Attorney General William Barr told Congress today that “spying did occur” against the Trump campaign in 2016. Now, many Trump supporters and conservative pundits are pointing to Barr’s comments as confirmation the actions of the FBI were unnecessary. Meanwhile, Trump’s detractors are pointing out there’s no evidence to back Barr’s claim.
Here are the two best Tweets I found exemplifying these two perspectives.
From the right:
Attorney General Barr, asked if spying on the Trump campaign occurred: "I think spying did occur, yes."
We've seen 2 years' worth of evidence that intelligence community executives did this. The AG's willingness to investigate it is massive. Accountability is around the corner.
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) April 10, 2019
From the left:
While I respect both perspectives and the people giving them, they’re both technically incorrect. Therein lies the problem with hot takes on social media. But it’s not just social media that’s missing on this one. Nearly every story I’ve read on the issue tries to paint it one way or another about evidence of this or evidence of that. Let’s break it all down to see what’s really happening at the Department of Justice.
For whatever reason, Barr chose to use this unfortunate and politically charged word. He knew it was incorrect in the context of his testimony, but he chose to use it anyway. Let’s be clear. “Spying” almost certainly did not occur, not by definition. For it to be considered “spying,” the FBI would have needed to be acting on behalf of the DNC or the Clinton campaign, sharing information that they uncover directly with them and not in the context of a criminal investigation. If that did occur, then a full-blown criminal investigation would be underway and the general public would hear absolutely nothing about it, especially from the Attorney General himself.
Trump supporters might say that the FBI was clearly working on behalf of the Clinton campaign in an effort to discredit President Trump and swing the election towards Hillary Clinton, and that seems to be likely considering what we know about the players thus far, but it still does not constitute “spying.” It was an investigation and information was not shared with the campaign. If it had been, then as I mentioned before this would be a criminal investigation and we wouldn’t hear about it until things were wrapping up.
Barr’s use of the word is charged with implications ahead of the release of Robert Mueller’s redacted report. This is the disappointing part of the whole mess.
What is almost certainly actually happening here is a review of the procedures and steps taken, specifically what order they were taken and whether or not they were justifiable by the law. Surveillance for the sake of the investigation may seem like “spying” to the average citizen, but it’s within the context of where the revelations of the surveillance ended up that determines whether it can be considered “spying” or not. If the FBI was collecting evidence and sharing that evidence with the Clinton campaign, it’s spying. But there have been no indications this is what happened.
Instead, Barr will try to determine whether or not the steps taken by the FBI to establish benchmarks for action within the investigation were proper. This is where the abnormalities will become more apparent. If the FBI came to inappropriate conclusions that led to actions which were then utilized in getting the FISA warrants, then there’s a problem. This is what Barr’s investigation is trying to find, and based on what we’ve seen on the public forum so far, there’s a good chance this happened. But we also do not have the full picture. We haven’t seen all the players involved. This doesn’t bode well for the FBI because chances are strong once other people are investigated and information is gleaned, it will make the premise behind the steps within the investigation seem less justifiable.
Under normal circumstances, agents are supposed to lay clear paths that can allow prosecutors to present information through legal means. Two facts seem to counter the FBI’s claims that their actions were justified. The most glaring is the assumed results of the Mueller investigation. Based on the information we have so far, Mueller’s investigation was not able to find collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. That’s a big flop for the FBI because it means the steps they took to come to the conclusions that resulted in elevating the investigation to its various levels may have been erroneous and/or unjustified.
The second fact that hurts the FBI is the use of media reports to establish their basis for needing surveillance and other components of the investigation. This isn’t unprecedented, but it’s usually considered a stretch for law enforcement to rely on the investigation of outside parties to justify accelerating their own investigation. What makes this particular case worse for them is that the outside parties were associated with opposition research. Credibility of sources is extremely important when trying to secure warrants. It will be difficult for the FBI to demonstrate their investigation was justifiable if it was prompted by reports from those who opposed President Trump’s campaign.
If Barr is able to clearly demonstrate the FBI was acting from political bias instead of sound investigative practices, then the President’s claims of it being a “witch hunt” will be fully realized. Mainstream media will have to squirm through that one for the remainder of the 2020 election cycle.
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