COLLECTING SWAMP CHITS: An Obvious Explanation For Trey Gowdy’s Odd Comments
After being briefed on “Spygate” issues, South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, to the surprise of many, issued several pro-prosecutorial platitudes designed to throw cold water on growing public outrage over the scandal. But this should not have been surprising. Without saying anything which was provably false or meaningful, Gowdy collected valuable Department of Justice and FBI chits, redeemable in his soon-to-be opened law practice. But while Gowdy cooled slightly the boiling opinion broth, he did nothing to add to our factual understanding of Spygate.
As we all know, the FBI and the Department of Justice have been recently exposed as having plotted against presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, cooperating, for just one example, in the disguised, salaciously false opposition research of Hillary Clinton, i.e., the “Steele Dossier.” On top of that, it was recently revealed that the FBI had used “spies,” or, more technically put, “confidential informants” to, it seems, entrap lowly Trump hangers-on such as George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. The combination of the dossier and the disguised questioning of Papadopoulos allowed the FBI and DOJ to obtain continuing FISA warrants to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign.
Not content with the phony investigation, FBI Director James Comey and DNI James Clapper caused the leak to CNN of the nature of the dossier, which in turn was published in whole by BuzzFeed, intended to hobble President-Elect Trump before he ever took office. Then, in March 2017, Comey publicly announced the “Russian collusion” investigation, which at the time was touted by New York Times sources as based upon the dossier, only later, after the dossier was revealed to be unverified, attributed to a drunken remark by Papadopoulos. Now that we know that even the Papadopoulos comment was a result of entrapment by FBI spies, the conclusion now seems ineluctable that our justice agencies were not acting justly.
Understandably, the FBI and DOJ have been loath to give the public the full documentary scoop showing the scheme’s genesis, employing stonewalling that would have made Richard Nixon blush. It is in this sensitive milieu that the agencies agreed to brief – confidentially – a select group of legislators, among them stalwart ex-prosecutor Gowdy, on Spygate. Because Gowdy had been such a staunch prosecutorial voice in previous Congressional investigations, many pinned their hopes on the strong articulate, adverse public reaction they anticipated from him. But their hopes were misplaced. The reason is obvious to anyone who hangs out a shingle to make a living.
Gowdy in his mind is no longer wearing a legislator’s hat, and he has always had a prosecutor’s heart. He is not running for re-election, planning to start or join a law practice in his native South Carolina following his present term. His plans have made it impossible for him to give a candid take-away from the confidential briefing, and, indeed, they assured the bland pro-prosecution bromides he was forced by these circumstances to spout.
Gowdy’s criminal law experience is primarily federal, arising out of his stint as an Assistant United States Attorney in South Carolina. There are plenty of competent, deeply-rooted criminal defense lawyers practicing in South Carolina state courts. So Gowdy’s hopes for well-paying clientele must rest on his knowledge of federal law, and more specifically, his contacts at the highest levels of the FBI and DOJ in Washington, D.C. If he is in the good graces of the top dogs in these agencies, his ease of movement throughout the federal halls of justice, in both South Carolina and D.C., will be assured. Conversely, if he were to damage the reputations of the higher-ups in the FBI and DOJ, Gowdy’s federal law practice would be radioactive.
So anyone with knowledge of the system and an ability to think critically would have been stunned if Gowdy had emerged from the one-sided briefing as anything other than an apologist for the FBI/DOJ. While he did not disappoint the cynical in this regard, to his credit he supported justice officials in the most vague and platitudinous terms.
The congressman’s bias became clear when he issued in typically meaningless, hard-guy prosecutorial verbiage a challenge to the President. If Trump truly has “nothing to hide,” he said, the President should not be shy about being interviewed by Mueller. This, of course, is abject nonsense, and as a defense lawyer, Gowdy will certainly refrain from giving his own clients such insipid advice.
That he was at least advertising the FBI/DOJ Kool-Aid for others to drink was obvious when Gowdy ridiculed the notion that there were “spies” employed in the Russian investigation, resorting to Fedspeak such as “confidential informants” and “human sources.” To real people, however, with whom legislators are supposed to be concerned, the term “spies” captures the commonsense truth: these disguised informants were reporting back to law enforcement without disclosure to their subjects. So Gowdy makes his bias abundantly evident with this jejune wordsmithing.
The following glitteringly general opinion was Gowdy’s main public mission:
I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
If we divide this statement into its two parts, we can conclude that what he is saying here is either meaningless or simply wrongheaded. The first part of his broad opinion is circular reasoning. The issue he was presumably addressing was whether the use of undisclosed informants in this case would be deemed necessary and desirable by the citizens of our democracy. His opinion was clearly the logical fallacy of begging the question: the citizens of our democracy would have wanted this to happen and therefore the process was something citizens would have wanted to happen. What did his statement tell us, though, about the specific need for the informants? Why would not a disclosed FBI agent have been an appropriate interviewer of Page and Papadopoulos? Why was the sneaky informant Stephan Halper used instead? He does not tell us.
Clapper has said “spies” were used to investigate what the Russians did, not to investigate Trump, and Comey as well defended the use of these human sources as necessary. But if, as they both have said, Russian meddling was so clear, as supposedly agreed by all intelligence agencies, what did it add to the case against the Russians that they may have spoken about their plans to Papadopoulos or Page? Wouldn’t meddling be wrong even if the Russians told nobody?
The only thing that Page’s or Papadopoulos’s complicity would have added to what was already an already overwhelmingly strong case was that the Russians suborned Trump campaign aides, perhaps Trump himself, into participation. But this evidence would only be important if the investigators were seeking implicate Trump and/or his campaign.
So when Gowdy declared, “and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” he cannot possibly be serious. Investigating Trump campaign aides had everything to do with Donald Trump. Recall that it was on March 21, 2016 that Trump first told the Washington Post that his foreign policy team included Page and Papadopoulos for Russian issues. Thereafter, the spy traps were set, clearly because of the status of these two individuals as members of the Trump campaign. If the intel officials were not after Trump, whom they despised, why did they twice decide to refrain from giving his campaign the customary “defensive briefing” afforded compromat targets? In short, Gowdy loses all credibility when he tries to convince us that these spies had nothing to do with Trump.
To be fair, Gowdy’s group received no documents from briefers Rosenstein and Wray, who in turn have necessarily relied on tendentious “intelligence” from partisan CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan was reportedly suckered on questionable intel relayed through British and Estonian sources, to which he had clung tenaciously. But a trial lawyer like Gowdy should know better than to rely heavily on unsupported statements from potentially adverse parties.
Of course, since Gowdy made no specific factual statements, we cannot apply the “L” word to him. It was not difficult for Gowdy, with his reflexive prosecutorial style, to lapse into a prosecutor’s frame of mind, and side with the briefers, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Nor will it be difficult after January 20, 2019, for Gowdy to knock on the door of either of these gentlemen on behalf of big clients under federal investigation. Come to think of it, given that new Special Counsel appointments are not unlikely in the near future, Gowdy would certainly be an excellent pick for such a job, where billings usually exceed ten million dollars. We can bet that Rosenstein and Wray would agree.
So while we can all agree that Gowdy has been a fine public servant, if we are looking to him to be a candid, credible commentator on his Spygate briefing, we can say confidently, in terms Gowdy might use, that dog won’t hunt.
John D. O’Connor is the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the co-author of “A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat,’ and the Struggle for Honor in Washington” and is a producer of “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” (2017), written and directed by Peter Landesman.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.