• Donald V. Watkins

Did The FBI Spy On Trump?

Updated: Jul 4, 2018

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on May 28, 2018


On May 18, 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted a bold new claim -- the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") planted an FBI informant inside his 2016 presidential campaign to spy on his political activities for the benefit of the Hillary Clinton campaign. “Spygate” is the label Trump has given to this claim. To many Americans, “Spygate” seems incredulous.

Interestingly, history provides important clues as to whether “Spygate” is plausible. Here are three well-documented, high profile examples of DOJ/FBI lawlessness that no one can dispute:


1. The FBI’s COINTELPRO Campaign.

In 1976, the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, commonly referred to as the "Church Committee", launched a major investigation of the FBI and COINTELPRO, the Bureau's official, centralized campaign from 1956 to 1971 to smear and harass activists for social justice and equal opportunity in America.


Under COINTELPRO, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" individuals and organizations targeted by the program. During the COINTELPRO campaign, the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies routinely lied, cheated, and framed targeted individuals and organizations.


By the early 1960s, the FBI identified Dr. King as “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation”. In 1964, The Bureau tried to convince Dr. King to committed suicide by anonymously mailing him a suicide letter that had been written by the FBI. The suicide letter, which referred to Dr. King as an “evil, abnormal beast”, was prepared two days after the announcement of King’s impending Nobel Peace Prize.


The letter was accompanied by an audiotape recorded by the FBI that allegedly contained a series of King's sexual indiscretions. Dr. King was told the audiotape would be released to media organizations nationwide if he did not acquiesce and commit suicide prior to accepting his Nobel Peace Award.


"There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation,” stated the FBI letter.

The Final Report of the Church Committee confirmed the primary methods used by the FBI to carry out the objectives and abuses of COINTELPRO. They included:


a. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit, disrupt and negatively redirect action. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and local police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.


b. Psychological warfare: The FBI and local police used a myriad "dirty tricks" to undermine progressive movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They also forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls aimed at disrupting legitimate, peaceful protests.


c. Harassment via the legal system: The FBI and local police abused the legal system to harass targets and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, "investigative" interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters.


d. Illegal force: The FBI conspired with local police departments to threaten dissidents; to conduct illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes; and to commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations. The object was to frighten or eliminate dissidents and disrupt their movements.


e. Undermine public opinion: One of the primary ways the FBI targeted organizations was by challenging their reputations in the community and denying them a platform to gain legitimacy. Director Hoover specifically designed programs to block leaders from "spreading their philosophy publicly or through the communications media". Furthermore, COINTELPRO created and/or controlled negative media for the purpose of undermining civil rights and political organizations.


COINTELPRO was successfully kept secret until 1971 when Director Hoover declared that the centralized COINTELPRO campaign was over, and that all future counterintelligence operations would be handled on a case-by-case basis by local FBI field offices.


The FBI and DOJ have publicly admitted that Congress and the American people rightfully criticized COINTELPRO for abridging First Amendment rights and for other reasons.


Despite these frank admissions, the FBI continued its abusive COINTELPRO practice of interfering with and stifling freedom of speech well after 1971. "The problem persists after Hoover….", stated U.S. Magistrate Joan Lefkow in 1991, "The record before this court shows that despite regulations, orders and consent decrees prohibiting such activities, the FBI had continued to collect information concerning only the exercise of free speech." 


According to a report by the DOJ’s Inspector General (“IG”), the FBI improperly opened investigations on American activist groups between 2001 and 2006, even though they were planning nothing more than peaceful protests and civil disobedience. The FBI improperly monitored groups including the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh-based peace group; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); and Greenpeace USA, an environmental activism organization. Also, activists affiliated with Greenpeace were improperly put on a terrorist watch list, although they were planning no violence or illegal activities.

2. The FBI's Attempted Coup D’etat in Birmingham, Alabama.

From 1988 to 1992, the FBI used all of its traditional COINTELPRO tactics in an attempt to oust Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr., as the duly elected mayor of Birmingham Alabama. Arrington became a COINTELPRO target in 1972 following his election to the Birmingham City Council in 1972.

The FBI’s Birmingham field office continued COINTELPRO operations for many decades after the Bureau’s Washington headquarters ended its centralized COINTELPRO activities in 1971. Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that Dr. Arrington was one of 1,897 civil rights activists targeted by the FBI for neutralization.


In October 1979, Dr. Arrington became Birmingham’s first African-American mayor. He won re-election in 1983 and 1987 by wide margins. Arrington’s growing influence on Alabama’s statewide political scene made him a local COINTELPRO target. Eventually, local FBI agents convinced federal prosecutors in Birmingham that it was time to take Arrington out as mayor.


Birmingham FBI agents stalked and harassed Mayor Arrington from 1988 to 1992 looking for any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. A few weeks prior to Dr. Arrington’s October 1991 re-election, federal prosecutors, at the urging of local FBI agents, publicly named Mayor Arrington an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the fraud trial of another individual.  The sole purpose of this public disclosure was to damage Arrington’s re-election bid and aid another candidate favored by local FBI/DOJ officials.


Dr. Arrington decried this attempted coup d'etat. On Election Day, Arrington swept to victory on the strength of his solid record of achievement as mayor and his broad-based popularity with voters.


Mayor Arrington was never indicted for any criminal offense. In 1992, DOJ officials in Washington cleared Mayor Arrington of all allegations of wrongdoing, and issued the first-ever public apology to a sitting public official for smearing his name.  Dr. Arrington’s case was the first documented FBI-led coup d'etat of a duly elected mayor on U.S. soil.


The FBI’s targeting and harassment of Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., is detailed in the Congressional Record-Senate at S2533-2546 (March 9, 1990).


3. The FBI's Investigation of Federal Judge U.W. Clemon.


In 1980, the American Bar Association vigorously opposed President Jimmy Carter's nomination of Attorney U.W. Clemon to a federal judgeship in Birmingham. The ABA said publicly, repeatedly, and loudly that Clemon was "unqualified" for the position. At the time, the Birmingham News, along with its COINTELPRO media teammate, the Montgomery Advertiser, bashed President Carter for making the nomination and U.S. Senator Howell Heflin (D-Alabama) for supporting it. Both men courageously endured the torrid of political hell unleashed by these newspapers during Judge Clemon's Senate confirmation process.


Despite this spirited opposition, Clemon won Senate confirmation and became the first black U.S. District Court judge in Alabama history.


The local office of the FBI despised Judge Clemon because of his long history as a civil rights activist and his fairness on the federal bench. As was the case with Mayor Richard Arrington, FBI agents constantly looked for ways to "neutralize" Judge Clemon and force him off the judicial bench.


In 1996, federal prosecutors formally notified Judge Clemon of their intent to indict him on various fraud-related charges arising from his sister’s operation of a non-profit school in Los Angeles. The lead political group responsible for Judge Clemon’s judicial appointment to the federal bench in 1980 immediately launched an investigation into allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in Clemon’s case. This investigation produced a comprehensive report to the U.S. Attorney General on the prosecutorial misconduct. Based upon this report, the DOJ terminated the criminal investigation of Judge Clemon with no charges filed.


Judge Clemon went on to become the chief judge of the federal bench in Birmingham for ten years. He served with distinction on the bench until his retirement on January 31, 2009.


In August of 2013, Judge Clemon received the American Bar Association’s highest award -- the 2013 John H. Pickering Award -- for his outstanding legal ability and his distinguished record of service to the profession and community. The Pickering award was an incredible but fitting end to Judge Clemon’s judicial career.


Is Trump Right About "Spygate"?


President Donald Trump is in the best position to know whether "Spygate" is a modern-day reincarnation of old school FBI/DOJ COINTELPRO tactics. History sheds some light on his claims. Only time will tell whether President Trump is the biggest COINTELPRO “target” to date.


Over the course of time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., evolved from an early COINTELPRO target to the first and only African-American (and non-President) to have a Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and a national holiday in his honor.


PHOTO: President Donald Trump's May 18, 2018 tweet about "Spygate".


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.