As I discussed in a column this weekend, Democratic members have spent years mocking allegations that there was any spying or surveillance of Trump or his campaign by the FBI. That was just a conspiracy theory. Now however there is proof that the FBI used a briefing in August 2016 of then candidate Trump to gather information for “Crossfire Hurricane,” the Russia investigation. It turns out that it did not really matter after all and Rep. Eric Swalwell did not miss a step. He simply declared that such targeting of the opposing party and its leading presidential candidate was the right thing to do. That’s it. A conspiracy theory suddenly becomes a commendable act.
The document, a seven-page summary of Trump’s intelligence briefing, undermines past claims that there was no spying or intelligence operations directed against the campaign or Trump.
Nevertheless, Swalwell told Martha MacCallum on Fox: “I hope they do it if a Democratic candidate ever does that with any country … So, Martha, remember right before this meeting occurred, candidate Trump said, ‘Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you have Hillary’s emails.’ And what do they do? They actually did it. So think about it.”
It is indeed worth thinking about. Most people took Trump’s statement as a taunt of Clinton and the press. He stated “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens.”
Trump insists it was a joke. That is how many took it but, in fairness, he is later asked by NBC reporter Katy Tur whether he was encouraging a foreign country to hack into emails, he said, “Now, if Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.” That does not sound quite as jovial and many of us criticized him for such an irresponsible statement.
However, that is not collusion with the Russians or a crime of any kind. Indeed, not only did Robert Mueller and the Inspector General find no evidence of any contact by the campaign with Russian intelligence or officials, but former Deputy Rod Rosenstein stated recently that he would not have approved on the continued investigation if he knew about the false information used as the basis for the investigation. He said he would have stopped the investigation and has called for the continued investigation into the bias shown by various officials who were key to the investigation.
There was a time when, after Mueller found no evidence of such collusion, leaders like House Intelligence Committee Chair Peter Schiff assured the public that he had evidence of such collusion. Schiff never produced the evidence. So Swalwell and others are left where we began with the campaign statement of Trump to suggest that the statement alone is a fair basis for an investigation into him and his campaign. Swalwell even justifies the FBI (in a Democratic Administration) using a campaign briefing to gather information on Trump and his campaign.
Note the FBI did not simply call and demand for answers about Trump’s public comments. It used a briefing for investigative purposes while assuring Trump that the briefing was solely for his benefit. This is a briefing that the FBI strongly encourages candidates to accept in the interests of national security.
Swalwell also added “By the way, he says in the meeting, ‘Joe, are the Russians bad?’ It’s like, yes, the Russians are bad and don’t eat glue. Like, should we even have to tell you that? … He told the country for years, but he was never given this briefing.”
They “don’t eat glue?” The report states that Trump asked whether Russia or China was presenting a greater threat in intelligence activities in the United States. It describes basic questions of comparison by Trump and his aides. Here is what the document actually said:
Trump asked the following question,”Joe, are the Russians ~se they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?” Writer responded by saying both countries are bad. The numbers of IOs present in the U.S. is not an indicator of the severity of the threat. Writer reminded Trump the Chinese asymmetrical presence in the U.S [had to be] considered when making comparisons.
During the ODNI briefs, writer actively listened for topics or questions regarding the Russian Federation . During Mull i gan ‘ s brief, he stated the U. S . i s the world leader in Counterterrorism. Trump then asked,” Russia too? ” During a discussion regarding nuclear testing, Russia and Chi na were brought up as cheating o n the Nu c l ear Test Ban Treaty . Trump asked,”Who ‘ s worse? ” – stated,”They are b oth bad , but Russia is worse .” Trump and Christie turned toward each other and Christie commented ,” Im shocked .”
Back to the main issue, the document shows an agent who was reporting on what was said and observed for Operation Crossfire Hurricane. As stated in the column, my concern is that there has been reporting on this document but little analysis of its implications. We spent three years of analysis on Russian collusion theories that proved to be based on false information. The media eagerly pursued analysis of possible Russian moles or a Manchurian candidate in our midst. Similarly, there was ample (and in my view justified) analysis of how the Ukraine scandal might have involved the use of government authority for political benefit. Yet, there is no substantive analysis of how the Obama Administration conducted an investigation of the opposing party’s leading candidate. Even with new documents showing that the FBI quickly refuted the claims used to justify the investigation, there is no interest in that story.
To the contrary, Swalwell now insists that it was always a good thing if the Trump campaign was targeted or subjected to intelligence gathering. Indeed, he wants it to happen again if a candidate makes a statement on the campaign trial that is deemed an invitation to a foreign power. According to Swalwell, an Administration not only can but should investigate the opposing party if it deems public campaign statements to be suspicious. So if a candidate like Bernie Sanders says that he wants to declassify most intelligence and be transparent with the Russians, should the FBI investigate him? What if he calls on Russia to supply leadership and support on domestic political issues or publicly supports figures under sanctions by the current Administration? After all, Sanders was long criticized for visits to Russia and close associations in the country. Is that now “the right thing to do” in Swalwell’s world to target such a candidate in an election year?
Swalwell has long been an example of rage overwhelming reason in our current politics. Yet, he embodies the dangerous reckless that is taking hold of our national discourse on both sides. Spinning such stories is now more important than maintaining long-standing bright lines against using national security powers to target opposing parties or candidates.