The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is desperate, so ‘Obamagate’ is back. But it still makes no sense.

Then-Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in May. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

It is by now a hallowed tradition for President Trump: When he faces highly credible accusations of wrongdoing, he responds by hurling absurd accusations at his opponents to muddy the waters. Right now, the White House is stonewalling questions about when the president last tested negative for the coronavirus, leading to suspicions that Trump was infected at least a week before he was admitted to the hospital — which would make him a superspreader of the virus.

This is, in effect, Trump’s reply: “Wow!!! NOW DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, THE BIGGEST OF ALL POLITICAL SCANDALS (IN HISTORY)!!! BIDEN, OBAMA AND CROOKED HILLARY LED THIS TREASONOUS PLOT!!! BIDEN SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO RUN - GOT CAUGHT!!!” That typically understated presidential tweet came with a link to a nearly three-year-old tweet from “Girl Bot.” You know if an anonymous Twitter account says it, and Trump repeats it in CAPITAL LETTERS, it must be true, right? Surely that’s sufficient grounds to indict Joe Biden, as Trump demanded on Thursday.

Trump’s henchman Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is trying to further this mendacious narrative by declassifying selective snippets of intelligence — including suspected Russian disinformation. These “revelations” are then breathlessly hyped by Fox News as if they were Watergate II and robotically repeated by Mike Pence in the vice-presidential debate.

The problem is that this makes no sense to anyone who — unlike the president — doesn’t spend all day binge-watching Fox “News.” And those viewers are already voting for him. Like many conspiracy theories (e.g., Whitewater or QAnon), “Obamagate” is so complicated that it is practically impossible for the uninitiated to comprehend. Tim Miller of the Bulwark did yeoman’s labor trying to explain how this nefarious plot was supposed to work. This is what he came up with:

“Four years ago, there was a global conspiracy — comprised of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director Jim Comey, much of the FBI, the DNC, a company called CrowdStrike, multiple foreign intelligence services, and Ukrainian oligarchs — to undermine Donald Trump by planting a phony conspiracy theory that he was colluding with the Russians to win the 2016 election. These deep state operators framed several top Trump officials, fabricated evidence, and spied on the campaign with the end goal of committing the biggest fraud in American history in order to derail Trump.”

Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds. What makes it even sillier is that none of the supposed conspirators actually did anything to stop the Trump campaign before the 2016 election. We now know the FBI was investigating the copious ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, but that probe, known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” was kept secret at the time. So, too, the Steele dossier, compiled on behalf of the Clinton campaign, was not released before the election. Instead of publicizing its investigation of Trump campaign collusion with Russia, the FBI revealed its decision to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails 11 days before the election. That announcement might have cost her the presidency.

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So, if you believe the Trump narrative, the “deep state” plot was to let him win the presidency and then undermine him afterward. But if the deep state was so powerful, why didn’t it prevent Trump’s election?

This, of course, only begins to scratch the surface of the absurdities and inanities that Trump & co. are peddling. Pence, in the vice-presidential debate, claimed: “When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, the FBI actually spied on President Trump and my campaign.” Sorry, Mr. Vice President: This cockamamie claim just won’t “fly.” Repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it any less false.

This canard should have been put to rest by last year’s report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He found significant problems with an FBI application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, but by the time Page was placed under FBI surveillance, he was no longer affiliated with the Trump campaign. Horowitz found zero evidence that the FBI interfered in the election, spied on the Trump campaign or plotted to overthrow Trump. By contrast, there is irrefutable evidence that Russia interfered in our election — and that the Trump campaign knew about it, welcomed it and lied about it.

Trump is engaged in yet another exercise in deflection and projection. He is accusing his opponents of colluding with a foreign power to undermine our elections, because that is precisely what he himself is doing.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani has been working with an actual Russian agent (so designated by Trump’s own Treasury Department) to smear Biden, and Ratcliffe has been working to stop the intelligence community from blowing the whistle on Russian attacks. Retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s former national security adviser, just said that the president “is aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts” at “disruption” and “disinformation.”

Now that’s a real scandal.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: The right-wing media has a new fake Hillary Clinton scandal

Josh Rogin: Trump’s team trusts Russian intelligence over U.S. intelligence

The Post’s View: The director of national intelligence is providing cover for Putin

Josh Rogin: Secret CIA assessment: Putin ‘probably directing’ influence operation to denigrate Biden