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Here's why reporters are not asking the White House about 'Obamagate'

Here's why reporters are not asking the White House about 'Obamagate'
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The White House recently accused reporters of “journalistic malpractice” for not asking about President Trump’s favorite conspiracy theory.

But there might just be a reason the press corps is not taking the bait. After all, the “Obamagate” narrative – which alleges that the former president directed a fancifully nefarious plot to undermine Trump – is based on lies and disinformation.

Fortunately, the Trump administration’s own documents debunk the most virulent falsehoods at the core of this shameful attempt to divert attention from a national catastrophe.

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Obamagate Lie #1: The Trump-Russia investigation was based on bogus information (such as the Steele dossier).

The Truth: No, it wasn’t. But the right-wing propaganda machine (and now the White House) continues to peddle such virulent falsehoods.

Some context is in order. Russia launched a brazen assault on the 2016 presidential election to try to help Trump win the White House. But just as Moscow’s pro-Trump election interference campaign kicked into high gear, several Trump campaign members engaged in bizarre interactions with shady Russian intelligence cutouts.

After receiving a tip from a friendly foreign government, the FBI – rightly – opened investigations into several Trump officials “who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.”

As it turns out, the tip-off that sparked the FBI’s probe of Trump campaign links to Russia was spot on, correctly identifying the Kremlin’s sophisticated hack-and-release operation.

Not only was the bureau’s investigation based on accurate reporting, the FBI’s failure to investigate would have amounted to “dereliction of duty and responsibility of the highest order.”

Perhaps most importantly, an exhaustive review by the Trump Department of Justice found zero evidence that “political bias or improper motivation influenced [the FBI’s] decision to open” the Trump-Russia investigation.

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And just like that, the “Obamagate” conspiracy theory falls apart. (For more, see this document)

Obamagate Lie #2: Obama (or the FBI) “spied” on Trump.

The Truth: Totally false. Contrary to hysterical right-wing conspiracy mongering, recently released documents show that Obama administration appointees acted appropriately following Russia’s sweeping pro-Trump assault on the 2016 election.

Obama and his appointees – unlike Trump – had zero involvement in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.

As part of the investigation, the bureau applied for a warrant to monitor Carter Page, whose shady ties to Russian intelligence and travels to Moscow amid the Kremlin’s election interference campaign made him an excellent candidate for surveillance.

While serious errors and omissions plagued the application to surveil Page, an exhaustive review found no “evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision” to seek the warrant. Poof — there goes another conspiracy theory.

Moreover, the Trump campaign made it crystal clear: Carter Page had “no role” and was “never a part of” the campaign. So, even if the bureau endeavored to “spy” on Trump, Page would have been among the worst people to monitor.

Separately, the FBI caught a senior Trump official, Michael Flynn, colluding with the Russian government to undermine U.S. foreign policy. But Flynn’s conversations were incidentally recorded through routine, legal surveillance of a foreign official.

Contrary to right-wing conspiracy theories, Flynn was not deliberately targeted by the Obama administration or the FBI. He also knew that his conversations with a senior Russian official were likely recorded, further undercutting absurd accusations of “spying.”

Obamagate Lie #3: The FBI investigation into Michael Flynn was bogus.

The Truth: No, it wasn’t. For one, the Flynn investigation exposed how Trump cozied up to Vladimir Putin just a few months after Russia’s assault on American democracy.

Indeed, as Russia’s sophisticated pro-Trump election interference campaign became increasingly apparent to the FBI, Flynn’s attendance at a late 2015 event in Moscow caught the bureau’s attention.

According to the U.S. intelligence community, the Russian media organization that hosted Flynn is the “Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

Sitting next to Flynn that evening? None other than Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe US must not lose the cyberwar with Russia Chechen leader: Macron's stance on Muhammad cartoons 'forcing people into terrorism' Russia implements national mask mandate as coronavirus cases rise MORE, the man who, just a few months later, would order a campaign to try to install Trump in the White House.

Flynn’s Russian hosts went on to play a key role in the Kremlin’s election meddling campaign, disseminating propaganda to “undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest” in the United States.

Unsurprisingly, Flynn’s coziness with a Russian government organization at the center of Putin’s pro-Trump plot prompted a counterintelligence investigation. Perhaps more importantly, a Trump political appointee subsequently authorized an expanded probe into Flynn’s Russia connections.

Contrary to blatantly biased misinterpretations of the facts, Flynn’s post-election collusion with a high-level Russian government official was directly relevant to the counterintelligence investigation assessing his ties to the Kremlin.

Indeed, the “unusual” nature of Flynn’s discussions with the Russian government made him a “potential” national security concern. A few weeks later, Flynn’s Russia-related lies to Vice President Pence convinced Trump’s Department of Justice that Flynn was compromised, thoroughly justifying the FBI’s original investigation.

Obamagate Lie #4: Obama appointees “unmasked” Flynn and leaked sensitive information to the media.

The Truth: Completely false. For years, Republican conspiracy theorists have claimed – without evidence – that Obama appointees improperly “unmasked” Flynn’s name in intelligence reports and leaked details of his discussions with a high-level Russian government official to the Washington Post. We now know that this is utter nonsense.

We also know that Flynn colluded – in the truest sense of the term – with a high-level Russian official to undermine the United States’ post-election pressure on the Kremlin. Two weeks later, the rough outlines of Flynn’s (technically illegal) interference in U.S. policy appeared in the Post.

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To be sure, that leak was illegal. But contrary to relentless right-wing conspiracy mongering, “unmasking” had nothing to do with it.

Moreover, a recently released list of officials who legally and properly sought more context on inappropriate interference in U.S. foreign policy (later revealed to be Flynn’s handiwork) highlights the Obama administration’s focus and diligence in the wake of an unprecedented foreign assault on American democracy. In no way does the document suggest that Obama appointees leaked sensitive information to the media.

Obamagate Lie #5: The FBI entrapped Flynn.

The Truth: Nonsense. FBI agents interviewing Flynn gave him numerous opportunities to tell the truth. Flynn, for his part, conveniently forgot that he convinced Russia to avoid responding to U.S. sanctions following Moscow’s staggering assault on American democracy.

Flynn’s close coordination with “senior officials” on the Trump team on an issue of such immense geopolitical consequences made his selective memory loss implausible.

Flynn also told the FBI that it “would not be necessary” to have a White House lawyer present at his interview. And when a judge asked Flynn whether he knew that lying to the FBI was a crime, Flynn responded, “I was aware.”

It should came as little surprise, then, that Flynn’s lawyers explicitly shot down any possibility that he was entrapped.

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Ultimately, the media should be diving into the Trump Department of Justice’s sudden change of heart on Flynn. After all, as 2,300 DOJ alumni and a litany of legal experts aptly noted, dropping the charges against him amount to an unprecedented – and blatantly political – assault on the rule of law.

Better yet, in the wake of selective, politically motivated “leaks” of sensitive information, Trump must release the transcripts of Flynn’s post-election collusion with the Russia government.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.