Conservative stalwart boosts FBI in Trump feud

Conservative stalwart boosts FBI in Trump feud
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Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), who led a House investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks, offered a robust defense Wednesday of the FBI’s investigation into President TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE’s campaign and Russia. 

A week after he received a closed-door briefing on the bureau’s use of an informant, Gowdy told CBS News that he had seen no evidence to support Trump’s claims that a “spy” was improperly inserted into his 2016 campaign.

"That is not a term I've ever used in the criminal justice system," Gowdy said. “I’ve never heard the term ‘spy’ used. Undercover informant, confidential informant, those are all words I'm familiar with. I've never heard the term 'spy' used."

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Taking his defense a step further, the South Carolina Republican said he believed that the FBI had actually acted in line with a directive Trump had given to former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBiden sister has book deal, set to publish in April Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records NYT publisher: DOJ phone records seizure a 'dangerous incursion' on press freedom MORE.

"Think back to what the president himself told James Comey," 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."

Gowdy’s remarks provided the most detailed accounting yet of what Justice Department (DOJ) and intelligence community officials said during a classified briefing that was hastily scheduled in response to mounting outrage from Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill.

The comments were remarkable because, while Gowdy is retiring from Congress and able to speak more freely, he is also a conservative stalwart with sterling credentials on the right.

A number of House conservatives who had trumpeted the existence of the alleged “spy” declined to comment Wednesday about Gowdy’s defense of the FBI’s tactics.

While the muted reaction could be because lawmakers are away from Washington for the Memorial Day recess, there are several other reasons why conservatives may be reluctant to criticize Gowdy.

For one, the congressman is enormously popular with his colleagues, as evidenced by chatter in recent years that he could be a potential candidate for Speaker.  

It’s also politically tricky for Freedom Caucus leaders like Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsWatchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Trump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' MORE (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan acknowledges talking to Trump on Jan. 6 AP Fact Check rates GOP claim Pelosi blocked National Guard on Jan. 6 'false' Officers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder MORE (R-Ohio) to lash out at Gowdy, given that they chair subcommittees on Gowdy’s Oversight and Government Reform panel and work with him on numerous issues.

And despite his public defense of the bureau on Wednesday, Gowdy is also helping to lead two congressional investigations into the Justice Department’s conduct during the 2016 election.

One of those probes — a joint investigation led by Gowdy and House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.) — recently set its first interviews with former and current FBI officials in over four months. 

Gowdy has also played a behind-the-scenes support role to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Tucker Carlson claims NSA leaked private emails to journalists MORE (R-Calif.), whose subpoena related to the FBI informant touched off the crisis.

Meadows, a key Trump ally who’s been particularly critical of the DOJ and FBI, was traveling abroad and unavailable for comment. But in a tweet Wednesday, Meadows focused his ire on DOJ, suggesting the bureau was providing biased briefings to lawmakers.

Meadows did not invoke Gowdy by name.   

“So the DOJ briefs members of Congress, on allegations against the DOJ, concluding that the DOJ did nothing wrong. Anyone see a problem here?” Meadows tweeted. “How about they stop asking Americans to take their word for it and give us the relevant documents?”

Even President Trump appeared to ignore Gowdy’s remarks defending the informant on Wednesday. Instead, the president seized on another aspect of Gowdy’s CBS interview, tweeting a quote from the congressman sympathizing with Trump’s frustration with Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases MORE over his recusal from the Russia probe.

“If I were the president and I picked someone to be the country’s 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,” Gowdy told CBS. Trump later tweeted the quote.

Gowdy has disputed the notion that he’s now liberated to take on his own party, saying he’s simply calling balls and strikes.

Yet Gowdy, a former prosecutor who frequently professes his affection for the Justice Department, has at times appeared distinctly uncomfortable with GOP attacks on the law enforcement agency.

He has been one of his party’s louder defenders of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE and has called Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department “not helpful.”

In March, Gowdy pushed back when one of Trump’s lawyers called for Mueller to end his investigation.

“If you have an innocent client … act like it,” Gowdy said. 

The latest imbroglio over the confidential informant consumed the right, culminating in two unusual briefings by DOJ and intelligence officials last week. Those briefings took place after Trump “demanded” that officials investigate the allegations.

There is no public evidence that the FBI had a “mole” embedded in the Trump campaign.

Former law enforcement and intelligence officials and other experts say there is nothing about the use of a confidential informant in a validly predicated investigation — even one into a presidential campaign — that violates FBI guidelines.

Remarks by Gowdy, as one of just a handful of congressional leaders briefed last week, provided further ammunition to supporters of the bureau who have said officials did nothing wrong.

“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,” Gowdy said Wednesday morning. “I think you would want the FBI to find whether or not there was any validity to what those people were saying.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday indicated that the president is standing by his allegations, citing the recent dismissal of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeThe FBI should turn off the FARA faucet John Durham's endgame: Don't expect criminal charges Carter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe MORE as evidence of the need to investigate the matter. 

McCabe was found by the department’s inspector general to have misled internal investigators about a matter unrelated to the Trump campaign probe. 

“Clearly there’s still cause for concern that needs to be looked at. Let’s not forget that the deputy director of the FBI was actually fired for misconduct,” Sanders said.

“The president is concerned by the matter and we’re going to continue to follow the issue.”

Democrats clearly agreed with Gowdy’s defense of the FBI, though they weren’t prepared to praise him for it.

“We now live in a kind of alternate universe when individual Republicans get massive praise just for acknowledging the obvious and restating basic facts,” said Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (Md.), the top Democrat on Gowdy’s Oversight panel. 

“Unfortunately, the President’s claim that there was a ‘spy’ planted in the Trump Campaign is just the latest conspiracy theory that some Republicans in Congress have aided and abetted for the past year," he continued.

“It is time for Congress to start conducting its own independent and credible oversight of the Trump Administration rather than walling off the White House from scrutiny," Cummings said.