House Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., steps back as other Republican members of the panel discuss the final report on Benghazi, June 28, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Trey Gowdy breaks from the White House’s ‘Spygate’ script

Updated

At a campaign rally in Tennessee last night, Donald Trump spent a little time hyping his absurd “Spygate” conspiracy theory, based on the president’s apparent belief that the FBI “infiltrated” his 2016 campaign by “implanting” a “spy” in his operation.

“So how do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign?” the president told supporters in Nashville. “Can you imagine? Can you imagine?”

The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/18/18, 9:40 PM ET

FBI used informant after multiple Trump camp Russia contacts

The New York Times reports that the FBI used an informant to investigate members of the Donald Trump campaign after their contacts with Russian intelligence. Adam Goldman, national security reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about
The New York Times reports that the FBI used an informant to investigate members of the Donald Trump campaign after their contacts with Russian intelligence. Adam Goldman, national security reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about
And while that was clearly a rhetorical question, about an hour earlier, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) helped answer it – but not in a way the president would’ve liked.

“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,” Gowdy said on Fox News.

This morning, the South Carolina Republican – generally considered a close White House ally – went a little further, explaining to CBS News that the FBI did exactly what it was obligated to do.

“When the FBI comes into contact with information about what a foreign government may be doing in our election cycle, I think they have an obligation to run it out,” said Gowdy on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday.

He added, “Based on what I have seen, I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia, I would think you would want the FBI to find out whether there was any validity to what those people were saying.”

Asked specifically if he’s seen any evidence to substantiate Trump’s claim of an FBI “spy” infiltrating the Republican’s campaign, Gowdy answered, “I have not.”

This almost certainly isn’t what the president wanted to hear from the congressman. Remember, Gowdy, in addition to leading the House Oversight Committee, is also a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Last week, when the president directed federal law enforcement to share secret information on a human source with members of Congress, Trump’s original plan was to limit the briefing to two friendly GOP lawmakers: Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and Gowdy.

And while other members also ended up receiving information, Gowdy’s latest comments – the FBI did nothing wrong – put him in line with congressional Democrats who were briefed on the matter and who also said the information helped discredit the president’s claims.

Given these developments, it may be tempting to declare Trump’s conspiracy theory dead, but the truth is, “Spygate” was already a ridiculous fairy tale. Gowdy’s comments are notable, however, because now there’s bipartisan agreement that the allegations the president is peddling are baseless.

Postscript: It’s worth noting for context that Gowdy is retiring from Congress this year, which gives him greater leeway to speak his mind without fear of partisan retributions.