President Trump is opening a whole new chapter in the war between him and the investigators pursuing him. Today, he tweeted: “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
It’s unclear how the Justice Department will respond. In March, Justice’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, announced he would be examining exactly how the DOJ set about employing the so-called Steele dossier to help obtain permission from a special court, the FISA court, to eavesdrop on Trump foreign-policy adviser Carter Page. Apparently, Trump is demanding that the DOJ now look at a range of recent developments, including the news that an FBI informant was fishing for information from Trump officials before any Justice investigation of possible Trump-campaign collusion with Russia was supposed to have begun.
For well more than a year, we’ve heard about the “Did Trump Collude with Russia” storyline that the special counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing. In recent months, a parallel narrative has been developing. In this account, for which a case is slowly building, figures inside the Obama administration and in the Hillary Clinton campaign may have actively spied on and tried to undermine Trump’s presidential campaign.
But anyone who broaches the thought that there might be two stories relating to 2016 campaign skullduggery rather than just one is viciously attacked. When radio and TV host Mark Levin stitched together mainstream-media reports to allege that FISA-court warrants had been sought by the Justice Department to investigate Team Trump, he was branded a conspiracy theorist by Trump critics. He has since been vindicated.
Trump foes have also launched attacks against Kimberly Strassel, my former colleague at the Wall Street Journal. She has done pathbreaking reporting on the Justice Department’s refusal to turn over documents on its 2016 actions to the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Devin Nunes (R., Calif.).
Nunes believes that the American people deserve to know whether or not their intelligence agencies have followed the law.
On Friday, the Washington Post’s David von Drehle sniffed that “there’s nothing surprising about pundits under the influence of the president attacking U.S. intelligence agencies while minimizing the threat from Russia.”
But it’s Nunes who has faced the most vitriolic attacks. Nunes believes that the American people deserve to know whether or not their intelligence agencies have followed the law. “Someone has to watch the watchers,” he told me recently. “The Constitution vests Congress with oversight powers over the executive branch.”
But that’s not how the media see it. Last month, Jason Zengerle of the New York Times wrote a scathing profile of Nunes, whom he dismissed in a tweet as someone “who’s been propagating (and/or falling for) conspiracy theories since before the Deep State was even a gleam in Donald Trump’s eye.”
So it’s come to this. Liberals and journalists used to be appalled at the abuses of power by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and the CIA against Martin Luther King and others. More recently, while many liberals deplored Edward Snowden’s leaks revealing how extensive U.S.-government snooping has become, they also agreed that the information he revealed showed the need for reforms.
Indeed, former CBS News journalist Sharyl Atkisson has detailed how U.S. intelligence agencies have abused the privacy of Americans. She lists ten examples of such abuses and concludes that, to this day, intelligence and Justice Department officials sometimes “operate not just in direct defiance of their superiors, but of the Congress, the courts and the very laws of the land as well.”
But those aren’t the issues the media are looking to follow. Rather, the news of a possible FBI informant in the Trump campaign has led some Nunes critics to spin out of control. Last Friday, Mark Shields of the normally sedate PBS News Hour took a blowtorch to Nunes and his colleagues. “The House Intelligence Committee is led by just outrageous adolescents who are about as deep as a birdbath,” he sneered. He then declared that “they are trying to exact the same damage upon the Justice Department of the country, the FBI and this country, that Joe McCarthy did on the State Department, which has never fully recovered from his libelous attacks.” Hauling out the ghost of Joe McCarthy so loosely may not be the act of a scoundrel, but it certainly is that of a pure propagandist.
I was recently in the “green room” of a television network where a distinguished Washington journalist was also waiting to go on air. I mentioned the suspicious revelations about Justice Department actions during the 2016 campaign, and innocently asked why they couldn’t be investigated along with the Russian-collusion story. “There’s only room for one narrative on all this,” the reporter bluntly told me. “And it’s all about Trump.”
Well, that’s not what the American people seem to believe. Just last week, CBSNews.com took a poll on Robert Mueller’s investigation. “A year into the special counsel investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, a slight majority of Americans thinks the investigation is politically motivated,” the pollsters reported. “Fifty-three percent say so, while 44 percent think the investigation is justified.”
You’d think that Beltway reporters — many of whom are convinced that President Trump is such a menace to the country that he must be removed from office — would look into why most Americans view Mueller’s probe skeptically. You would be wrong. CBS did not even report its own poll on television. Nor did it give it anything other than the most cursory of coverage.
All of this proves that media bias isn’t so much about how stories are covered with a clear slant but about how some important stories tend to be ignored because they involve “inconvenient facts.”