WASHINGTON (AP) — There is no evidence that the FBI planted a "spy" on President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, a senior House Republican said Wednesday, contradicting Trump's repeated insistence that the agency inserted a "spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight Committee and a longtime Trump supporter, was briefed last week by the Justice Department and FBI following reports that investigators relied on a U.S. government informant in their probe of Russian election meddling.
"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, a South Carolina Republican, told Fox News on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Gowdy said he had "never heard the term 'spy' used" and did not see evidence of it. "Informants are used all day, every day by law enforcement," he told "CBS This Morning." Asked about Gowdy's comments, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president "still has concerns about whether or not the FBI acted inappropriately having people in his campaign."
Sanders declined to say who in the campaign the president might suspect of providing information to the FBI. She said Trump also has concerns in general about the conduct of the FBI, citing the firing of former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
"There are a number of things that have been reported on and that show, I think not just for the president, but for a number of Americans a large cause for concern, and we'd like to see this fully looked into," Sanders said.
Gowdy's comments that undermine the president's claims are particularly striking because of his role as a powerful GOP watchdog who took on Democrat Hillary Clinton in his committee's investigation into the 2012 attack on an American mission in Benghazi, Libya, while she was secretary of state. The probe unearthed the existence of Clinton's private email server, which triggered an FBI inquiry and crippled her 2016 presidential campaign against Trump.
Trump has repeatedly pointed to, and at times embellished, reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his 2016 campaign during the presidential election in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election.
He has tweeted that it was "starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history." He has also rejected conclusions by America's intelligence agencies that the Russian government was trying to help him beat Clinton.
Several news outlets including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News have identified an FBI confidential source as Stefan A. Halper. Halper, an academic at the University of Cambridge who served in past Republican administrations, was not a part of Trump's campaign, but the news outlets have reported that he reached out to some Trump advisers to gather information as part of the Russia investigation.
Trump's legal team has expressed interest in seeing classified information about the origins of the FBI investigation to prepare the president for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now leading the federal investigation into possible ties between Trump's campaign and Russia.
"The folks who have seen the information have the same perspective," Gowdy said. "The folks who have not seen the information, I don't know what informs their perspective." Gowdy, who plans to retire from Congress at the end of the current term, did express support for Trump's "frustration" with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself in May 2017 from the Russia probe based on a possible conflict of interest. The recusal of Sessions, an early backer of Trump's presidential bid, followed the revelation that he had two previously undisclosed interactions during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador.
Gowdy told CBS that Trump is just "expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job. Not afterward." Trump tweeted out Gowdy's comments on Sessions, including his saying that "there are lots of really good lawyers in the country" and that the president "could have picked someone else" for the top Justice Department job.
"And I wish I did!" Trump wrote. Trump did not reference Gowdy's comments that there was no evidence of the FBI planting a spy in his campaign.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas, Zeke Miller and Chad Day contributed to this report.