Democrats’ efforts to raise suspicions about alleged — and, thus far, imaginary — links between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government may have backfired spectacularly.
The spotlight is now on President Barack Obama and his administration’s alleged surveillance of the Trump campaign, as well as his aides’ reported efforts to spread damaging information about Trump throughout government agencies to facilitate later investigations and, possibly, leaks to the media.
On Sunday morning, the White House released a statement indicating that the president would ask the congressional committees investigating Russian hacking theories to add the question of “whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”
Media outlets continued to repeat that the story was based on “no evidence,” though the evidence was plain.
President Donald Trump originally tweeted about the alleged surveillance — which radio host Mark Levin called a “silent coup” by Obama staffers keen to undermine the new administration — on Saturday. Levin’s claims, reported at Breitbart News early Friday, were in turn based on information largely from mainstream outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Heat Street was one non-mainstream source, but the BBC also reported similar information in January. So, too, did the UK Guardian, which is a mainstream source (albeit with a decidedly left-wing slant, hardly favorable to Trump).
All day Saturday, former Obama staffers tried to put out the fires. A spokesperson for President Obama responded — and Obama aide Valerie Jarrett tweeted:
A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.
As Breitbart News’ Matthew Boyle noted, however, it was a “non-denial denial.” It is worth examining the statement in detail.
- “A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice.”
Note that this sentence does not dispute any of the key factual allegations at issue: that the DOJ approached the FISA court for permission to spy on Trump aides; that surveillance, once granted, continued after no evidence was found of wrongdoing; that the Obama administration relaxed National Security Agency rules to facilitate the dissemination of evidence through the government; and that Obama staffers allegedly did so, the better to leak damaging (and partial) information to the media.
In addition, there is reason to doubt the claim that the White House never “interfered”: the New York Times reported in January that “intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.”
Moreover, the first part of the sentence raises doubts about Lewis’s entire statement. Lewis could simply have said: “No White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the DOJ.” That would have been a clear denial. Instead, he referred to a “cardinal rule” that supposedly existed.
All that does is create deniability for the rest of the White House in the event that evidence turns up that someone was, in fact, involved with a Department of Justice probe. (No doubt Obama will be outraged to find out if someone broke the “cardinal rule,” and will claim to have found out through the media, rather than directly.) The Obama communications operation is notoriously careful with the way denials are worded.
“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.”
This is a meaningless denial, since the FISA court deals with communications with foreigners, with U.S. citizens potentially swept up in the investigation. It would have been possible for the DOJ to approach the FISA court with a request to monitor foreign entities allegedly communicating with the Trump campaign, using those intercepts as a way to monitor the Trump campaign itself. According to news reports cited by Andrew McCarthy, that could have been precisely what happened.
And, again, this sentence does not deny that someone in the Obama administration may have ordered such surveillance.
“Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
What we have here is a blanket denial crafted to protect President Barack Obama himself, but allowing him to admit later — once the facts emerge — that his administration was, in fact, up to something. In addition, the Democrats have been adept at constructing elaborate chains of communication to create plausible deniability for higher-ups. That is how the “bird-dogging” scheme — through which left-wing activists instigated violence at Donald Trump’s rallies — was arranged for the Clinton campaign. (The organizer behind that scheme visited Obama’s White House 340 times, meeting Obama himself 45 times.)
As the New York Times — supposedly the paper of record — recently reported, there is “no evidence” that the “Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.” But there is ample evidence that the outgoing Obama administration could have used intelligence agencies to carry out a political agenda against Trump. The media, as Mark Levin pointed out again on Sunday’s Fox and Friends, simply refuse to report their own earlier reports.
Even without Trump’s more sensational accusations of wiretapping, it is, so far, undisputed that there have been many leaks of classified information to damage Trump, and that the Obama administration took steps that could have made such leaks more likely. (Charles Krauthammer — who is skeptical of “deep state” theories — called this the “Revenge of the Losers” on Friday.) Those are serious allegations that the former administration is likely going to have to explain to Congress.
But if the Obama administration did order surveillance of the Trump campaign during the election; and if Obama or any other White House officials knew about it (or created a “plausible deniability” scheme to allow such surveillance while preventing themselves from knowing about it directly); then there is an even bigger problem.
It would then seem that the “Russia hacking” story was concocted not just to explain away an embarrassing election defeat, but to cover up the real scandal.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.