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Republicans troubled by claims FBI spied on Trump campaign, but they haven’t seen proof

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Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., speaks to WTVC from Capitol Hill on May 23, 2018. (WTVC)

President Donald Trump continued to rail against what he called “SPYGATE” Wednesday, alleging in a series of tweets that the “Criminal Deep State” illegally placed a spy inside his 2016 presidential campaign, but some Republicans said they have so far seen no evidence that what the president is describing happened.

“Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State,” Trump tweeted. “They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!”

Media reports have indicated an FBI informant met with at least three advisers on Trump’s campaign attempting to determine if they had ties to the Russian effort to influence the election. According to the New York Times, which first reported on the informant’s role last week, no evidence has emerged that this was illegal, that it was politically motivated, or that anyone was implanted into Trump’s campaign to spy on it.

“Even Clapper, worlds dumbest former Intelligence Head, who has the problem of lying a lot, used the word SPY when describing the illegal activities,” Trump wrote in an apparent reference to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s appearance on “The View” Tuesday.

"No, they were not," Clapper said when asked if the FBI was spying on Trump’s campaign. "They were spying on, a term I don't particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand, were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence, which is what they do."

Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump last May, defended the investigation Wednesday in response to the president’s claims.

“Facts matter,” he wrote. “The FBI’s use of Confidential Human Sources (the actual term) is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?”

Earlier this week, the Justice Department asked its inspector general to investigate the FBI’s handling of the counterintelligence probe, including the use of the informant.

Speaking to reporters later Wednesday before leaving the White House for an immigration event in New York, Trump reiterated his belief that wrongdoing occurred and called for “total transparency” from the DOJ and FBI.

“A lot of bad things have happened,” he said. “We now call it ‘Spygate.’”

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill Wednesday did not embrace President Trump’s certainty that FBI spies infiltrated his campaign for political purposes, but they stressed they would be deeply concerned if that turned out to be the case and the possibility merits investigation.

“I think it is very saddening to think that the FBI would infiltrate--if they did and I have no knowledge they did, we have to look at this--but even the allegation the FBI would embed itself in either political campaign, Republican or Democratic, this would be a very negative step,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, indicated he knows no more about alleged spying than what the media has reported, in part because the committee has not received the documents it has sought from the FBI and DOJ on the matter.

“I will say that if something like that is taking place, I think it was wrong when it happened to Martin Luther King Jr., and I think it would be wrong if it happened in this instance,” Wenstrup said. “But there again, I have not seen anything or received anything on that. That’s all been media reports.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., are scheduled to meet with DOJ officials Thursday to review classified documents believed to be related to the informant’s role in the investigation.

Officials had reportedly been reticent to share the documents despite repeated demands from Nunes, citing potential risks to sources and operations, but President Trump has been increasingly vocal in in leveling allegations of obstruction against his own Justice Department. After meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats Monday, Trump directed Chief of Staff John Kelly to arrange the sitdown with Nunes and Gowdy.

“When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happened,” Trump predicted Wednesday. “I hope it's not so, because if it is, there's never been anything like it in the history of our country.”

According to Wenstrup, the Intelligence Committee is probing how a FISA application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page came about and how information presented to the FISA judge was obtained. Republicans have alleged investigators improperly used opposition research obtained for Democrats by a former British spy as a basis for the application.

“As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I want to continue our investigation into any possible wrongdoing that may have taken place in the DOJ and FBI,” he said, “and we do that on behalf of the American people that would love to have a great trust in their government.”

Wenstrup insisted accusations of inappropriate activity by investigators are not intended to besmirch regular FBI and DOJ employees, but he believes the committee is obligated to investigate anything that appears to break the rules.

“I would love to see, at the end of the day, the American people know what took place within our country, what took place within our agencies, what took place on behalf of Russia towards fighting the U.S. or trying to create disarray within the U.S.,” he said.

Democrats have dismissed Trump’s “Spygate” claims as a distraction and a misrepresentation of the facts.

“It’s very disturbing and its not accurate,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that there was a spy planted in his campaign. There was an informant investigating someone who was associated with the campaign.”

Titus accused Trump of trying to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.

“This is just one more attempt for them to try to discredit Mueller so whatever he comes out with will not be believed,” she said.

If a political campaign was infiltrated by the FBI, Fleischmann suggested that should concern Americans across the political spectrum.

“This is a matter of civil liberties and this is a matter I don’t think we want our law enforcement folks doing in campaigns,” he said, “so I think it needs to be looked at.”

Other House Republicans have taken the matter significantly further. On Tuesday, a group of GOP lawmakers introduced a resolution calling for a second special counsel to be appointed to investigate the actions of the FBI and DOJ.

Fleischmann did not say whether he would support the resolution, but he indicated a House request to designate a special counsel would carry little actual weight.

“This is going to have to, if its going to have some teeth, come from the Justice Department,” he said.