How to shut down fake Republican outrage over ‘spying’ on Trump
President Trump and his cheerleaders worked themselves into a frenzy this week, accusing the FBI of “spying” on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Their charges of “massive” politically-motivated snooping center on the FBI’s wiretap of Carter Page.
While Page’s murky background and suspicious behavior made him an outstanding target for FBI surveillance, he would have been an awful source of information for anyone trying to spy on Trump for political purposes. For one, the FBI submitted its first application to surveil Page a month after the Trump campaign cut ties with him. How would the FBI spy on a campaign if the person under surveillance is no longer a part of it?
More importantly, following revelations that his travels to Russia were under federal investigation, the Trump campaign swiftly distanced itself from Page. Trump’s communications director summed it all up quite well: “Mr. Page is not an advisor and has made no contribution to the campaign.” He went on to state that Page “has never been a part of our campaign. Period.”
Another Trump staffer said that Page had “no role” and that the campaign was “not aware of any of [Page’s] activities, past or present.”
So, according to Trump’s own people, Page was an irrelevant player. That means that he did not communicate with high-level campaign staff (and certainly not with Trump himself), making Page worthless as a source of information about Trump or his campaign.
If the FBI had been serious about inappropriately spying on Trump, it would have gone far higher up the food chain. Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn – both atop the Trump campaign (and now-convicted felons) – would have made for far better targets than Page. Moreover, if the Bureau had truly been dedicated to snooping on the Trump campaign, it wouldn’t have bothered sending confidential sources to make contact with low-level staffers like Page and George Papadopoulos, who were clearly not in the loop on any decisions of importance.
Probable cause issues not notwithstanding, the insignificant roles that Page and Papadopoulos played in the campaign beg the question: Why didn’t the Bureau go higher up to investigate possible collusion with Russia? For all the FBI knew, Moscow’s overtures to Papadopoulos, in which a Russian government cut-out offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, could have been a red herring to divert from more substantive Russian intelligence contacts with higher-level Trump officials.
Regardless, the Department of Justice inspector general must be commended for his work exposing errors and omissions in the FBI’s application to wiretap Page. After all, in a liberal democracy where privacy and freedom from government intrusion are constitutionally and culturally sacrosanct, surveillance of a citizen must meet rigorous requirements. But Republicans appear to have little interest in protecting civil liberties, preferring to feign outrage at a non-existent plot to “spy” on Trump and his campaign.
Now that the GOP’s phony “Spygate” hysterics have been shut down with facts and logic, the discussion should shift to the long list of Trumpian conspiracy theories that were thoroughly dismantled over the past several weeks.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.