Steven D’Amico writes: President Donald Trump dismissed concerns about his eldest son’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer and a former Soviet spy promising dirt on Hillary Clinton with a wave of his hand. “It’s called opposition research,” he said at a news conference in Paris on Thursday. A day earlier, the president had asserted, “I think many people would have held that meeting.”
As a professional opposition researcher who has been doing it for over a decade, I know nothing is farther from the truth.
During the 2016 election cycle I was the research director at American Bridge 21st Century, where I led the investigative efforts targeting Trump. The opposition research department at Bridge is one of the largest in politics, investigating Republicans at all levels of government to hold them accountable for their actions. Even in a partisan research environment, though, there are rules and standards.
At Bridge and everywhere else, a simple rule governs how we work: All information gathered must be lawfully obtained. Most opposition research manuals have instructions for not violating the law on the first few pages. You don’t break into opponents’ offices and take files or plant bugs, you don’t fake your opponents’ social security numbers to get their credit reports, and you certainly don’t sit in on meetings where a foreign attorney promises sensitive information obtained by a rival government.
Of course, given the inexperience of Trump’s team, you might get why they don’t understand what “opposition research” actually is. The term certainly evokes the image of a trench coat-clad private eye stalking homes with telephoto lenses, literally digging for dirt. But that’s not how opposition researchers investigate. Instead, much like an attorney preparing for a trial, a good opposition researcher assembles the case against their opponent by lawfully compiling the best portfolio of evidence. Usually that means tedious hours sifting through public records, news articles, court cases and—in Trump’s case—tweets and get-rich-quick scams. [Continue reading…]