Over the next several months, this writer is dedicating the bulk of his diary entries to the so called Spygate saga- its historical antecedents and its execution. Admittedly, the subject has been well-covered here by a plethora of Front Page writers who have parsed, analyzed, and written on events as they unfolded. However, in these days of cancelling culture and amidst a coronavirus lockdown, it is important that we remember what happened in the 2016 election and afterwards. The series has a cast of characters longer than any found in a Tolstoy or Dickens novel and more plot twists than anything written by le Carre or seen on “Game of Thrones.” It spans the presidencies of seven men and across four continents. In doing the research, this writer came to a belief that in certain instances, some (not many) of these characters were acting in the best interests of the American people.
Needless to say, the current President- Donald Trump- is not without some dirt on his hands (explainable dirt), but not having anything to do with Russia. The New York real estate mogul was a known entity since the 1970s when he began to plaster his name over the Manhattan skyline. Investigative journalism did not start with the candidacy of Donald Trump. Before 2016, there were at least twelve books written about Trump and since 2016, by the last count, there have been more bringing the running count to 50. That is not counting the books written by Trump (or his ghostwriter). They number 19. That is just books and does not include the many articles written about the man over the years.
In many ways, Trump has a penchant for privacy. He is a huge proponent of non-disclosure agreements with business partners, lawyers and paramours alike. When he formed the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity to look into election fraud, he asked, “What do they have to hide?” in response to criticisms. People before and after the election of 2016 were asking the same thing regarding his tax returns. There is a huge difference between states releasing voter fraud information, and safeguarding one’s private financial information in today’s digital age.
In the modern political state, individuals must be protected against the misuse of personal data while government officials must be held to some level of accountability. Thus, both openness and privacy are twin pillars in a functional democracy. The opposite- public surveillance and official secrecy- are the pillars of an authoritarian society. Most of Trump’s detractors believe that there are secrets to be exposed in his tax returns, be they a lack of charitable contributions or shady dealings with shady characters. We are not really really sure about charitable contributions, but there is ample evidence to conclude that Trump, as a private businessman, was involved in some shady transactions and that he often crossed paths with very shady characters. Some of this could be sort of excused away as the cost of doing business. Does that excuse Trump’s behaviors and dealings?
Some have claimed that Trump wants to invert those pillars now that he is President and that, ipso facto, he is an authoritarian. But, Trump is not unique in this tendency once they enter the Oval Office. This is not necessarily an excuse for his behavior in a knee-jerk “Well…Obama was worse” fashion. However, it could be argued that Trump’s life was more an “open book” before his election than was the life of say… Barack Obama. In some ways, that explains Trump’s deep-seated hatred of Obama which is likely repaid in kind- the disparity in treatment. In fact, Michelle Obama has stated publicly and in written form that she could never forgive Trump for his “birtherism.”
Before Trump, in the age of Obama and Bush, many people were railing against the so-called “surveillance state.” There are a few seminal dates in recent American history with the events of September 11, 2001 being the greatest. George W. Bush, presented with a situation of grave concern, perhaps over-reacted to the events in his zeal to make sure there was never a repeat. The fact there has not been any successful attacks of that magnitude on US soil may absolve him of that zealousness, but it does not absolve those within his orbit and those who came after him from using the tools created to be used for nefarious purposes. That is precisely what apparently happened.
However, the story is deeper than the misuse of the security apparatus constructed in the aftermath of 9/11. It involves the waging of the many battles of the Cold War that never really ended. If 9/11 was a historical defining moment for the United States domestically, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the resulting disintegration of the Soviet Union was the defining historical moment internationally. The people most responsible for the fall of Communism- Reagan and George H.W. Bush- being sidelined is an important factor; Reagan given term limits and Bush given his 1992 defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton. The real roots of Spygate were laid during the Clinton administration and the insatiable desire of certain characters in their lust for power. With Bill, it was personal aggrandizement and with Hillary it was her perceived birthright to occupy the Oval Office. The fact Trump interfered with this perceived march of history is the defining moment of the post 9/11 generation.
As became obvious, there is a cabal of unelected people in government who misused and misappropriated the tools given them by the very government for which they work. In some cases, they excuse away their transgressions as an act of patriotism, some higher ideal, or some arcane principles. By the same token, they also betrayed the will of voters who elected someone with whom they did not agree politically.
So the question becomes: “Why Donald Trump?” Donald Trump represented a threat to the post-Soviet status quo. Here was a candidate not beholden to groups like the Chamber of Commerce or any of the other multitude of groups that made up what is called “Conservative, Inc.” Claiming he had billions, there was no need of donors that filled the ranks of the media, businesses, and think tanks. Initially, 17 Republicans were in the running for the 2016 Presidential nomination. And initially, Donald Trump was the last person anyone thought would capture it.
The best laid plans of the Republican “powers that be” ran headlong into reality. First, it was Republican voters in state caucuses and primaries. It culminated in enough voters in enough states to elevate Trump to the White House in 2017. The status quo was none too happy with the results either within the Republican Party, or generally among the so-called Deep State.
What becomes obvious is a scary picture of deceit, spying, butt-covering and ineptitude- sometimes all rolled into one. If this was a coup by people within the government, they did a terrible job of covering their tracks. If Trump is a puppet of Putin, both Putin and Trump did a bad job of covering their tracks. Instead, it may just be ineptitude and that is a scary thought. It is scary because we are talking about people and agencies upon which we rely to keep us safe in an unsafe world.
The role of the media also is important as they were both used and attacked throughout this entire ordeal. Whereas President Trump is highly critical of the media, President Obama was even worse and used the law to surveil and prosecute journalists. Obama’s administration suffered many embarrassing leaks from the Bradley Manning affair to Richard Snowden, the Chinese hacking scandal, Fast and Furious, and Lois Lerner and the IRS. While it is true that some of the revelations may have been about events that occurred under his predecessor, Obama’s lust for silence tried to keep these items secret from the American public. This is not to cast people like Snowden or Manning as heroes; they weren’t. But it is illustrative of Obama’s mindset. Spurred into office on the promise of ending an unpopular war in Iraq, his decisions- whether through naivete, ignorance, or stupidity- only made the world a more dangerous place.
In the end, one can come to no conclusion other than that despite Trump’s shortcomings and his past, what was perpetrated against him in the 2016 should never, ever occur again.