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Opinion Trey Gowdy separates himself from his weakling Republican colleagues

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said the FBI was justified in using a secret informant to assist in the Russia investigation, rebuking President Trump's "spy" claim. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

THERE IS at least one senior Republican with enough decency to admit the obvious. On Fox News on Tuesday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, forcefully rebuked President Trump’s baseless and dangerous claim that the Obama administration improperly implanted a “spy” into his 2016 campaign. In so doing, Mr. Gowdy underscored the cowardice of the many other Republicans who stand by while the president shreds the FBI’s reputation for political gain.

“President Trump himself in the Comey memos said if anyone connected with my campaign was working with Russia, I want you to investigate it, and it sounds to me like that is exactly what the FBI did,” Mr. Gowdy said. “I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got.”

Mr. Gowdy is one of a few people who would know. He received a classified Justice Department briefing last week on an informant who contacted members of Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016, as the FBI investigated Russian election meddling. The Oversight Committee chairman’s conclusions corroborate those of senior Democrats who were also briefed — which shows that this is not a case of two competing partisan narratives but of truth vs. fiction.

Mr. Trump should admit that he has no evidence substantiating his repeated insistence that his campaign was spied on for partisan purposes. Instead, he has doubled down, as with his previous false claim that President Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. He has tweeted about spies “all over my campaign” and tried to establish the term “spygate” to refer to his fake controversy.

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In an interview with The Post, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, said the president is attacking the Justice Department because it is “working.” He also indicated that the president would not sit down with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III unless Mr. Trump’s defense team was permitted to review classified documents on the informant. That would set a dangerous precedent, improperly offering defense attorneys a look into an ongoing investigation. It also would signal even more strongly than before that confidential government sources in a politically charged case risk having their identities disclosed.

Republicans who have remained quiet as Mr. Trump has raged can tell themselves that public rebukes will not change the president’s behavior. But that logic is ultimately self-defeating. Without public pushback from GOP leaders, Republicans will fall in line behind their president, and Americans will be left with the impression that Mr. Trump’s relentless manipulation is a case of he-said, she-said, with merit on both sides. That is bad for the GOP, as the party becomes ever more in thrall to lies and distortions. It is bad for the country, as the president intentionally tarnishes the FBI and other key institutions. And it is bad for Republican leaders themselves, whom history will remember as moral weaklings in the face of a president who assaulted democratic institutions.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: The debate is over: Of course Trump obstructed justice

Jennifer Rubin: How Jeff Sessions could bring about Trump’s downfall

Aaron Blake: Trey Gowdy’s total rebuke of Trump’s ‘spying’ narrative — and the pattern it fits

Philip Bump: There is no evidence for ‘Spygate’ — but there is a reason Trump invented it

Eugene Robinson: A sour smell of panic in the White House as the law closes in