op-ed

If You Think #ThePeeTapeIsReal, The Feds Can Spy On You

#ReleaseTheMemo was a dud. A big, bland nothingburger. “That’s it?” asked the former directors of the FBI and CIA. Journalists and Democrats agree. With that said, let’s have President Donald Trump start spying on anyone who believes #ThePeeTapeIsReal in advance of the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential re-election campaign.

The revelations in the congressional memo released Friday include (1) Trump staffer George Papadopoulos’s gossip sparked a federal investigation into the Trump campaign, and (2) Democrats’ opposition research justified spying on Trump campaign staff. Perhaps additional evidence will undermine these claims, but so far if these revelations are true then they set quite the precedent.

According to a report from The New York Times, in May 2016, Trump campaign surrogate George Papadopoulos told an Australian official over drinks at a bar that he believed the Russian government had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Mr. Papadopoulos had heard this rumor from a foreign academic, who said he heard it from Russian officials. The Australians then shared the rumor with FBI agents. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s majority memo confirms that “the Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence operation.”

By May 2016, of course, millions of Americans believed Russia had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. That’s because Hillary Clinton used an unsecured private email server to transmit public records illegally, including classified documents. Clinton even used this email system while in Russia, where hackers or Russian agents could intercept her transmissions.

Today, many Americans believe the Russian government possesses a compromising tape of President Trump watching prostitutes perform a urination show at a Moscow hotel. The source of this rumor is a British ex-spy, Christopher Steele, who said he heard it from Russians. Mr. Steele put his allegations into a report that was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee: the “Steele Dossier.” The FBI used the Steele dossier to get a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and spy on Carter Page, an American and former staffer on the Donald Trump campaign. The FBI used this dossier even though the FBI director thought parts of it were “salacious and unverified” and the FBI knew of its political origins.

If you believe #ThePeeTape is real, you’re relying on a rumor from a foreigner who says he heard it from Russians. And since Papadopoulos worked on the Trump campaign, the FBI apparently used Papadopoulos’s repetition of this popular rumor to start investigating the president’s political opponents.

Countless people have gleefully said “#ThePeeTapeIsReal.” The FBI should pay attention to who among them intends to work for Democrats in 2018 and in 2020 — apparently this warrants the FBI investigating those Democratic campaigns. And Republicans should commission “salacious and unverified” reports about Democratic candidates to be written by foreign spies alleging foreign-government sources. Apparently the FBI can then rely upon this to get FISA warrants and eavesdrop on such Democrats’ staff.

You can object to (1) the FBI investigating the president’s political opponents when campaign staff repeats widely-believed rumors and object to (2) the FBI knowingly using opposition research to justify spying on the president’s political opponents. Or you can find the substance of Friday’s memorandum unobjectionable on its own terms. But you can’t do both. I, for one, prefer a president who orders Big Macs than a president whose administration orders nothingburgers such as these.

Lew Jan Olowski is a married father of two and an attorney in Maryland.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.