- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2018

Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Sunday that “rogue” members of Congress have put forward GOP accusations of a secret cabal within the Justice Department, particularly those tied to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian ties to the Trump campaign.

The notion that Justice Department officials and FBI agents were involved in a “secret society” to undermine the Trump White House — as alleged by Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican — “does not comport with reality,” Mr. Gates, who is also a former CIA director, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“As the director of the CIA, I was exposed to a few conspiracy theories over the years,” he said. “If you have a rotten apple … it can obviously do real damage, and it takes a long time to repair that.”

Lawmakers “who go rogue themselves” by espousing unsubstantiated allegations of conspiracy within the U.S. government can do just as much damage, not only to the federal agencies accused but also to the credibility of Congress, he said.

“I think its disappointing,” Mr. Gates said, noting “this is not strictly a Republican issue” as members from both sides of the aisle have accused federal agencies of similar misconduct throughout the years.

The furor on Capitol Hill erupted last week when text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former members of special counsel Mr. Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe, referenced a secret society within the FBI.

Mr. Johnson repeated claims an “informant” in the FBI confirming the existence of a so-called secret society, demanding a special counsel be assigned to examine any misconduct within the bureau.

“There is so much smoke here. There is so much suspicion,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, told CNN last week.

Mr. Johnson and others walked back such statements after admitting he had no hard evidence to back up his conspiracy claims. Furthermore, the references to a secret society included in the text messages between Mr. Stzrok and Ms. Page were confirmed to be part of an inside joke about Russian President Vladimir Putin, shared among some FBI agents and officials.

Asked if the kerfuffle has damaged the integrity of Mr. Mueller’s probe, Mr. Gates replied: “I can’t think of anyone who would do this more honestly.”

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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