There are a lot of reasons that this tweet from President Trump is remarkable.
The first is Trump’s flat assertion that all of the following “indeed” happened:
- One “FBI representative”
- Or more
- were “implanted … into” Trump’s campaign
- “for political purposes”
- “early on” in the process
That information he credits to “reports” without identifying the reports. And, “if true,” it would be the “all time biggest political scandal.”
First of all, that the reports aren’t cited is problematic, because it makes it hard to validate Trump’s claims. He had been watching Fox News, as he often does, and reacted with a tweet to something he saw there. But the “reports” Trump mentioned don’t seem to have come from Fox. A bit before he tweeted, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was on and spoke about a possible “informant” embedded in the Trump campaign but with none of the specifics or certainty seen in Trump’s tweet above.
On Thursday, Trump kicked off his day with similar allegations, picking up a Fox News interview with the National Review’s Andrew McCarthy in which McCarthy alleged that the FBI spied on the campaign “with an embedded informant.” That interview stemmed from a column McCarthy published on Saturday, which itself was based on testimony given to Congress by Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson last year.
After Trump lifted up that assertion by McCarthy, we spoke with a retired FBI section chief who noted that there was a big difference between an informant approaching someone like Trump campaign adviser Carter Page at a bar, targeting Page, and getting that informant hired by the campaign to snoop around on a day-to-day basis — targeting the campaign. Fusion’s Simpson had claimed that the FBI had information from “a human source from inside the Trump campaign.” Later, people close to Fusion told reporters that the person Simpson was referring to was campaign adviser George Papadopoulos — but McCarthy doesn’t buy it.
Both The Washington Post and the New York Times have reported on the existence of an FBI source. In our recent look at the fight between House Republicans and the Justice Department to learn more about the FBI source, the person is described as follows:
The source is a U.S. citizen who has provided information over the years to both the FBI and the CIA, as The Post previously reported, and aided the Russia investigation both before and after Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, according to people familiar with his activities.
Other outlets have speculated about whom this source might be, though none that we have seen — email if you have! — besides McCarthy’s (which is to say, besides Simpson’s testimony) has identified a possible campaign staffer. What’s more, there doesn’t seem to be any report that places an informant in the Trump campaign for political purposes, much less more than one.
In fact, on CNN on Friday morning, Trump’s attorney, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, said that neither he nor the president knew with certainty that there was any informant placed in Trump’s campaign.
“First of all, I don’t know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one. We’re told that,” he said. He also claimed that he had been told there were two informants.
So we come back to that “if true.” If all of the bullet points above are true, it’s a huge political scandal. The only problem is that this boy has cried wolf so many times before.
Here’s a brief list of things that Trump has previously declared to be unprecedented or Watergate-level scandals targeting him:
- President Barack Obama having tapped the phones at Trump Tower during the campaign.
- Obama’s administration starting an investigation into the Trump campaign “with zero proof of wrongdoing.”
- The administration having “unmasked” the identities of people associated with Trump’s campaign in foreign surveillance documents.
- An alleged informant in his campaign.
Note, of course, that:
- The phone-tapping never happened, as has been repeatedly demonstrated.
- The investigation that began in July 2016 was predicated on questions about several Trump campaign staffers and, like all investigations, was seeking evidence of wrongdoing.
- The unmasking of the identities of people involved in conversations with foreign actors is a regular occurrence for which there’s an established protocol. One of those conversations for which an identity was unmasked involved a secret meeting between Trump team members and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates while Obama was still president.
- See above.
This skips over lesser slights about which Trump has complained, like that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have given money to Democrats (though Mueller and the man who appointed him, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, are Republicans) and that Mueller’s investigation is an unwarranted “witch hunt.”
The pattern here is that Trump wants to turn the inquiries into what his campaign was doing into the scandalous acts. Over and over, as information has come out and as the Russia investigation has pressed forward, Trump has tried to point fingers in the opposite direction, and usually at Obama.
But again: That “if true”! Trump is asking America to believe his portrayal of what happened, to assume that what he presents without evidence might be true and is therefore a major scandal. Most Americans, though, simply don’t think that he’s honest, meaning that very few are likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The percentage of Americans who don’t see Trump as honest hasn’t moved much since he became president, but it’s probably the case that his repeated insistences that he is being unfairly targeted — insistences that often don’t pan out — haven’t helped.
On Friday morning, he made a remarkable claim that extends beyond what has been reported. If what he said is true, he insists, then he is a bigger victim than has been seen in the history of American politics.
And if there really is a wolf, the town is in trouble. But the townspeople have heard this before.