COMMENTARY: ‘Spygate’ provides some perplexing questions

No matter which side or what scenario you buy, we can lay this one at the feet of then-President Obama.

Issue: the assignment, by the FBI, of an informant/spy to check on the Trump presidential campaign.

President Trump calls it “Spygate.”

Reid K. Beveridge

Obama’s director of national security, James Clapper, says it is a good thing for one administration to check on a possible successor to make sure its operatives aren’t being tricked by the Russians.

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who has seen some (don’t know how much) of the documentation around all of this, says the American people should be proud of the FBI.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who now is one of the president’s lawyers, says Trump will not sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller until Trump’s legal team sees all the legal justification for all of this.

President Trump’s critics have been inveighing for near two years now how much Mr. Trump threatens democracy, how bad his authoritarian tendencies are and how he is destroying constitutional norms.

Question here. How is it constitutionally normal for the intelligence apparatus and law-enforcement arms of the outgoing administration of one political party to investigate and plant an informant into the political campaign of the opposite party?

So let’s turn this situation on its head. Suppose the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee is either U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., or U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Cal. And that President Trump is running for reelection. Or not running, it doesn’t matter.

And suppose someone with authority suggests the FBI plant an agent in the Warren/Harris campaign. Then that snitch reports back that a couple of peripheral players in the Democrats’ foreign-policy team are talking regularly with Chinese officials.

Further suppose some FBI agents don’t like the smell of all this and leak the facts to the Washington Post or the New York Times.

Don’t think the uproar would consume the United States of America?

We don’t know exactly what, if any, connection the above has with the Steele dossier. The dossier is named for Michael Steele, a former British MI6 agent with a respectable record as a British spy. He compiled some unpleasant allegations against then-candidate Trump and shared the results with lots of folks. His work was financed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

So far, so good. This is what is called “opposition research.” It’s done all the time. When covering political campaigns, it wasn’t unusual to receive some kind of tip from one side or the other. Usually, the “information” was so improbable as to be amusing.

But in this case, the FBI/Justice Department took the dossier to a federal judge and got a warrant to tap one of Trump’s staff’s phone. If it isn’t illegal and some form of contempt of court to use unverified opposition research for this purpose, it should be.

In other words, is it now so easy to get a wiretap approved that nearly any reason is sufficient? Now that’s scary.

Finally, remember one thing. Collusion with a foreign power, even one as hostile to the United States as Russia and China surely are, is not a crime. Nor, apparently, is the administration of one political party planting a spy in the campaign of the other party a crime. But is it, as Clapper contends and Gowdy affirms, a good idea?

So I repeat: How is it constitutionally normal for the intelligence apparatus and law-enforcement arms of the outgoing administration of one political party to investigate and plant an informant into the political campaign of the opposite party?

Answer me that.

Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.

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