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Long-sought documents finally pried from U.S. intelligence agencies prove that the Obama administration used the occasion of providing a standard intelligence briefing for major-party candidates as an opportunity to investigate Donald Trump on suspicion of being a Russian asset.
I say investigate Donald Trump advisedly.
As I contended in Ball of Collusion, my book on the Trump-Russia investigation, the target of the probe spearheaded by the FBI — but greenlighted by the Obama White House, and abetted by the Justice Department and U.S. intelligence agencies — was Donald Trump. Not the Trump campaign, not the Trump administration. Those were of interest only insofar as they were vehicles for Trump himself. The campaign, which the Bureau and its apologists risibly claim was the focus of the investigation, would have been of no interest to them were it not for Trump.
Or do you suppose they moved heaven and earth, surreptitiously plotted in the Oval Office, wrote CYA memos to cover their tracks, and laboriously sculpted FBI reports because they were hoping to nail . . . George Papadopoulos?
My book was published a year ago. It covered what was then known about the Obama-administration operation. In collusion with the Clinton campaign, and with the complicity of national-security officials who transitioned into the Trump administration, the Obama White House deployed the FBI to undermine the new president, dually using official investigative tactics (e.g. FISA surveillance, confidential informants, covert interrogations) and lawless classified leaks — the latter publicized by dependable journalists who were (and remain) politically invested in unseating Trump.
Now the paper trail is finally catching up with what some of us analysts long ago surmised based on the limited information previously available.
You don’t like Donald Trump? Fine. The investigation here was indeed about Donald Trump. But the scandal is about how abusive officials can exploit their awesome powers against any political opponent. And the people who authorized this political spying will be right back in business if, come November, Obama’s vice-president is elected president — notwithstanding that he’s yet to be asked serious questions about it.
How to Conceal a Politicized Investigation
It seems mind-boggling that, for so long, the FBI and Justice Department were able to keep a lid on the documents now being released. President Trump could have directed their disclosure at any time over the last four years. But when you think about it, concealing the paper trail was the easy part. The real challenge was: How to continue the probe even after Trump had taken office and was, at least nominally, in a position to shut it down?
The Obama officials, including holdovers who transitioned into the Trump administration, pulled that off by intimidation: not-so-subtle suggestions that they could disclose damaging allegations at any time (e.g., the notorious “pee tape”), and that White House efforts to inquire into the scope of the investigation would be portrayed as criminal obstruction.
Prior to the 2016 election, the FBI intentionally concealed the existence of the Trump-Russia probe from the congressional “Gang of Eight” (the bipartisan leadership of both houses and their intelligence committees). Senior Republicans were thus kept in the dark regarding purported suspicions that the Republican presidential campaign was a Russian front, unable to pose tough questions about the probe’s gossamer predication.
Crucially, the Trump-Russia fabulists managed to sideline two Trump loyalists who would have been positioned to thwart the effort: national-security adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That left in place Obama holdovers and Trump-appointed placeholders. They were indifferent to Trump himself and cowed by the prospect of being framed as complicit in a Trump–Russia conspiracy, or a cover-up.
The paper record is profoundly embarrassing, so it is only natural that the FBI and Justice Department resisted its disclosure. But documents about the investigation were demanded by congressional investigators starting years ago — particularly by the investigation led in the House by then–Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.).
Congress’s investigation was stonewalled. The more revelation we get, the more obvious it is that there was no bona fide national-security rationale for concealment. Documents were withheld to hide official and unofficial executive activity that was abusive, embarrassing, and, at least in some instances, illegal (e.g., tampering with a document that was critical to the FBI’s presentation of “facts” to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court).
Democrats wanted this information suppressed all along. So of course, once Democrats took control of the House in 2019, there was no possibility of pressing the question of why the Justice Department and FBI failed to comply with House information demands back in 2017–18, when Republicans led the relevant committees.