Ex-Obama Intel Chief Admits Gov't Did Spy on Trump Camp, But Argues Spying Might Have Been OK


The left’s collective hernia from goalpost-moving on Trump campaign surveillance must be painful.

I can remember back when we were told that there was absolutely, positively, completely no spying on the Trump campaign and anyone who said there was should be fitted for a tinfoil hat and booked on Infowars.

Now, the current party line is that “sure, there was what I guess you might call spying, but ‘spying’ is such an ugly word.”

That latest goalpost-drag came courtesy of James Clapper, director of national intelligence in the Obama White House. Clapper has long been one of those media figures who’s always been willing to put everything that happened during the 2016 election in a “well, sure, but…” sort of light whenever some new controversy arose.

Well, as you may have heard, controversy has arisen with a vengeance.

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One week ago, a New York Times story confirmed that the FBI sent one of its investigators to meet with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in London under the pretext of discussing foreign policy. In fact, she wanted to discover whether or not the campaign was working with Russia.

“The American government’s affiliation with the woman, who said her name was Azra Turk, is one previously unreported detail of an operation that has become a political flash point in the face of accusations by President Trump and his allies that American law enforcement and intelligence officials spied on his campaign to undermine his electoral chances. Last year, he called it Spygate,” The Times reported.

“The decision to use Ms. Turk in the operation aimed at a presidential campaign official shows the level of alarm inside the F.B.I. during a frantic period when the bureau was trying to determine the scope of Russia’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 election, but could also give ammunition to Mr. Trump and his allies for their spying claims.”

Yes, one might say so. And in fact, James Clapper might say so, too.

Clapper, now a CNN contributor, was appearing on “The Situation Room” on Friday to discuss, well, what else? Host Wolf Blitzer asked him straight up whether or not the London meeting constituted spying.

Watch the equivocation in action:

“Well, yeah I guess it meets the dictionary definition of spying — surveillance or spying, a term I don’t particularly like,” Clapper said.

“It’s not a term used by intelligence people. It has a negative connotation, a rogue operation, out of control, not in compliance of the law, and that’s not the case at all.”

Exactly. It’s perfectly harmless! It can be exciting, too — like James Bond. You like James Bond, don’t you? Of course you do. Unless you’re a Russian dupe.

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The problem with this, as The Washington Free Beacon pointed out, is that this is the same guy who called Attorney General William Barr’s contention that the Trump campaign had been spied upon as “stunning and scary.”

“I was amazed at that and rather disappointed that the attorney general would say such a thing,” Clapper said on CNN last month. “The term ‘spying’ has all kinds of negative connotations, and I have to believe he chose that term deliberately.” (Emphasis ours.)

“It would have been far more appropriate for him to just defer to that investigation rather than postulating with apparently no evidence. He just has a feeling that there was spying against the campaign.”

Do you think the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign?

Much like the band Boston, I think Barr might have had more than a feeling.

But, yes, he thought Barr was wrong to use the term. And he was incorrect.

He failed to mention that Barr had said while he believed spying occurred, “the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”

In other words, he was neither confirming nor denying whether it was appropriate. That’s a lot more nuanced than just shooting off at the hip about “spying.”

Furthermore, if this isn’t the bad kind of spying, Clapper’s standing behind the warrant the FBI obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to investigate the Trump campaign, the use of the fraudulent Steele dossier in obtaining said FISA warrant and the torrent of leaks from the intelligence community that accompanied the investigation.

If that’s where he wants to move the goalposts, my guess is that he’s not going to have too much of a respite before he starts dragging them again.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that one conservative talking point from The Times’ story was that it was a matter of the left getting out ahead of a bad story and trying to spin it into something less mephitic.

Even Kevin Brock, a former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, noted in a commentary piece for The Hill that one of the reporters on the story had cooperated with former FBI Director James Comey in the past.

Clapper’s appearance on CNN, in which one of his primary points seems to be that “spying” just doesn’t sound so good, certainly isn’t going to dispel this notion. In fact, spin seems to be the only possible explanation behind his line of thinking.

From the Mueller report, one may or may not come to the conclusion that the FBI’s decision to surveil certain members of the Trump campaign was justified, at least at the beginning. Two things have become clear since then, however.

The first is that the investigation quickly became politically motivated, as evinced by the infamous FISA warrant cobbled together almost entirely from a piece of opposition research from the Clinton campaign.

The second is that everyone in the orbit of the investigation has done everything possible to make this look as if it wasn’t really spying.

We’ve now devolved to the point that calling spying “spying” puts it in such a negative context. I mean, really, can’t we pick another word?

And don’t worry, they will — especially when the next big revelation comes out and the goalposts get dragged again.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture