Very interesting stuff from retiring Congressman Trey Gowdy -- a former federal prosecutor and South Carolina conservative who's developed a reputation in Washington for sharp thinking and independent straight shooting. He is also among the exceptionally small handful of lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have been privy to details pertaining to the federal government's handling of the Russia probe and its various tentacles. In an interview with Fox News' Martha MacCallum last night, Gowdy acknowledged a string of legitimate frustrations President Trump harbors about the Russia matter, as well as certain former members of the intelligence community and Justice Department. But he quickly pivoted to reassuring both Trump and the American people that the furor over 'spy-gate' (the narrative under which the Obama DOJ supposedly placed an informant within the opposition party's presidential campaign to help defeat it) has been vastly overblown:
MM: Was that point of view that you're talking about right now strengthened when you went into this briefing last week?
TG: Yes. I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
He followed this up with an appearance on CBS This Morning earlier today (click the link for full video). As you watch and consider his commentary, bear in mind that Gowdy was one of the very few people who attended one of two closely-held, classified DOJ briefings last week about this very controversy. He has seen more actual information and specific details related to this issue than nearly anyone on the face of the earth who's opining about it, especially in print or on air:
Gowdy on CBS this morning: “Informants are used all day, every day by law enforcement.” https://t.co/iq0mJt58EB— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) May 30, 2018
Even as he treads carefully not to betray any secret information, what is Gowdy telling us?
(1) He's saying that the FBI's investigation of Russia's election interference ("Russia was the target" of the probe, he asserted several times across the two highlighted segments) was launched on a good-faith basis and was not illegitimately predicated, in his estimation. The portion of Gowdy's response to MacCallum that's getting the most play in the media today is his statement that he's now "even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do" under the circumstances. Similarly, responding to a question from a CBS anchor about whether he believes the FBI "acted properly in this matter," Gowdy replied: "Based on what I have seen, I don't know what the FBI could have done or should have done" differently. That's a meaningful effective endorsement, especially when coupled with his multiple (diplomatic) rejections of the terms "spy" and "spy-gate."
Confidential informants, he notes, are used "all day, every day" by law enforcement. It may be quite unusual for a CI to exist within a presidential campaign, to be sure, but that is still not the same thing as a "spy" being placed inside a campaign by politically-motivated actors in an effort to bring it down. That would indeed be one of the biggest scandals in US history, as the president has been saying -- if there were any evidence to back it up. Right now, there is not. Granted, that could change as the respected and tough DOJ Inspector General fulfills his latest charge (which I support, by the way), but Gowdy seems to doubt that any such proof will turn up. This seems like a relevant moment to remind you of my biggest problem with the most conspiratorial "deep state" and "spy gate" hyperventilations:
I support the IG looking into potential FISA abuses or other possible Obama-era misconduct against the Trump campaign. But as I consider the counter-narrative, this point keeps sticking in my mind: https://t.co/M8p4fm7eWf pic.twitter.com/28jhMfjM64— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) May 22, 2018
(2) Garnering less attention is the second bolded piece of Gowdy's answer excerpted above, which strikes me as rather significant. Even if the feds were examining the conduct and associations of a small number of individuals "loosely connected to" the Trump campaign as part of a broader probe, the FBI's focus and targets had "nothing to do with Donald Trump," he said. Either the South Carolinian has an extremely strong poker face and somehow has it in for the president, or he's seen enough material about the provenance and progress of the investigation that he's convinced Trump is not a target and is not in any serious peril. My suspicion that the latter is true is only deepened by Gowdy's advice that Trump ought to talk to Robert Mueller (within reasonably confined parameters, he adds) in order to formally assert his innocence on alleged "collusion." Again, this is just a hunch, but my guess is that Gowdy firmly believes that Trump himself with emerge unscathed from this probe, and having cooperated with it will be an asset in claiming full vindication. This flies in the face of a lot of counsel, the general consensus behind which is that Trump should avoid an in-person interview with Mueller like the plague. It's possible that Gowdy's opinion on this may be turn out to be foolish, but I think he's in a better and more informed position to dispense advice than almost anyone else weighing in on the subject.
(3) Finally, this answer seems telling:
CBS: Your Republican colleagues -- are they on board with the way you're speaking out? You're breaking ranks with some people...
TG: I will tell you this, the ones that are on SSI [the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence], Marco Rubio and others -- Tom Cotton's on SSI. He's hardly a flaming liberal...the folks who have seen the information, I think, have the same perspective I have. Those who have not seen the information? I don't know what informs their perspective.
Sure enough, here's how Rubio addressed this firestorm on ABC News' The Week this past Sunday:
"What I have seen is evidence that they were investigating individuals with a history of links to Russia that were concerning...As far as what I have seen to date, 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."
Also notice how Tom Cotton, who never seems afraid to stick his neck out or ruffle feathers, has remained conspicuously muted on "spy-gate" and the Russia investigation, reflecting the posture of SSI's bipartisan membership. Speaking of notable silence, there's also this:
Recall, too, that Carter Page had been on the government's radar screen due to his connections with Moscow long before Donald Trump was even a candidate for the presidency. And a few other people connected to Trump's eventual campaign -- either intimately or tangentially -- really were tied into (or seriously alleged to be connected to) some pretty sketchy activities over the years. What Gowdy et al appear to be signaling is that there was enough 'smoke' to justify the feds' use of an informant within the Trump campaign, which is not tantamount to spying on Team Trump in order to harm the campaign. I'll say it again: The easiest way the "deep state" could have devastated Trump's (already thin-seeming) electoral chances would have been to leak the existence of a multi-pronged federal counter-intelligence investigation into Trump campaign figures, circa October 2016. That didn't happen. I'll leave you with the president's tweets quoting Gowdy from this morning's CBS News interview, which only dealt with the Congressman's answer about Trump's frustration with his Attorney General:
Rep.Trey Gowdy, “I don’t think so, I think what the President is doing is expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward. If I were the President and I picked someone to be the country’s....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2018
....chief law enforcement officer, and they told me later, ‘oh by the way I’m not going to be able to participate in the most important case in the office, I would be frustrated too...and that’s how I read that - Senator Sessions, why didn’t you tell me before I picked you.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2018
....There are lots of really good lawyers in the country, he could have picked somebody else!” And I wish I did!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2018
"And I wish I did!" Trump reportedly berated and ridiculed Jeff Sessions to his face, urging him to reverse his recusal call ("the right decision under the rules of the Justice Department," according to...Rudy Giuliani last year) or to resign. Today's tweets are just the latest taunting indignity Sessions has endured. The president has a remedy here, of course. As we've written before, if he's lost faith in his Attorney General, he has complete authority to fire him -- just as he has fairly sweeping authority to declassify a trove of key documents related to the Russia investigation. If Sessions is failing at his job, and if the publication of a currently-classified paper trail would justify Trump's constant drumbeat of fuming tweets (which his own lawyer has confirmed is at least partially a public relations strategy), why not pull the trigger on both and let the chips fall?