Trump and FBI’s “spying”: A distraction?

The US Department of Justice will investigate whether FBI spied on President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign for inappropriate purposes. Is it somehow a twist in Trump-Russia saga, any indication that something inappropriate happened, or is it more or less just another distraction Trump is using? Read few comment.

Bruce Miroff, Professor, Department of Political Science, SUNY Albany

With his charge that the FBI spied on his presidential campaign, President Donald Trump is trying to change the story so that he is the victim of a conspiracy rather than the author of a conspiracy. Just as he has charged that the real villain in the 2016 presidential campaign was Hillary Clinton, now he wants to add the FBI as another villain. Reporting by the Washington Post and the New York Times suggests that Trump’s version of reality here, as in so many other instances, is misleading: the FBI informant at the heart of the story was trying to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government, not to spy on Trump’s campaign aides for partisan political purposes.

John PitneyProfessor of Politics, Claremont McKenna College

Trump’s call for an investigation into “spying” on his campaign is nothing but an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation.  Published reports do not indicate that the Justice Department did anything wrong.  It was perfectly appropriate to look into suspicious contacts between Russia and the people around Trump.  Throughout this entire episode, Trump has expressed more concern about his political standing than about the Russian threat to American democracy.

Matthew Dickinson, Professor of Political Science, Middlebury College

The use of undercover informants by the FBI to investigate potential spying by a foreign government is not unusual.  Indeed, it is quite common to use informants to cultivate a potential source, in the hope of uncovering a larger espionage operation.  What is unusual is to ask that informant to target someone working for the opposition party, in the midst of a presidential campaign.  This does not mean the FBI decision was politically motivated – indeed, as several people have pointed out, the FBI was potentially doing the Trump campaign a favor by investigating whether it was unwittingly being used by the Russian government. Nonetheless, you can see why it raises potential red flags – one need not be a conspiracy-monger to understand why Trump, and Republicans in Congress, want to understand the decision process that led the FBI to make this decision.

What I do think is a complete red herring is the debate over whether this person was an “informant” (as the NYT insists), or a “spy” – as Trump claims.  To my view, it’s a distinction without a difference and it obscures the more important question regarding why the FBI decided to utilize this tactic in the first place.  In this regard, the decision by the Justice Department to allow leading Republicans in Congress, and later Democrats too, to view the classified paper trail leading to the decision to plant the informant, is a smart compromise on their part.  Obviously no intelligence agency wants to reveal classified information pertaining to sources.   But given the controversy surrounding the agency’s handling of Clinton’s emails, and the Comey-Trump clash, I think it is better for the DOJ to err on the side of caution here.

I’m speculating, but I suspect there’s not much to this story. That is, I’m willing to bet that the FBI was simply following protocol in response to evidence that the Russians were meddling in the election, and there’s was no partisan effort to “get” Trump at all.  But I don’t know that for sure, and I think there is a good argument to be made that Congress has a right to hold the FBI accountable, if they can do so without compromising the agency’s integrity or ability to carry out its counterintelligence mission.

John Sipher, Former Field Operative, Senior executive in CIA’s National Clandestine Service, National Security Analyst on “Cipher Brief”

100% distraction. An ugly one. Look up Asha Rangappa editorial in the Washington Post.

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