It was announced on Sept. 13 that Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz has written a letter to members of Congress, informing them that he has at last completed his long-awaited investigation of matters involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
For a year and a half, Horowitz and many of the 450 people working in the Office of the Inspector General have been digging deeply into just how the fake Trump–Russia collusion information was used by top federal officials to start law enforcement investigations and intelligence operations against the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Specifically, Horowitz has been looking into applications proffered to the FISC to get surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. After all, the title of the forthcoming report is “Examination of the Department’s and the FBI’s Compliance with Legal Requirements and Policies in Applications Filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Relating to a certain U.S. Person.”
There is no doubt that the “certain U.S. Person” referred to is Carter W. Page.
In this column, I’m going to make a case as to why this Spygate scandal is far more serious and has done more damage to this country than the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s. But before I do that, I have to remind everyone exactly what Watergate was.
What Happened in the Watergate Scandal?
To avoid putting the country through an impeachment crisis, President Richard M. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974. Had he not resigned, it was a foregone conclusion that impeachment proceedings would begin against him and his chances of surviving such a vote were exceedingly slim. He faced two articles of impeachment if the process moved forward, and the evidence was damning.
The first article of impeachment against Nixon gets the most attention because it involved his use of the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate Hotel burglary.
The much-less remembered second article of impeachment had to do with a recorded conversation Nixon had with his aides in the Oval Office, in which he discussed using the IRS, a federal agency, to give his political opponents “tax problems.”
Simply talking about doing this would have gotten Nixon impeached. No evidence ever surfaced that the IRS targeted someone for political reasons at Nixon’s behest, but even having been found talking about using the power of a federal agency to go after political opposition was odious enough that it led to its own separate impeachment article.
The legacy media has gotten into the habit of repeatedly asserting that former President Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House were remarkably scandal-free. That is a ridiculous assertion to anyone who remembers how scandal-ridden Obama’s two terms were, such as how the IRS got caught red-handed playing political favorites when it came to awarding or withholding tax exemptions to political groups.
In the present day Spygate scandal, government officials didn’t merely talk about using the great powers of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies against political opponents. Evidence points to them having actually done it.
That’s why it can accurately be stated that the Spygate scandal is truly the biggest and most serious political scandal in U.S. history, one that dwarfs Watergate.
Why Spygate Is So Much Worse Than Watergate
The Watergate scandal, at its heart, was about political operatives working on behalf of the Nixon administration (informally known as “The Plumbers”) attempting to plant bugs in the phones of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, so they could spy on key Democratic campaign communications.
A little-remembered fact is that bugs had been successfully planted earlier; the burglars were returning to plant a new set in the phones because the first set never worked properly. It was during this second foray into DNC headquarters in the middle of the night that they were caught by an observant security guard.
So the Watergate scandal was based on an attempt to spy on political opponents, but no evidence ever surfaced that any successful spying was actually done. The first set of listening devices never functioned, and the operatives were caught while trying to replace them.
That won’t be the case in the Spygate scandal, because this wasn’t an off-the-books dirty tricks group like The Plumbers running an operation against the Trump campaign. This was the federal government itself, making use of the official engines of its intelligence and law enforcement agencies and surveillance courts to spy on a political campaign and, then, a presidency.
And it’s because this scandal is so much worse than Watergate that the persons responsible for it must be held accountable for their actions.
A Slap on the Wrist Simply Won’t Do
The punishment must be commensurate with the crimes committed.
The crimes here amount to a deliberate attempt to subvert the federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies and turn them into political engines of partisan policy to shield political friends and destroy political enemies. After covering up serious crimes committed by their political friends, these key government officials used their offices to manufacture crimes to use as a pretext to investigate and punish their political enemies.
Unless this behavior is punished with the utmost severity, no one will ever be able to place trust in the federal government. The ball of accountability will soon end up in the court of U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
If the big plan of President Donald Trump and Barr here is to fully expose what the Spygate plotters did, but then let them all walk away without any consequences—as some people are claiming—then they are planning to undermine the government they’ve been entrusted with safekeeping. It would be a stunning dereliction of duty.
Nobody would know better than Trump what it would mean to let all the criminals who tried to sabotage him just walk away. Endless bluster about restoring the rule of law and faith in the institutions of the U.S. federal government would be demonstrated to be nothing but hot air.
And yet, I see comments from many people who are convinced that’s exactly what is about to happen. They believe Trump will complain, but in the end, he’ll stand by and watch his carefully selected attorney general let them all go.
That betrays a stunning lack of faith in this president and the handpicked people he’s placed in charge of these federal agencies.
One promise Trump has repeated many times over the past year is that this kind of scandal can never be allowed to happen again.
Some people have talked themselves into believing that after Trump had months to carefully examine different candidates for the attorney general position following the departure of Jeff Sessions, he somehow ended up making a huge mistake by selecting Barr.
Time and again, the narrative goes, Trump is talked into picking the wrong people for the most crucial jobs. A whole new round of this kind of talk just started up again with former national security advisor John Bolton’s recent departure from the White House.
Trump critics point to how many times people have been shuffled in and out of top jobs in the Trump administration during its 2 1/2-year tenure.
Well, how’s the Trump agenda looking so far, both domestically and overseas? Does all this revolving door stuff at the White House translate into a world in chaos? I don’t think it does. I think Trump keeps shuffling people around to avoid complacency and because he’s project-oriented. Trump doesn’t have the usual Washington mindset that once you appoint someone to a position, it’s theirs until he leaves office.
There are plenty of people willing to sell the narrative that Trump has no idea what he’s doing, and he’s being constantly bamboozled by bad advisers and then he’s forced into ham-handed personnel changes on the fly, when he’s not impotently railing on his Twitter account that nobody working for him will do what he wants.
At this point, almost three years into his first term, you either trust that the president knows what he’s doing or you don’t.
Restoration of Accountability Is Coming
The Spygate scandal not only dwarfs the Watergate scandal, but it’s also the greatest threat to the legitimacy of the U.S. governmental system in the history of the United States.
Our system of government is based upon fair and free elections when voters determine who gets to hold the awesome powers of federal agencies in their hands. The people entrusted with these powers take oaths for very real and significant reasons.
The exercise of powers in these federal agencies must be without partisan motivations or agendas. What happened here were deliberate actions undertaken to subvert the U.S. government, and it violated the very principles upon which our system is established.
After the voters speak, one party is supposed to freely hand over the reins of power to the other party.
Political partisans violating all of their oaths by taking federal powers and turning them to partisan political ends is the kind of thing that will destroy our U.S. system forever.
All safeguards carefully and thoughtfully put into place to prevent exactly what happened in this Spygate scandal were deliberately subverted and corrupted. Simply exposing that this happened and detailing how this happened isn’t enough; it wouldn’t be nearly enough.
And that is why they must all be held accountable. The punishment must fit the crime. To let them all walk away free as birds would be a mockery of justice.
Trump knows this.
Barr knows this.
Which is why I don’t think these criminals will be allowed to walk away.
Justice is coming.
Brian Cates is a writer based in South Texas and author of “Nobody Asked For My Opinion … But Here It Is Anyway!” He can be reached on Twitter @drawandstrike.