Representative Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) was a guest on CBS This Morning earlier today, and — quite frankly — he was exactly the voice of responsibility and reason the GOP needs. The Republican counterattacks on the Russia investigation have grown increasingly frenzied and unhinged, growing from legitimate concerns about FISA applications into “worse-than-Watergate” presumptions that the entire investigation is nothing but a deep-state effort to reverse a presidential election. The phrase “spygate” has taken on a life of its own, far out of proportion to the known facts.
Gowdy was one of a handful of lawmakers who attended a classified briefing last week about the use of an FBI informant (the “spy”) to gather information from individuals in the Trump campaign. Gowdy has thus seen more of the relevant information than any of the talking heads you’ll see discuss the matter on cable news, and (critically) he has reputation for fairness and integrity. That combination makes him a uniquely credible voice.
So, what was Gowdy’s view after seeing the evidence? Let’s break it down. Was the FBI’s conduct improper?
Based on what I have seen, I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia, I would think you would want the FBI to find out whether there was any validity to what those people were saying.
Was Trump the target?
I think the FBI, if they were at the table this morning, they would tell you that Russia was the target and Russia’s intentions toward our country were the target. The fact that two people who were loosely connected to the Trump campaign may have been involved doesn’t diminish the fact that Russia was the target and not the campaign.
He also reminded the viewers that Trump himself at one time had declared that he wanted to know if anyone affiliated with his campaign had done anything wrong. He’s holding Trump to that assertion:
I think his lawyers have an obligation to share with him what Devin [Nunes] and Paul [Ryan] and I saw last week, I’m convinced when he sees it, he’s going to say ‘you know what, that’s what I told [James] Comey I wanted the FBI to do.”
But Gowdy also performed an additional important service — tempering the runaway “obstruction” speculation. No, it’s not criminal obstruction for the president to “berate” Jeff Sessions about his recusal from the Russia investigation. Here’s Gowdy:
I think what the president is doing is expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward. If I were the president, and I picked someone to be the country’s chief law-enforcement officer, and they told me later, “Oh by the way, I’m not going to be able to participate in the most important case in the office,” I would be frustrated too. That’s how I read that.
Finally, regarding his colleagues:
The folks who’ve seen the information I think have the same perspective I have. Those who have not seen the information, I don’t know what informs their perspective.
There are lots of important comments here, but I have three main takeaways. First, the inception of the investigation was not based on concerns about Donald Trump but instead based on concerns about Russia. This is an important distinction — putting the FBI in the position of running down leads based on its investigation of Russians, not using the existence of Russian interference efforts as a mere pretext to crack open the Trump campaign. That’s exactly what we want the FBI to do, and if Russians are trying to influence campaign operatives, a person’s status in a presidential campaign does not grant them immunity from investigation.
Second, while Gowdy poured cold water on the notion that the investigation was irresponsible or an abuse of power, he said nothing about its ultimate outcome. The question of whether the FBI or any other intelligence agency abused its power is separate from whether there was any collusion. Responsible investigations can yield no evidence of wrongdoing. Abusive investigations can still uncover criminal activity. Gowdy’s arguments give us a measure of comfort about the inception of the investigation. They do not shed any meaningful light on the collusion question.
Third, he reminded us that the obstruction evidence is still lacking. I’ve long thought that there was enough evidence of improper conduct to investigate the possibility of obstruction of justice, but there was not yet enough evidence (in the public domain, at least) to conclude that the president had violated the law. Gowdy’s comments are an important reminder that the presence of presidential pressure is not the same thing as evidence of presidential lawlessness.
There are elements of both sides of the Russia debate who seem to think that they’re on the verge of Conan the Barbarian-style victory. They’re ultimately going to crush their enemies, see their enemies driven before them, and hear the lamentation of their women. That’s possible, I suppose, but just as the absence of evidence (so far) of clear campaign collusion is making reasonable observers skeptical that any will be found, so should Gowdy’s comments make reasonable observers more skeptical of grandiose claims of FBI corruption. It’s entirely possible that — at the end of the day — the FBI will have done its job properly, and in doing that job it will expose Russian wrongdoing and vindicate the actions of most of the key American players. If that’s the outcome, it should disappoint no one. After all, who wants an American presidential campaign to be corrupt?
I’d invite you to watch all of Gowdy’s comments, embedded below: