President Donald Trump on Thursday tweeted out his belief that an informant to the FBI inside his 2016 campaign team may mean the previous administration “spied” on him.
But that, like many of Trump’s statements, is a gross exaggeration of the allegations, and the truth may actually expose more than what he’s hoping you think.
Trump made the tweet on Thursday morning.
“Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN IMBEDDED INFORMANT,’” he wrote, quoting conservative columnist Andrew McCarthy in all caps.
McCarthy had appeared on "Fox & Friends" minutes before Trump’s tweet.
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
Trump added that if the allegations are true, “this is bigger than Watergate!”
The president is wrong, of course, in his tweet that previously included yet another misspelled word (the tweet above is a correction of one he made earlier, in which he wrote “imbedded” instead of “embedded”).
Here’s a quick history lesson for Trump: Watergate was an illegal entry and spying operation conducted on a political organization by individuals within President Richard Nixon re-election campaign. Watergate happened because the campaign was trying to wiretap the Democratic Party’s phone lines to use the information they got for political purposes.
But the allegations Trump made on Thursday do not exceed or even match what Watergate was. An informant in his campaign, telling the FBI about possibly illegal actions by people close to Trump, is a voluntary action of someone trying to expose a crime. It is not as if the FBI, under former President Barack Obama’s orders, inserted themselves within the campaign or did so for the purposes of using information they obtained to defeat Trump politically. Those two distinctions are very important and dispel any notion that this is somehow “bigger than Watergate.”
All of this is mere speculation, of course, because there’s no hard evidence supporting the idea that an informant was within Trump’s campaign at all. The president is citing speculation by McCarthy, who said “[t]here’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign” (emphasis in Italics added).
It could be that McCarthy is right in his guessing — as a former federal prosecutor, he has experience dealing in these types of matters, and his expertise isn’t easily dismissable. But it’s still speculation and shouldn’t be disseminated as fact, as Trump tried to do Thursday morning.
What’s more, if it does turn out to be true (that an informant was giving information out to the FBI), it actually means more trouble for Trump. It doesn’t necessarily mean, as he implied in his tweet, that the informant and the FBI were involved in a conspiracy with one another (and Obama as well) — rather, the more obvious answer is that the informant had something worth telling, especially if the FBI was actively working with them. What’s more, it also means that a set of guidelines restricting how the agency can use the informant was in place.
Trump also lamented on Thursday morning that “[w]e are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History.”
The president may think that revelations about a supposed informant inside his campaign bodes well with his “witch hunt” narrative. In actuality, it grants greater legitimacy to the investigation, because if it’s true that an informant reached out to the FBI (and that the agency took those allegations seriously), then there were probably criminal activities happening under Trump’s watch. How close he was to them, or who else was aware of what was happening, is yet to be seen.