambridge professor Stefan A. Halper, a longtime Republican with contacts in Trump’s brain trust and a reputation for reliability gained in years of contract research for the Department of Defense.

There’s no evidence that Halper was a spy, planted in the campaign as Trump claims; he was an outsider who happened to know people in the campaign and was willing to contact them and inquire about possible ties between the campaign and Russia. There’s a huge difference between that and spying.

If they were interested in serious oversight of the FBI, which surely deserves it, Trump and company would insist that Democrats be part of any spy inquiry, and of tomorrow’s briefing in particular. There is so much at stake for both parties here that neither will have much credibility unless the public can be confident that the parties are getting the same information and while getting it are keeping an eye on each other as well as on the FBI.