Key Republican publicly defends FBI against Trump criticisms

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) defended the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election during a Wednesday interview in which he took issue with President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE's characterization of the FBI's use of an informant to gather information on some of his campaign aides.

“I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia,” said Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I think you would want the FBI to find whether or not there was any validity to what those people were saying,” Gowdy said during an interview with "CBS This Morning." 

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Gowdy, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, said he did not believe the FBI had done anything out of bounds in its investigation, in which it reportedly deployed an informant to meet with three aides on Trump's campaign.

"Think back to what the president himself told [former FBI Director] James ComeyJames Brien ComeyDavis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Sarah Sanders is entitled to her opinions, but not her own facts James Comey, wife donated ,400 to Klobuchar's presidential campaign MORE," Gowdy said. "He said, 'I didn't collude with Russia, but if anyone connected with my campaign did, I want you to investigate it.' It strikes me that that's exactly what the FBI was doing."

Asked about Trump's comment about the FBI using a spy on his campaign, Gowdy described that as a term from espionage and not an appropriate description of what the FBI had done.

"That is not a term I've ever used in the criminal justice system," Gowdy said.

“I’ve never heard the term ‘spy’ used,” Gowdy said. “Undercover informant, confidential informant, those are all words I'm familiar with. I've never heard the term spy used."

Gowdy said he had seen no evidence that would suggest a spy was inserted into the Trump campaign, as alleged by the president.

"That's an espionage term, it's not a law enforcement term," he said. 

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, also defended the use of informants by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, saying he couldn't think of a major case he'd been involved in where confidential sources had not provided information. He emphasized it was up to law enforcement to decide what to do with that information.

Gowdy and two other GOP lawmakers met with FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinPoll: Majority says Barr's summary of Mueller report was 'largely accurate' Heavy lapses in judgment are politicizing the justice system Top Judiciary Republican reviews less-redacted Mueller report MORE and other officials last week for a briefing on the FBI's use of an informant who reportedly met with the three Trump campaign aides in 2016, George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosPoll: Nearly half of Republicans say no one on Trump campaign committed a crime George Papadopoulos urges Barr to investigate examples of 'spying' while he was campaign aide Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators MORE, Carter Page and Sam Clovis.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Russia's interference in the presidential election.

Gowdy said he is convinced that if Trump's lawyers showed the president the documents that he and the other congressmen saw, he would conclude that the FBI had done exactly what he had asked Comey to do. 

The Oversight chairman did not directly criticize Trump during the interview, but appeared to suggest that some of the president's tweets and statements about the probe were designed for political branding purposes.

Trump has railed over the FBI's use of an informant, repeatedly describing it as a spy and sometimes suggesting a spy had been embedded in his campaign. 

The remarks have widely been seen as part of an effort to hurt the Mueller probe. 

Gowdy, in one curious exchange during the interview, said he had not discussed any of the matters with Trump, saying he had "never met or talked to the president."

When CBS co-host Gayle King expressed surprise at the comment and pressed Gowdy on whether he's ever met the president, he responded, "I've not."