Not just a pointless semantic argument

Barr is doing what Trump hired him to do.

At a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday morning, Barr confirmed that he is looking into what he called “spying” on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

“I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016,” Barr said. “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”

When pressed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on whether he indeed viewed it as “spying” on Trump’s campaign, Barr said, “I think spying did occur.”

“The question is whether it was adequately predicated,” he said. “I’m not suggesting it was not adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”

Aaron Blake points out that “spying” is a highly contested word for what the FBI did relative to Trump’s campaign.

When Trump alleged that the FBI had spied on his campaign, former FBI director James B. Comey said this was simply an information-gathering effort — emphasizing that the “actual” term is “the use of Confidential Human Sources.”

Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. was asked around the same time, “Was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?” and he responded directly. “No, they were not.”

At another point in the same interview, Clapper seemed to momentarily borrow the term Trump was using. “They were spying on — a term I don’t particularly like — but on what the Russians were doing,” Clapper said. Trump has misleadingly used that quote to argue that Clapper was confirming that spying did exist.

The word “spying” implies things that are not the case.

As I wrote after that Clapper interview, this is more than just a pointless semantic argument. Trump’s use of this term implies a much more nefarious-sounding effort, and the idea that it was targeted at his campaign is a big piece of that:

The definition of spy … generally includes an adversarial relationship between the government and the organization that is being “spied” upon. Merriam-Webster defines spying as “to watch secretly usually for hostile purposes.” Oxford defines a spy as “a person employed by a government or other organization to secretly obtain information on an enemy or competitor.”

This is what Trump wants. It feeds his “witch hunt” narrative. For special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings to be rendered invalid with Trump’s supporters (which would guard Trump from impeachment), this needs to have been a targeted effort to bring Trump down. “Informant” doesn’t exactly drive that home; “spy” certainly does.

And here we have the Attorney General using that word.

On Wednesday, Barr emphasized that the “spying” might have been warranted and A-okay. But he also essentially subscribed to both of those highly disputed Trump talking points. And that lends legitimacy to what, at this point, is essentially a Trump conspiracy theory.

It’s like Watergate with Nixon winning every round.

Updating to add:

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