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Eric Swalwell fanned a false Russia story, now asks to be trusted to interpret Trump's tweets

Congressman's years-long conspiracy theories on Russia collusion could be used by Trump defenders to challenge his credibility.

Updated: February 10, 2021 - 11:22pm

Rep. Eric Swalwell stood in the well of the Senate on Wednesday to offer the House Democrats' own interpretation of Donald Trump's tweets as evidence of violent incitement.

"It was his last chance to stop the peaceful transition of power," the California Democrat declared, as he chronicled 18 days of Trump's tweets that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

In essence, Swalwell told the senators sitting in judgement and the American public watching: Trust me, this is what the 45th president really meant.

But it wasn't that long ago when Swalwell asked America to trust him once before, declaring he and his Democratic colleagues had seen convincing evidence in secret showing Trump and his campaign had conspired with Russia to hijack the 2016 election.

"We saw strong evidence of collusion," Swalwell proclaimed on CNN in 2018. "The Republicans now are choosing to bury it."

It was just one of many times the California Democrat and former prosecutor made such a claim.

In April of 2019, the congressman claimed that Trump was "act[ing] on Russia's behalf." Earlier that year he had insisted that Trump had been "lying" about his association with the Russian government, and back in 2018 he claimed to have found "evidence that there was a conspiracy to cover up" collusion between Trump and Russia. 

There was just one problem with his assertions: They were never true.

Documents declassified by the FBI and intelligence community show investigators knew as early as fall 2016 that the Russia collusion narrative was likely Russian disinformation or unverified rumors peddled by a Hillary Clinton-supporting (and -paid) former British spy named Christopher Steele.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller flatly debunked the Russia collusion narrative in his final report.

"The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," Mueller wrote.

House Democrats had many options from which to choose their chief interpreter of Trump's tweets, and in picking Swalwell they opened the door for his own credibility to be explored by Trump's defense lawyers and defenders.

You can watch Swalwell's presentation here:

Beyond Russia, Swalwell has another issue ripe for easy political picking: The entire time he sat on the House Intelligence Committee fanning the false Russia collusion story, he harbored a secret. Back in 2015, he had been warned by the FBI that he and his office had been infiltrated by a suspected Chinese spy.

That secret only broke into open in December.

The potential perils of Democrats picking Swalwell for Wednesday's performance surfaced almost immediately as two GOP Senate jurors almost chimed in with doubts about his credibility.

"This afternoon we have been lectured to by Eric Swalwell, a guy accused of consorting with a Chinese spy. How appropriate!" Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted out.

Added Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley: "That's an interesting choice. Somebody who's part of a Chinese espionage ring effectively so it's a provocative choice. I will say that."

Swalwell's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Wednesday. But in an interview a week ago, he offered some insights that the Russia collusion scandal and his own run-in with a female Chinese spy were learning lessons.

"I certainly agree that anyone could be vulnerable, and I don't think we do a good enough job of like telling people who go into government what the threats are," he told New York magazine earlier this month.

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