No story is hotter across America this Memorial Day weekend than what the Federal Bureau of Investigation did—and did not do—in 2016 about Russian connections to Donald J. Trump. As the summer enjoys its unofficial kickoff, headlines and social media are overflowing with accusations, of varying degrees of veracity, regarding FBI counterintelligence operations around President Trump two years ago, as he was campaigning to take the White House.
Of late, the president has taken to Twitter even more manically than usual, hurling invective at the FBI for its alleged illegalities toward him and his entourage. Over the weekend, “executive time” has birthed batches of presidential rage-tweets about the alleged “Spygate,” complete with Trump’s trademark unusual capitalizations and quotations. “With Spies, or ‘Informants’ as the Democrats like to call them because it sounds less sinister (but it’s not), all over my campaign, even from a very early date, why didn’t the crooked highest levels of the FBI or ‘Justice’ contact me to tell me of the phony Russia problem?” the president asked on Saturday, adding that “This whole Russia Probe is Rigged.” Trump piled on three more angry tweets on Sunday, including the bizarre question, “Who’s going to give back the young and beautiful lives (and others) that have been devastated and destroyed by the phony Russia Collusion Witch Hunt?”
Although it’s now evident that in mid-2016 the FBI used one or more informants to sniff around the Trump campaign, inquiring discreetly about connections to the Kremlin—a major concern for the Bureau when people with documented and troubling ties to Russia and its spy agencies like Carter Page and Michael Flynn appeared in Trump’s orbit—there was nothing untoward or disturbing about this. This is the FBI’s standard operating procedure in counterintelligence cases. Although Trump and his defenders have frequently stated that employing informants was illegal and scandalously inappropriate, that’s just one more Trumpian falsehood.
That particular lie was blown apart this weekend by Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who has led the minority on the House Intelligence Committee in its doomed investigative efforts over the last year to get to the bottom of Trump’s Kremlin ties. These have been systematically stymied by that committee’s obstructionist and highly partisan Republican majority. “There is no evidence to support that spy theory,” Schiff stated, adding, “This is just … a piece of propaganda the president wants to put out and repeat.”
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, was equally blunt in his weekend comments on “Spygate,” explaining in an acid-etched interview that he has seen “no evidence” that the FBI spied on the Trump campaign. Since Rubio sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is less plagued by partisanship than its House counterpart, his comments deserve an airing. “What I have seen is evidence that they were investigating individuals with a history of links to Russia that were concerning,” Rubio explained, continuing, “It appears that there was an investigation not of the campaign, but of certain individuals who have a history that we should be suspicious of, that predate the presidential campaign of 2015, 2016. And when individuals like that are in the orbit of a major political campaign in America, the FBI, who is in charge of counterintelligence investigations, should look at people like that.”
Trump’s aggressive propaganda against any public airing of his secret Kremlin ties has taken many mendacious forms since his inauguration. In early 2017, the president claimed that he had been “wiretapped.” When that lie (which, coincidentally or not, was of Russian origin) fell apart, he tried out the accusation that members of his campaign had been improperly “unmasked” in top-secret intelligence documents. That lie likewise withered away under its own dishonesty, so now the White House insists it was “spied” on illegally by the FBI. This noxious myth is slowly dying as well outside the feverish swamps of Trump bitter-enders—as it deserves to.