When Do Americans Say It Isn’t Right to ‘Spy on a Campaign’?
Rep. Mark Meadows said Dept. of Justice lacks the transparency required to respect lawmakers' constitutional oversight prerogatives
Americans should know when and “at whose direction” an FBI informant began interacting with three of President Donald Trump’s campaign officials, “what were they collecting and who were they reporting to,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Sunday.
“What we do know is that there was indeed a confidential human source, is what the FBI would call it, that was actually giving intel,” Meadows said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” noting that “you have to ask the question, when did it start?”
“We know that actually they initiated the contact between members of the Trump campaign — and at whose direction?” Meadows added. “And at what point do we as Americans say it is not right to spy on a campaign whether it’s Donald Trump’s or [Sen.] Bernie Sanders’ [I-Vt.]? It’s not right.”
The FBI placed an informant, Cambridge University professor Stefan Halper, inside Trump’s campaign early in the spring of 2016, The New York Times reported earlier in May. Halper, who has years of experience working for the FBI and CIA, talked with former Trump advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis during the campaign.
At Trump’s direction, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced last week that Inspector General Michael Horowitz will investigate if Halper’s activities are evidence the Obama administration improperly infiltrated and surveilled the chief executive’s campaign to help his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Although top U.S. intelligence community officials briefed GOP and Democratic lawmakers Thursday amid escalating tensions on the government’s actions against Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Meadows insisted that more questions remain unanswered because there is too little transparency in the DOJ.
"There was a briefing ... yet there were no documents that were shown," Meadows said. "We're hopeful that that will happen in the coming days as long as we can protect the sources and methods that are important to all Americans."
"At the same time, we continue to see this dragging out of a narrative, you know, where we're not seeing documents, where we're not getting the type of transparency that, really, members of Congress have requested for seven or eight months," he added.
But there is "no question" that the FBI's "confidential human sources" were engaging with Trump campaign officials "prior to the official FBI investigation" into Russia's election interference and collusion allegations," Meadows emphasized.
"So the question begs — at whose direction, you know — what were they collecting and who were they reporting to?" he said. "Because that was happening before the FBI actually opened an investigation."
"There is no question that there was a spy that was collecting information. The definition of that — somebody who does something in secret without the knowledge of another person," Meadows said.
But former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper shied away from the use of the term "spy" during an interview Sunday on "Face the Nation."
"I have an aversion to the use of the word 'spy,'" Clapper said. "But let's just for the sake of discussion use that term, which conventionally means the use of tradecraft using a formally trained case officer who would mask identity, who would attempt to recruit."
"So none of the classical attributes of spycraft, if [we] can use that term, were present here," Clapper insisted. "This is the most benign form of information gathering. So to characterize it as a spy or Spygate is, of course, part of the narrative."
Meadows rejected Democrats' attempts to label the "spy" as a mere "informant," saying that an informant would be someone who "had information on you and went to the FBI and said, 'You know, listen we have this wrongdoing, we're giving you some information where it was not directed or where the initiation of it was not from the informant.'"
But if the FBI "knew what was going on," then the bureau should have given a "defensive briefing" to Trump and his campaign, Meadows insisted.
"Why did they not go to the nominee and say, 'By the way, here is a problem?'" Meadows wondered. "'We want to make you aware of it.' Why was that never done?"