President Donald Trump spent much of Wednesday morning tweeting about how the FBI was supposedly “spying” on his presidential campaign. He said that such spying would be “illegal, and a scandal to boot!”
“Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign” No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2018
Well, the president is wrong on both the terms “spying” and “illegal.” Former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman was on MSNBC Wednesday morning to explain the difference between a spy and someone who just gives information to the authorities.
“What he calls a ‘spy’ and what others are calling a spy is what is commonly referred to as an undercover agent, which is an employee of the FBI,” Goldman said. “What a confidential informant is, is what you might call an asset or a source of information, who is someone who through the ordinary course of his or her life comes into contact with something of interest.”
Goldman said that from what is known, the “spy” here, revealed to be professor Stefan Halper, was an informant, not a regular FBI employee. Halper reportedly met with three Trump campaign officials in 2016, and at some point gave information to federal authorities.
“It is not an undercover agent and it is not a spy. So what the president is doing with this tweet, of course, is trying to flip it on its head, trying to make this seem to be a big scandal.”
Besides the fact that Halper was not really a spy, his involvement was far from illegal. People are allowed to talk to the feds, and authorities are allowed to speak with people who may potentially have evidence of wrongdoing. Political campaigns are not afforded special protection.
As Goldman noted in an email to Law&Crime, “There is nothing wrong – much less illegal – with obtaining information related to a campaign (as opposed to a business or other organization),” he said. “Otherwise, a campaign would be able to engage in all sorts of misconduct with impunity.”
[Image via NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images]