Did a website point to evidence implicating former FBI Director James Comey in a spy ring? No, that's not true: The story is "clickbait" and offers no documentary evidence to back up its claims. The site links to another website that has knowingly pushed "propaganda and conspiracies" and has failed numerous fact checks. Some of the audio clips refer to a years-old conspiracy theory that even a former Fox News correspondent has discredited.
The claim originated from an article (archived here) published by Truth and Action on May 18, 2017, under the title "Former FBI Director James Comey Implicated in Spy Ring." It opened:
If the truth is ever revealed and made known, it would be astonishing to see the depth of the efforts conducted during the Obama administration to spy on Donald Trump and his campaign. For those who remember it, this seems like Watergate all over again, except this time it was a Democratic president or his operatives who were engaged in spying on an opponent and who have since been trying to cover that up.
In fact, this situation under Obama is more serious because government law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been implicated in being complicit in these surveillance activities.
President Trump has a legitimate complaint about this. Yet it is he who is the focus of Congressional scrutiny and media attention over alleged unethical or illegal activities. A diversionary tactic by his opponents? He certainly has plenty of those.
Users on social media saw this:
Former FBI Director James Comey Implicated in Spy Ring - https://t.co/UCX5hGBKAM via @shareaholic-- Misunderstood (@Hummimgbirdfly1) July 3, 2019
Before the article was first published in 2017, the Arizona Republic newspaper had done a deep dive into the conspiracy theory. The claim - promulgated by the office of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio - asserted that President Trump had been under federal surveillance in the mid-2000s, before his election.
The Republic reported on April 4, 2017, that one of the men making the claim, Mike Zullo, the former head of Arpaio's Cold Case Posse, had actually disavowed it three years earlier in federal court.
The Truth and Action article also cited audio clips from former real estate tycoon Tim Blixseth and Dennis Montgomery, who had both claimed to have proof.
According to the Republic, Zullo discussed the idea of mass surveillance on "InfoWars," the online show of Alex Jones, who had admitted under oath to fabricating claims in the past.
On the air, Zullo talked about a database given to him in 2013 by a whistleblower who claimed he was paid by the government to hack into and harvest data from computers.
Zullo said on the show that the data the whistleblower provided included phone and financial records of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among others. "We had senators," he said. "We had movie actors. Clint Eastwood. I was in there. Sheriff Arpaio was in there."
According to the Republic:
But Zullo himself discredited the information. So did the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, as well as a reporter from Fox News.
Zullo, in a December 2014 email, told the would-be whistleblower, Dennis Montgomery, that he had provided "zero proof" that the database was real. Zullo called the database "cut (and) paste crap you handed us on those worthless drives. All smoke and mirrors. It sucks when the smoke clears."
Later, former Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron emailed Montgomery saying the network would not be doing a story because he had not provided any evidence. According to the Republic:
"I am surprised that a guy as smart as you, who insists 'data trumps rhetoric' would keep insulting my intelligence with empty rhetoric instead of the data you promised for months," Cameron wrote.
Montgomery sent that email to Zullo, who sent it to other sheriff's commanders. Anglin wrote in reply, "I hope the sheriff sees this."
In November, a sheriff's detective assigned to the Cold Case Posse named Brian Mackiewicz received an email from Thomas Drake, an ex-NSA man. Drake said he and another former NSA colleague, Kirk Wiebe, had analyzed the data Montgomery had given the Sheriff's Office.
"We have found that he is a complete and total FRAUD," Drake wrote.
"All he has done is provide you with readily available lists of e-mail addresses, names, phone numbers of both individuals and businesses and a lot of framed-up information, data and code BUT NO PROOF OF WHENCE THEY CAME and a whole lot of faked and made-up documents and analysis."
The allegations made by the key players mentioned in this years-old story have all been debunked by the Arizona Republic newspaper, or by their own words in emails offered into evidence in federal court.
In 2016, The FBI obtained a FISA court warrant to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. However, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a report in December 2019 that shot down many of these conspiracy theories promoted by Trump, according to The Washington Post:
Chief among them is that the whole thing was a 'witch hunt.' Horowitz found that the Russia investigation was warranted; he also found no 'evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions' to open the Russia probe and four cases into Trump campaign aides.
Much of the sourcing for the Truth and Fiction article was a separate piece in Big League Politics, which Media Bias/Fact Check has labeled a "questionable source." It said:
Overall, we rate Big League Politics Questionable based on extreme right wing bias, promotion of propaganda and conspiracies as well as numerous failed fact checks.