Obama officials owe the nation an apology for major abuse of power

Obama officials owe the nation an apology for major abuse of power
© Greg Nash

Outsider Donald Trump won the 2016 election running a campaign that was definitely not by the book. The American people rewarded him with the White House. Outgoing President Obama oversaw the transition that also was not by the book. Fired FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien Comey'Fox News Sunday' to mark 25 years on air Showtime developing limited series about Jan. 6 Capitol riot Wray says FBI not systemically racist MORE, a man whose job requires doing everything by the book, admitted that when it comes to President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE, he threw out the book. That is a problem.

The American people have the right to choose outsiders who do not take traditional political paths to Washington. The FBI, where justice must be blind, has no such right. It has an obligation to be fair and impartial. But revelations show that FBI conduct toward Trump and his administration was a frightening violation of fairness, as Obama officials and senior FBI agents had been duped by Russia, giving way to their worst fears over a man they held in disdain and forcing the country through three years of bitter misery over a false collusion accusation in the election.

They owe the country an apology. In politics, as in life, it is often a terrible mistake to believe the worst in an opponent. Trump very regularly, at least on Twitter, does it to his antagonists. He is wrong to do so. But the Obama administration and the FBI did it to Trump and his campaign in a way that is unacceptable with the rule of law. It is one thing to tweet with reckless abandon. It is another thing to use the powers of the government against an opposition candidate for president. If you are going to use government powers to surveil an opposition campaign, you better have the goods. We found out that the Obama administration did not have them.


Look at 2016 from the eyes of Obama officials. Emails of the Democratic National Committee were hacked. The intelligence community said that Russia was behind it and interfered in the election. Trump then called on Russia to post emails of Clinton. Carter Page had contacts with Russian officials. George Papadopoulos told an intermediary he had information on the hacked emails. Top Trump aides met with a Russian to get dirt on Clinton. Michael Flynn had dinner with Vladimir Putin and was paid by a Russian organization to give a speech. Then the dossier alleging sinister doings by Trump with Russians fell into the hands of the FBI.

What was the FBI supposed to do? Look the other way? If there is smoke, there is likely fire, they thought. However, the tragic original sin that had afflicted Obama officials and certain FBI agents is that they believed the worst of these allegations might actually be true. They bought this idea that Trump himself was doing the bidding of Putin and that members of his own campaign were in the pockets of Russian officials.

They evidently feared the worst and set into motion a series of calamitous events. Clinton running mate Tim Kaine said in 2017 that the eldest Trump son possibly committed treason. Before the special counsel investigation by Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE concluded in 2019 that there was no collusion with the Russians, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe was asked if Trump might be a Russian asset. He said, “I think it is possible.” Think about that. Several FBI leaders had been duped into thinking the unthinkable that the American people elected a Russian agent as president. With judgment like that, it is astounding that the FBI could get anything right.

It explains why the Obama administration did not do a defensive briefing for Trump to warn him of the suspicions. If Trump was in on it, how could they warn him? According to the memorandum Obama national security adviser Susan Rice wrote for herself on her last day in office at the White House, Comey also feared Flynn might be passing classified information to the Russians, but even Rice noted Comey locked proof.

Comey, in coordination with former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, took it upon himself to brief the president elect on the dossier, including the contents that were about Trump. If Christopher Steele was wrong, Trump would know. So assuming that Trump was not in a Moscow hotel with Russian prostitutes, as Steele alleged, what else would Trump conclude upon his meeting Comey other than the FBI chief does not know what he is talking about?


It remains critical to learn what Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCensus results show White House doubling down on failure Gender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama Never underestimate Joe Biden MORE and Joe Biden knew and what they authorized. Whatever they signed off on was not done by the book. The FBI improperly obtained federal warrants to surveil Page. The FBI should have closed its investigation into Flynn but it did not due to a directive from Comey and McCabe. The FBI got Flynn by, as Comey has admitted, taking advantage of the turmoil in the early days of the Trump administration to set up an interview that would not have taken place in either the Bush administration or Obama administration.

Obama officials and FBI leaders overreacted to a man they loathed. They could not believe he won the White House. Their worst fears took hold of them. They put the country through misery. They touted collusion, leaked it everywhere, and most of the press went along. But they were all wrong. I do not know if what they did was a crime, but it was a scandal done out of malice, and it was certainly not conducted by the book.

Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) served as press secretary to President Bush from 2001 to 2003. He is the president of Ari Fleischer Communications.