Making the click-through worthwhile: The New York Times confirms that the FBI sent undercover investigators to talk to Trump-campaign officials in 2016 after all; the Washington Post uncovers some unnerving new details about Bernie Sanders’s “honeymoon” to the Soviet Union; and the economy keeps rocking and rolling.
‘Spygate’ Doesn’t Look Like Such a Hyperbolic Label after All
The woman had set up the meeting [with George Papadopoulos in a London bar] to discuss foreign policy issues. But she was actually a government investigator posing as a research assistant, according to people familiar with the operation. The F.B.I. sent her to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer to better understand the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.
Wait, it gets weirder, as shortly after the New York Times ran this story, George Papadopoulos tweeted:
“Azra Turk” clearly was not FBI. She was CIA and affiliated with Turkish intel. She could hardly speak English and was tasked to meet me about my work in the energy sector offshore Israel/Cyprus which Turkey was competing with.
(Was is possible she was only posing as having troubles with English?)
Does the Federal Bureau of Investigation traditionally send undercover investigators to talk to a presidential campaign’s low-level staffers? The term “Spygate” doesn’t seem so hyperbolic now. Quite a few Democrats were livid when Attorney General William Barr said “spying did occur” in testimony last month. (His full quote: “I think spying did occur. The question was whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t predicated. I need to explore that.”)
After Barr said that, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd responded:
Every time they’ve brought up this allegation, there has been zero factual basis for it. Every effort to perpetrate the spying conspiracy theory has been debunked.” CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin called the comment part of the “paranoid lunacy of the right wing.
Sending undercover agents to meet with targets and try to get them to divulge sensitive information is . . . spying, isn’t it? This isn’t a conspiracy theory anymore. As Barr said, this might be on the up-and-up, a bunch of FBI officials hearing odd and troubling things about the Trump campaign being in contact with the Russian government and being obligated to investigate further. But the Times notes that the London operation “yielded no fruitful information” — as we would expect, as Mueller just spent two years investigating this and found no evidence of collusion.
Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, is looking into all of this and the results of his inquiry could be public in May or June, according to Barr. (This is actually one more reason to wonder if Papadopoulos’s assessment of “Azra Turk’s” affiliation is accurate; if this was a CIA effort, would the Department of Justice inspector general have the authority and jurisdiction to review her actions? The CIA has its own inspector general.)
That IG report might look really bad for the FBI, as Trump and his supporters will fairly ask if the bureau would have taken the initial claims so seriously, or sent undercover investigators to infiltrate a campaign, if the allegations involved the incumbent president’s party. Even if there was demonstrable no abuse of power here, this is the sort of circumstance where an investigative agency has to tread as carefully and lightly as possible.
Also, for those of us who are Jets fans or who merely can’t stand Bill Belichick, this is really “Spygate 2.0.”
Bernie Sanders, Trashing the United States on Russian Soil
The Washington Post does a deep dive into Bernie Sanders’s honeymoon trip to the Soviet Union, and the resulting portrait is not pretty:
As he stood on Soviet soil, Sanders, then 46 years old, criticized the cost of housing and health care in the United States, while lauding the lower prices — but not the quality — of that available in the Soviet Union. Then, at a banquet attended by about 100 people, Sanders blasted the way the United States had intervened in other countries, stunning one of those who had accompanied him.
“I got really upset and walked out,” said David F. Kelley, who had helped arrange the trip and was the only Republican in Sanders’s entourage. “When you are a critic of your country, you can say anything you want on home soil. At that point, the Cold War wasn’t over, the arms race wasn’t over, and I just wasn’t comfortable with it.”
Sanders had visited Nicaragua in 1985 and hailed the revolution led by Daniel Ortega, which President Ronald Reagan opposed. “I was impressed,” Sanders said then of Ortega, while allowing that “I will be attacked by every editorial writer for being a dumb dope.” At the same time, Sanders voiced admiration for the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro, whom Reagan and many others in both parties routinely denounced.
Sanders, in turn, said Americans dismissed socialist and communist regimes because they didn’t understand the poverty faced by many in Third World countries. “The American people, many of us, are intellectually lazy,” Sanders said in a 1985 interview with a Burlington television station.
You can tell a lot about a man by what he chooses to praise and what he chooses to criticize.
Back in the 20 things article about Sanders, I noted that he had called for using taxpayer dollars to send thousands of American children to the Soviet Union, contended that bread lines in Communist countries were a sign that the system was working, and regularly met with representatives of the Irish Republican Army. A year earlier, he had gone to Nicaragua and attended a rally where the crowd chanted, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”
You Can See, Smell, and Feel the Prosperity in the Air . . . Or Maybe That’s Just Pollen
Wowsers. When they announced the new job-creation numbers and unemployment rate on the financial-news channels, the anchors reacted like Meg Ryan in the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally. This is a roaring economy: “The U.S. jobs machine kept humming along in April, adding a robust 263,000 new hires while the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest in a generation, according to a Labor Department report Friday.”
What about wages? “Average hourly earnings up 3.2 percent from a year earlier, the ninth straight month of wage growth of 3 percent or above.” Booyah!
“We’re enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in almost five decades” is a heck of a reelection slogan.
ADDENDUM: As noted in the Corner, I’m enjoying the sudden revisions to Beto O’Rourke’s image and reputation in the national press, but it would be nice to see some media institutions admit that they fell for the hype last year, that they saw what they wanted to see in the once-little-known congressman, and that the conservative media who assessed him as nothing special were right all along.