This tweet from President Trump doesn’t make sense.
It makes sense within the context of the Trump Extended Twitter Universe, in which he presents increasingly layered analyses in an effort to cast things in the most favorable light, an often- Herculean task. In the context of “things Trump would say,” this tweet is unremarkable, thanks to that category having ballooned to encompass any number of unexpected things over the past two years.
But as an argument presented to the American public, it makes no sense.
Let’s go line by line.
“Why did the Obama Administration start an investigation into the Trump Campaign (with zero proof of wrongdoing) long before the Election in November?” On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation looking at whether individuals associated with the Trump campaign were actively aiding Russian efforts to interfere in the presidential race. According to news reports and memos from the House Intelligence Committee, that investigation was spurred by a campaign adviser named George Papadopoulos having told an Australian diplomat that May that he’d heard the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails. When material from the Democratic National Committee was released in July, the Australians told the FBI, and the FBI opened an investigation. (Papadopoulos later admitted to lying to the FBI about what he’d been told.)
Why was the investigation opened without proof of wrongdoing? Because criminal investigations exist solely to find proof of wrongdoing. It’s like asking why someone would scratch off a lottery ticket when there was no guarantee they’d win a prize. Well, that’s why they’re scratching: to find out.
It’s also important not to let the “Obama Administration” part of this slide. Trump sees the FBI as an arm of the Justice Department, as he has repeatedly demonstrated, one that he should be able to control as president. He believes that Eric Holder leveraged the power of his position as attorney general to protect Barack Obama, and Trump wishes that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were protecting him. Past presidents have, however, maintained the expected wall between themselves and the FBI, and there’s no indication that Obama or anyone outside the FBI had an active hand (or any hand) in pushing for the counterintelligence investigation in July 2016.
It’s also important to note that the warrant to surveil Trump adviser Carter Page — the subject of those House Intelligence Committee memos back and forth last month — occurred after Page had already left the Trump campaign and, therefore, was not directly an investigation into what Trump’s team was doing.
“Wanted to discredit so Crooked H would win.” Trump argues here that the investigation into his campaign had the aim of helping Hillary Clinton (“Crooked H”) win. It’s not clear how that’s the case, given that the investigation didn’t come to light until after the campaign ended. We’ll get more into this in a second but, while there was an investigation into Trump’s campaign as early as July, it is only the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server that was made public before the election concluded.
If the goal was to discredit Trump, it was a very poorly executed one. It was akin to the time that Homer Simpson invested in pumpkin futures.
By independent accounts, the investigation was actually spurred by questions about whether members of Trump’s extended campaign team had facilitated Russian interference — something that we know Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., embraced before a meeting at Trump Tower the month before. Which is to say, this was not a particularly out-there question.
“Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate!” Trump likes superlatives.
“Plus, Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling.” That’s not true. Obama felt hamstrung by the situation, given that a public effort to combat Russia’s efforts would require making those efforts public — and could be seen in precisely the way that Trump now claims to see it: as an effort to help Clinton win.
Obama’s team pushed for a bipartisan statement that the White House hoped would address those concerns. But, as reported by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and others, that plan was blocked when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “expressed skepticism about the Russians’ role, and refused to sign a bipartisan statement condemning Russia.” Obama’s team worked to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin behind the scenes, but direct responses came only after the election, with the imposition of new sanctions and the expulsion of Russians from the country.
Much of the Obama administration’s efforts in 2016 appear to have been focused on combating interference with actual election systems, such as voter rolls and voting machines. On Oct. 7, 2016, the administration put out a warning blaming Russia for hacks like the one targeting the DNC and suggesting that Russians might be targeting election systems. By then, the damage of the email hacks (including the one of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta) was already done. That evening, the Podesta emails began to leak.
What’s more, Mayer writes, Obama didn’t even know about the rumored collusion.
On January 5, 2017, it became clear that at least two Washingtonians remained in the dark about the dossier: the President and the Vice-President. That day, in a top-secret Oval Office meeting, the chiefs of the nation’s top intelligence agencies briefed Obama and Biden and some national-security officials for the first time about the dossier’s allegation that Trump’s campaign team may have colluded with the Russians. As one person present later told me, “No one understands that at the White House we weren’t briefed about the F.B.I.’s investigations. We had no information on collusion. All we saw was what the Russians were doing. The F.B.I. puts anything about Americans in a lockbox.”
So Trump presents the following picture: Obama targeted Trump’s campaign to help Clinton win and didn’t do anything to stop the Russians.
In reality: The FBI became aware of contacts between Trump’s team and Russians and began an investigation that never became public until after the election was over. The Obama administration, unaware of that investigation, ended up speaking out publicly in only circumspect terms, specifically to avoid the sort of speculation that Trump’s tweet fostered.
Apparently that didn’t work either.