- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2018

President Trump’s demand for a thorough investigation into the Obama/FBI spy operation on his campaign had a very specific caveat embedded within: 

“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!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

“For political purposes.” An important specification. Indeed, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s rapid response to the president echoed the theme.

“The Department has asked the Inspector General to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.

The president’s tweet and the DOJ response makes it apparent that the spying of the Trump campaign is now accepted fact. It took 14 months, but it’s nice that we can now all agree on that point. Now the question appears to be what motivated the operation and, if that motivation was political or not. 

It’s an important and serious question. Let’s look at what we know so far.

First, let’s hope that all Americans, Left, Right and Never Trump, can agree that this operation was unprecedented and extraordinary. The FBI has never, as far as we know, conducted a clandestine investigation on a presidential campaign complete with electronic surveillance and a spy. The bar to initiate such an investigation would have to be pretty high. The FBI would not, under normal circumstances, authorize this kind of operation unless there was extreme and justifiable reasons to do so. 

So, whatever the reason to initiate this operation, one expects that reason to be pretty concrete and conclusive. 

Now, let’s examine the underlying political atmosphere surrounding the decision to launch this extraordinary, unprecedented investigation.

Donald Trump was President Obama’s political enemy. He was running, specifically, to undo Obama’s legacy and everything he had instituted through executive actions. He was also running against Obama’s chosen successor. 

President Obama loathed Donald Trump and made that clear with his public utterances.  Obama and Trump publicly traded insults and ridicule. The media and Obama’s surrogates would regularly accuse Trump of blatant racism for recklessly challenging the validity of Obama’s birth certificate years before the 2016 campaign and used that as a talking point against Trump that summer. 

To say that the atmosphere between Obama and Trump was politically charged would be the understatement of the century. Nothing could have been more political than the Obama/Trump engagement in the Spring and Summer of 2016. 

Now, what do we know about what began the investigation in the first place?

We know, according to strategic leaks to the media, that the FBI’s counterintelligence operation was begun at the end of July based on reports that Trump campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos had made comments to an Australian diplomat about the Trump campaign having knowledge of Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. 

We know that the operation relied on the infamous and unverified “Steele dossier” in obtaining a FISA warrant on Carter Page, another unpaid adviser to the Trump campaign. 

And we know that the Electronic Communication (EC) used to trigger the investigation at the FBI did not rely on any intelligence from our four allies (Australia, Canada, UK and New Zealand) to justify the operation. 

We also know that the House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes, and Rep. Trey Gowdy have joined Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham in demanding the Department of Justice (and the FBI) turn over the information revealing exactly what, in the beginning, instigated this extraordinary investigation, and they’ve been met with stonewalling and obstinate refusals all along the way. 

And now, based on Byron York’s reporting, we know that something might have happened prior to the famous Popadopoulos London bar conversation because the FBI spy charged with contacting Page and Popadopoulos began his engagements prior to July 31, the official start date of the counterintelligence investigation:

But now comes word of the FBI informant, described in various accounts as a retired American professor living in England. The Washington Post reported that, “The professor’s interactions with Trump advisers began a few weeks before the opening of the investigation, when Page met the professor at the British symposium.”

A few weeks before the opening of the investigation — those are the words that have raised eyebrows among Hill investigators. If it was before the investigation, then what was an FBI informant doing gathering undercover information when there was not yet an investigation?

And that is pretty much all we know. 

So, what conclusions can we reasonably reach?

We know that the atmosphere surrounding the decision to launch the investigation was highly political. It was political in the most personal sense for President Obama, who held the reigns of power over the FBI and the DOJ at the time of the investigation. 

We know that the political document known as the “Steele dossier” was used, at least in part, to justify many elements of the spying operation against the Trump campaign. 

We know that George Popadopoulos’ statement in a bar with an Austrailian diplomat triggered some element of the investigation as well. 

A guy making a statement in a bar and a pile of unverified opposition research paid for by the Clinton campaign doesn’t even come close to the very high bar needed to be cleared to initiate a clandestine investigation on any American citizen, let alone a member of a presidential campaign just weeks before election day. 

But, it appears, that’s all we have. 

Until we learn something else from the DOJ - and God knows our elected representatives charged with the responsibility of oversight in matters like this have been begging for something else from the DOJ - this is all we have to work with. 

Given the politically charged backdrop of the Obama versus Trump death match, coupled with the use of the Steele dossier (by definition a political document paid for by Trump’s political opponent) the only reasonable conclusion to reach is that the FBI spying operation was launched for political purposes. 

It’s incumbent on the FBI to prove otherwise. What inspired James Comey to make the extraordinary decision (supported by President Obama) to spy on the Trump campaign? The answer better be something bigger than something a campaign volunteer said in a bar in London. 

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