The period from 2011-2012 is a very important one in the Spygate timeline due to a convergence of events. Obama was gearing up for reelection and there was no clear-cut favorite for the GOP nomination. The geopolitical scene was in disarray with the ongoing Syrian civil war, the mess in Libya that culminated in the Benghazi tragedy, and the Obama administration now singularly focused on a deal with Iran over their nuclear ambitions.
With Obama’s first term winding down, it became obvious, through her own words and the accounts of others, that Hillary Clinton would be stepping down as Secretary of State and although some suggested she become Defense Secretary, she dismissed those ideas. By this time, John Brennan, still a White House adviser, had wormed his way so far up Obama’s butt people joked he was the real DNI, not John Clapper who had replaced Dennis Blair.
When Obama entered office in 2009, the most pressing concern was the continuing financial crisis. Having passed a useless stimulus bill, he moved onto Obamacare. More ominously, the incoming administration was under intense pressure from the intelligence community and Congress to deal with the leaks that plagued the Bush administration. What resulted was a three-pronged attack on the press by the Obama administration. The first part involved using the Espionage Act against the leakers. By the time Obama left office, the Act had been used to prosecute leakers more than all previous Presidents combined. The second prong involved a coordinated White House communications effort to control the narrative. Finally, and most ominously, the Justice Department had no reservations against using the Espionage Act against journalists.
The list is long. There was James Risen at the New York Times– a case started but never pursued by the Bush DOJ. James Rosen of Fox News was named an un-indicted co-conspirator in another case. Reporters from the Associated Press had their phone calls and emails monitored. During the height of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, Jewish lobbying groups were targeted. And there was the case of Sharryl Atkisson whose reporting on the Fast and Furious and Benghazi scandals drew a dangerous response from the administration in a case still unresolved to this day. A detailed chronicling of Obama’s war on the press will be presented in another series of articles, but by the 2016 the press was publicly saying the Obama administration was more nefarious than anything Richard Nixon did.
Many people forget that in this time period, Donald Trump considered the possibility of a Presidential run in 2012. He started a stealth campaign of sorts but was faced with a major decision- whether to continue on his wildly popular reality television show- The Apprentice- or seek the Presidency? When he announced his “intentions” back in 2012, modesty was not a trademark. He declared that if he had decided to run, he would have been the nominee and would have defeated Barack Obama. He also declared that business, not seeking political office, was his passion. What may have convinced Trump against a run versus Obama was the birther issue.
In 2011-2012, a poll conducted by George Washington University showed that Trump had only a 29% chance of defeating Obama. For a little while, Trump acted as if he was actually campaigning giving speeches in New Hampshire, but many within the GOP viewed him more as an irritant than a legitimate candidate, especially over the birther issue. In 2012, many Republicans viewed Obama as too tough a candidate to defeat. Despite the irritation at Trump expressed by the GOP and skepticism among political pundits, Trump managed to draw huge crowds at his “campaign” stops and rallies. When Huckabee decided against a run and Trump was riding high in the polls, Trump was still hesitant. Trump was cagey with responses to questions in 2011 and 2012. He railed against countries like China and their growing economic presence, and being beholden to OPEC for energy.
Trump decided against a run and Romney became the Republican candidate in 2012 who went on to lose against Obama. What people most remember about Trump in this political climate was his harping on Obama’s citizenship. Trump did not start the birther issue- that had come about some point in the 2008 campaign most likely originating among Hillary supporters and, if one were a betting person, one should look to Hillary confidante Sidney Blumenthal for the birth of birtherism. But it was Trump in 2011 who resurrected the controversy.
In March 2011, on The View he was asking why Obama did not produce his birth certificate. Just five days later he expressed his reservations regarding Obama’s citizenship on Fox News. A few days later he told Laura Ingraham that Obama might be Muslim. By early April, he was suggesting that Obama pulled off a con on the American public. The constant barrage of comments by Trump was put to rest when Obama produced the long form of his birth certificate which Trump took credit for him doing so.
Perhaps the biggest impetus for Trump to reconsider a run for the presidency in 2012 was the Washington White House Correspondents dinner, an annual rite of mirth and laughter. Obama addressed that confab with Trump in attendance in May 2011. Obama seriously mocked Trump likening the birther issue to other “pressing matters” like the moon landing, Roswell and who killed Tupac and Biggie Smalls. He mocked The Apprentice. The host, Seth Myers, questioned Trump’s alleged racism in the past. In short, Trump may have overplayed the birther issue and questionable business transactions in the past likely converged to convince Trump that a White House run was not in the cards in 2012.
So what changed in the intervening four years? First, 2016 was an open election and there would be no Obama with which to contend. Second, there is a tendency in American politics to change the political party in the White House every 8-12 years. Third, there was a rash of populist victories in Europe, especially in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia punctuated by the Brexit movement. Finally, immigration became a flashpoint of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, and Trump entered the political fray with all guns ablaze on this front.
It is also important to note that relations between the United States and Israel began to deteriorate dramatically in this time period. Conflicting messages coupled with ill-advised speeches and bowing before Saudi kings made the situation worse. In the Bush administration, two likely joint efforts between the US and Israel to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions- the Stuxnet computer worm that destroyed Iranian centrifuges and the targeting of Iranian nuclear scientists- came to an abrupt halt.
Because of Trump’s high profile in this time period with his stealth presidential non-campaign and public comments regarding Obama’s citizenship, Donald Trump came on the Obama administration’s radar with a vengeance. Given their propensity to ruin the lives of legitimate intelligence whistleblowers, targeting journalists, not to mention the various scandals like the IRS and Tea Party groups, Fast and Furious, and ultimately Benghazi, it is conceivable that Trump became a target of the White House in this time period. And, there is evidence suggesting that is exactly what happened.
What may have started as an effort to discredit a New York businessman who was an irritant to Obama may have transformed into the greatest political scandal in history and nothing short of an attempted silent coup.