House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pushed blatantly false allegations about the FBI investigation into four associates of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign over the weekend — lies that were retweeted more than 34,000 times at the time of this writing.
He claimed that the recent Justice Department inspector general report showed that “The FBI broke into President Trump’s campaign, spied on him, then tried to cover it up.” In fact, the report demonstrated clearly that McCarthy’s claim wasn’t true.
In the Fox News video clip accompanying the tweet, McCarthy explained what he meant by saying the FBI “broke into” the campaign: “They broke into his campaign by bringing people into it. They have been trying to cover it up for the whole time.”
But this is false. As CNN’s Daniel Dale noted, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found no evidence to support this idea:
Horowitz’s report said that “all” of the witnesses his team interviewed said “that the FBI did not try to recruit members of the Trump campaign as CHSs (confidential human sources), did not send CHSs to collect information in Trump campaign headquarters or Trump campaign spaces, and did not ask CHSs to join the Trump campaign or otherwise attend campaign related events as part of the investigation.”
Horowitz added that “we found no information indicating otherwise.”
The report also clarifies that the investigation initially focused on four individuals — George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort — not the campaign itself. And there’s no support for McCarthy’s claim that the FBI spied on Trump himself. There was an incident in which a member of the FBI’s investigatory team helped brief the Trump campaign on intelligence matters — which is a typical function of the FBI — and Horowitz recommends that policymakers should consider barring this practice in the future. But Trump was still not a target of the investigation, and there’s no sense in which this FBI official “broke into” the campaign.
What’s particularly egregious about this lie is how blatant it is. McCarthy’s not only making wild accusations — he’s making accusations that are contradicted by the report that he cites for the accusation.
His comparison to Watergate is also galling because in 2016, it was the Democratic National Committee that was once again, just like in Watergate, illegally burgled, this time by Russian hackers who stole and leaked private emails. And it was Trump who, at the time, encouraged these hackers to go after Clinton personally, and they apparently listened to this command.
“These claims are false,” said CNN legal analyst Renato Mariotti in response to McCarthy’s tweet. “The Inspector General did not *find* evidence of this during his investigation.”
John Harwood of CNBC said: “House GOP leader McCarthy, who three years ago said Putin was paying Trump ‘swear to God,’ now joins Trump in disseminating Russian propaganda.”
McCarthy was additionally dishonest in the video when he said of the Horowitz report that the report showed a “modern-day coup” — a completely nonsensical idea, since Trump wasn’t in office at the time of the investigation. And the evidence suggests that the FBI actually undermined Hillary Clinton’s chances in the election, not Trump’s.
McCarthy further claimed, “Now the question rises, just like Watergate, who knew, when did they know it, and how high did this go up?”
The implication here seems to be that, like Watergate, the conspiracy went up to the top — to President Barack Obama. But this isn’t really an open question. Horowitz said he found no evidence that there was improper political influence in the investigation of Trump campaign associates. And though he found significant problems, particularly in the surveillance of Carter Page, these problems were largely the result of lower-level officials within the FBI not reporting enough information up the chain to give higher-ups a better sense of the facts of the case. So the evidence for wrongdoing that exists doesn’t raise questions about how much officials at the top knew, but why they didn’t know more.
This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but it doesn’t fit Trump or McCarthy’s narrative, and their conspiracy theories and lies actually distract from the real issues in the FBI.
Watch the clip of McCarthy’s comments below:
The FBI broke into President Trump’s campaign, spied on him, then tried to cover it up.
This is a modern-day Watergate. pic.twitter.com/7YfyARPIlr
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) December 22, 2019
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