Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
On Tuesday night, the President tweeted that "SPYGATE is in full force," referencing December 2015 texts from former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page allegedly about a "counter-intelligence operation into the Trump Campaign," despite former FBI Director James Comey's assertion that the FBI's Russia investigation did not begin until July 2016.
Where it came from: A single tweet from an anonymous Twitter account promoting the allegation made its way through Reddit's conspiracy board to a far-right website known for spreading false stories — ultimately gaining the attention of mainstream conservative pundits before landing in a presidential tweet.
June 4, 12:22 pm: The theory first appeared on an anonymous right-wing Twitter account, which drew attention to the fact that one word — "lures" — had been previously redacted from released texts between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The author claimed this as evidence that proved there were multiple spies planted in the Trump campaign at the end of 2015.
- Yes, but: The texts make no mention of Trump or his campaign — plus, these "BOMBSHELL" documents were released by a Senate committee back in February. (The text in question was redacted on page 30 of the Senate document dump but left unredacted on page 159.) And, as the left-leaning news site ThinkProgress pointed out, in government parlance, a “lure" is an individual who attracts a someone from a foreign country to the U.S. so that they can be arrested.
Later that day, Gateway Pundit — a far-right, pro-Trump website known for often promoting thinly-sourced and false stories — posted its own story based on the tweet. At the same time, the image from the tweet made its way to r/conspiracy, Reddit's conspiracy forum.
June 5, 7:22 p.m.
Fox Business pundit Lou Dobbs, who, according to The Daily Beast, Trump places on speakerphone during Oval Office meetings, made reference to the allegations set forth in the initial tweet, linking directly to the Senate's February document dump.
8:37 p.m.: About an hour after Dobbs' tweet, Trump tweeted the allegations himself.
10:07 p.m.: Fox News' Laura Ingraham brings up the allegations on "The Ingraham Angle," falsely asserting that the documents had been released by the Senate earlier that day. Her guest, Rep. Ron DeSantis responded that the FBI's official timeline for the investigation is "clearly...not true."
Other false stories pushed by The Gateway Pundit, per The Washington Post:
- Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg had been coached on anti-Trump rhetoric, which the site linked to his father, a former FBI agent.
- The Washington Post paid Roy Moore's sexual misconduct accusers for their claims that derailed his Alabama Senate campaign.
- It misidentified the Las Vegas shooter as a liberal Democrat with no connection to the incident.
- It misidentified the driver of a car who killed Heather Heyer during the Charlottesville marches, prompting a defamation lawsuit.
What we do know about the FBI's investigation:
- The FBI began the investigation into the Trump campaign after the Australian government tipped them off in mid-2016 to the fact that George Papadopoulos had told a top Australian diplomat that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to The New York Times.
- James Comey confirmed that the investigation began in late July 2016 in his testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee in March last year.
- President Trump's claims that the FBI placed "spies" in his campaign have not been verified — and top Republicans Paul Ryan and Trey Gowdy both have dismissed Trump's allegations.
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