WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is twisting the words of his predecessor’s national intelligence director as part of his stepped-up effort to trash the credibility of the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
In a tweet Thursday, during a stormy week on Twitter by the president, Trump said James Clapper acknowledged there was “Spying in my campaign,” meaning an informant implanted inside the operation. Clapper said no such thing and no evidence of that has emerged. The Justice Department plans to hold two classified briefings with select lawmakers Thursday addressing reports that a government informant — from outside the campaign — contacted Trump campaign aides in 2016.
Clapper has now admitted that there was Spying in my campaign. Large dollars were paid to the Spy, far beyond normal. Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history. SPYGATE – a terrible thing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2018
On Trump’s broader point that the Obama administration interfered with the Trump campaign to help Democrat Hillary Clinton win, evidence is lacking on that front, too. Clinton and many other Democrats are convinced James Comey, as President Barack Obama’s FBI chief, actually helped Trump by disclosing a renewed criminal investigation into Clinton’s handling of emails close to the 2016 election while keeping quiet about the nascent investigation of Trump aides at that time.
TRUMP tweet: “Clapper has now admitted that there was Spying in my campaign. Large dollars were paid to the Spy, far beyond normal. Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history. SPYGATE – a terrible thing!”
THE FACTS: That’s a distortion of Clapper’s statements on ABC’s “The View” on Tuesday when he was asked about recent reports that an FBI informant spoke with several members of the Trump campaign.
“They were spying on — a term I don’t particularly like but — what the Russians were doing,” Clapper said. “Trying to understand, were the Russians infiltrating? Trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence? Which is what they do.” He said the effort was to protect the U.S. political system and “protect the campaign.”
Asked if Trump should be happy the FBI was doing that, he said yes.
He tweeted afterward: “‘New Bombshell in the Obama Spying Scandal. Did other Agencies SPY on Trump Campaign?'” Even Clapper, worlds dumbest former Intelligence Head, who has the problem of lying a lot, used the word SPY when describing the illegal activities!”
And: “‘Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign'” No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!”
Those tweets, unlike others, at least made the distinction between spying “on” a campaign and “in” one.
But that distinction was largely lost in the Twitter barrage of recent days as Trump unloaded on “the person placed very early into my campaign.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is looking into Russian interference in the election, any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, possible obstruction of justice and whatever associated criminal activity might be uncovered. The probe has produced several criminal convictions of Trump campaign officials. Those charges do not implicate the president directly.
As for Comey, the FBI director fired by Trump, he has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats for revealing the renewed Clinton email investigation, which ultimately produced no charges. Comey said he did not disclose the investigation involving Trump because it was at an early, sensitive stage.
That explanation has not satisfied many Democrats. Some of them were also upset with Obama for not making more of what the government knew about Russian campaign meddling in 2016. They say he was excessively cautious on the matter because he did not want to be seen as influencing the election of his successor. Trump is seeing him that way nonetheless.