In the 1970s, the Watergate scandal brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. The current Obamagate scandal festering will not bring down Obama from office, but it can destroy his legacy, and that would not be such a bad thing, all things considered. In fact, there is a major difference between the two events which makes the actions of the Obama administration- if not Obama himself- even more egregious.
Both sagas involve spying on political opponents. With Watergate, the political spying was financed, planned, and carried out by private actors working for a political campaign. What brought down Nixon was not a “third rate burglary,” but the cover-up of the entire affair. Note that there exists to this day no evidence that Nixon was aware of or approved the burglary of the DNC offices in the Watergate complex before it took place. Nixon first denied any involvement by his campaign but the Oval Office tapes caught a conversation between Nixon and Haldeman where Nixon agreed with his aide that the FBI should “stay the hell out of this.” This became the “smoking gun” that brought down Nixon.
The more recent scandal- Obamagate- is qualitatively different. Here the powers and instruments of the government were used to spy on a political opponent. The Steele dossier set off some of the spying and it started off as a privately funded, planned and carried out operation, but those entities then passed it off to their friendly allies in the Obama administration to do the real dirty work under the cover of the law and on the taxpayer dime. To wit: FISA warrants allowed the FBI to surveil Carter Page for a year and anyone he might have communicated with. There were at least 36 unmasking requests from Election Day 2016 to Inauguration Day 2017 involving Michael Flynn. In short order, we have moved beyond bogus FISA warrants to using the NSA’s massive database with its almost unlimited ability to spy on every American.
Watergate involved the tapping of two landline phones and the attempted copying of some documents. Compare this to the unmasking of Flynn. The level of unmasking should worry anyone. Who made the requests? There was everyone from Joe Biden to Samantha Power to John Brennan and even Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. It is inconceivable, considering the blitz of unmasking requests in a short period of time, that Michael Flynn was the only target of these requests. You would be a fool to think this because we know that from 2014-2016, there was a massive spike in unmasking requests. Samantha Power, the UN ambassador, alone is credited with hundreds of requests while occupying a job that in no way is investigative. And why would the Treasury Department be making requests?
We are fairly certain Nixon did not know about the break-in before it occurred, nor was he in any way involved with its financing, planning, or execution. But what about Obama? There are two strands of evidence to suggest Obama was fully aware of what was happening. The first is a September 2, 2016 text message from Lisa Page to Peter Strozk in which she suggests talking points for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and includes this line: “potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” This is strong evidence Obama was aware of the political spying while it was occurring in real time.
The second strand of evidence is the Rice email to herself memorializing a meeting that had occurred two weeks prior. The key line from that email is:
From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.
This was the best euphemism she could construct for Obama giving instructions to hide as much as possible about the political spying from the incoming President using Russia and under the guise of national security. The idea is preposterous as any matter of national security should NOT be hidden from the President who embodies the national security function, whether you agree with or like him/her or not.
Many have described this email to herself (by the way, how many people actually do that?) as her “CYA” moment, but Rice did not have to cover her “A.”
When one engages in a conspiracy, one of the biggest problems is concocting a cover story and coordinating that story among all the conspirators. Along come the cops (or nosey journalists or members of Congress) who may “catch” one or more of the conspirators and they question them separately. If the cover is to succeed, there must be consistency in the stories. Even the slightest deviation will focus the cops in their questioning and eventually the whole conspiracy will collapse. Coordinating cover stories is not as easy as one thinks. So, let’s go back to that Rice email and the next paragraph:
Director Comey affirmed that he is processing “by the book” as it relates to law enforcement. From a national security perspective, Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian ambassador Kislyak. Comey said that could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information. President Obama asked if Comey was saying that the NSC should not pass sensitive information related to Russia to Flynn. Comey replied “potentially.” He added that he has no indication that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that “the level of communication is unusual.
As Andrew McCarthy noted, the whole purpose of this email was to shift responsibility from Obama onto Comey. After all, Obama was just asking if the NSC should tell Trump and his incoming national security adviser of their most important, democracy-threatening, end-of-the-Republic investigation in the history of the United States. It was Comey making the final decision!
Unfortunately, the smug and sanctimonious James Comey was and is too busy answering to “a higher loyalty” to realize the people he worked with and for and who he apparently respected and adored, were busy throwing his putrid carcass under the wheels of the bus.
A final note about Watergate and Obamagate: In 1973-1974, the press was awash in stories and investigative pieces by the likes of Woodward, Bernstein, and Jack Anderson. Today, in a scandal where Watergate pales in comparison, that task is left to the conservative media. The mainstream press “pooh-poohs” away suggestions that Obama and company could be embroiled in scandal. Then again, if you are going to put a halo on his head on the cover of Time magazine, it is to be expected.