The Art of Warping Elections

President Barack Obama listens to a question during his last press conference at the White House, January 18, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Team Obama paved the way.

No sooner were Democrats’ Trump-Russia collusion charges debunked than they began to claim that Trump will do again in 2020 what Robert Mueller found he did not do in 2016: rig the election.

After 22 months, nearly 500 subpoenas, and somewhere around $35 million in costs, special counsel Robert Mueller’s much praised progressive “all-star” team of lawyers and investigators found no evidence that Donald Trump had colluded with the Russians. Trump did not warp the 2016 election, and so he had not unfairly defeated the supposed sure-winner Hillary Clinton. But again those who have investigated and attacked Trump nonstop probably are seeking to do in 2020 what they falsely accused Trump of doing in 2016.

Mueller’s failure to find any collusion evidence was not for want of the dream team’s “bombshell” and “walls are closing in” leaks to CNN and MSNBC talking heads, over the course of 88 weeks. Almost daily we heard ad nauseam that Trump was soon to be indicted, convicted, removed, or summarily dispatched.

If anyone should have found “collusion,” it was certainly the Mueller zealots, then de facto ramrodded by current MSNBC partisan “legal” analyst Andrew Weissmann. (How odd that John Brennan, James Clapper, Andrew McCabe, and Andrew Weissmann leak to MSNBC and CNN and then, in the out-phase of their perpetually revolving-door careers, end up rewarded by their receptacles as paid TV analysts).

In the end, the “hunter-killer team” imploded.

Its ranks, in mediis rebus, were depleted by the summary firings of unethical anti-Trump FBI officials such as Lisa Page, and Peter Strozk, who had ridiculed the target of their investigation in amorous textual exchanges. Also fired for bias was FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith (“Viva le [sic] résistance),” who had also illegally altered a document to befool a FISA judge. The entire charade finally ended with Mueller’s post facto enfeebled testimony before congressional committee, in which he mysteriously claimed little knowledge of Fusion GPS and its offspring the Steele dossier, the fonts and catalysts of his own investigation.

Few, however, dared to say that the entire fraud will have played a role in the 2020 election, or at least was meant to play a part by embarrassing and defaming Trump — in the manner of the current impeachment hoax.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s huge team at the Department of Justice used almost as many resources as Mueller and found that the FBI and DOJ had deluded a FISA court in order to spy on an American citizen, who just happened to be a low-level Trump aide. It incidentally also discovered that a foreign national Christopher Steele had peddled junk opposition research that was gobbled up by Obama-administration intelligence agencies in an effort to spy on Page and thus the Trump campaign. Through the “two-hop” rule, a warrant allows spying on an individual, and on anyone that individual has contacted, and additionally on anyone those secondary people have contacted. Further, the warrant allows investigators to look back in time, going back years. In short, in today’s climate, one could argue that Team Obama functionaries, even in retirement, sought to influence the 2016 election by slandering Trump, and his holdover appointees have kept up their obsessions in order to affect the 2020 election.

Not one Democrat impeacher believes that Trump will be convicted and removed from office. All of them probably trust that impeaching him in the House will weaken his chances at reelection — and that they should, as impeachment is merely using government properly to influence an election.

Yet, under the current new standards, we might have easily impeached almost any prior first-term president on a variety of charges and certainly questioned the fairness of any incumbent’s election victory.

Take the divine Barack Obama. Obstruction of Congress?

Obama invoked executive privilege to obstruct congressional subpoenas in the Fast and Furious scandals. People died. And they died in Benghazi, a preventable debacle that was fraudulently blamed on an obscure video-maker. And some likely died as the result of the illegal Taliban–Bergdahl hostage swap.

Abuse of power? In the run-up to his 2012 reelection campaign, Obama weaponized the IRS to neuter Tea Party groups so they’d have no chance to repeat the stunning success they enjoyed in the 2010 midterm elections. And would monitoring the communications of Associated Press journalists now qualify as an abuse of power? Maybe stonewalling the Senate and passing the Iranian-deal treaty without a two-thirds ratification vote could qualify as well? Would sacrificing Eastern Europe missile defense for Putin’s temporary good behavior (prior to the 2012 election) qualify as a Trumpian impeachable quid pro quo? Not giving lethal aid to the Ukrainians in fear of Putin’s wrath?

On the further matter of warping an election, reconsider the successful reelection of Barack Obama in 2102. A number of scholars, including researchers from the Kennedy School of Government, Stockholm University, and the American Enterprise Institute, later suggested that had the Tea Party not been emasculated by systematic and politicized IRS harassment, it might have added more than 5 million voters to Republican ranks — more than the margin of Obama’s victory — in the 2012 election.

Then there was Obama’s election-year lapse when he got caught on a hot mic (on March 21, 2012), pledging to outgoing Putin surrogate Dmitri Medvedev that if Putin just gave Obama “space” before his reelection (i.e., not causing trouble in Eastern Europe and thus discrediting the entire sham of Russian “reset”), then a successfully reelected Obama in return would show “flexibility” on joint American–Eastern European missile defense — meaning that Obama would cancel the long-planned missile-defense shield).

Remember the quid pro quo context: Romney was running neck and neck in the polls with Obama and was rebuking the president for his “reset” softness about Putin’s increasing hostility to the U.S. and its interests. If Putin were to hibernate during the American election cycle, it would be easier to diminish Romney as a Cold War dinosaur. Obama later argued exactly that in a presidential debate: “When you were asked, “What the biggest geopolitical threat facing America?’ you said Russia! . . . The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” And so voters were reminded of the trademark Obama charisma that had achieved peace and mesmerized even thuggish enemies

Unlike Trump’s pseudo-scandal that never resulted in a cutoff of aid to Ukraine (indeed, Trump’s aid to Ukraine far superseded that of the timid Obama administration, which refused to  sell Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine), Obama’s tit-for-tat deal delivered the politically convenient results: Putin delayed his territorial expansion into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine until after Obama’s reelection, and the U.S. did withdraw its sponsorship of Eastern Europe missile defense.

But there was more in pre-election 2012.

Do we remember former Fugees rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel and the strange, rich Malaysian wheeler-dealer Low Taek Jho — the pair who had planned to channel some $21 million in mostly foreign monies into pro-Obama outlets during the 2012 election? How strange that we did not discover fully their nefarious electioneering until seven years after the fact — given that “collusion” with foreign entities to “rig” U.S. elections are the chief concerns of watchdog Democrats. Had voters known of such past skullduggery at the time, would they have factored in that malfeasance on Election Day?

Then there was other mysterious “news” that broke just after Obama was reelected in 2012. Again, it was only in December 2012, after the president was reelected, that the Federal Election Commission clarified its earlier preliminary findings of illegal behavior by the 2008 Obama campaign. Only weeks after the president’s 2012 reelection, the Commission announced that it was leveling one of the largest fines ($375,000) in its history on Obama’s earlier campaign for not disclosing the amounts or sources of sizable donations. How conveniently odd that after four years of investigatory work, the voters learned right after — rather than before — Election Day that the Obama team had a bad habit of breaking fundraising and campaigning rules.

There were even more mysterious 2012 post-election “bombshells.” A mere 24 hours after Obama’s victory, the public was tersely told that the Iranians, five days earlier, well before Election Day, had fired on an American drone — a most unwelcome development in the then ongoing courting of Iran that would eventually lead to the infamous Iran deal.

Might voters have appreciated that knowledge as they assessed the degree of success or failure of the Obama’s reset outreach to Iran?

Even stranger still was the abrupt resignation of CIA director David Petraeus scarcely more than two days after the election. Weeks earlier, Petraeus had given substantial closed-door testimony to congressional committees about the election-cycle Benghazi disaster, the role of the CIA in security lapses in Benghazi, and, most controversially, the nature of the attack: whether it was a preplanned terrorist hit or, as the administration claimed, an ad hoc mortar barrage incited by a supposedly Islamophobic, right-wing video made by a Lebanese Coptic Christian living in America.

Remember, we were repeatedly told by Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton that a nefarious, reactionary, immigrant Muslim-hater had quite unexpectedly egged on the Arab Street, which in turn led to a spontaneous rampage against Americans — a narrative that would hide the Obama administration’s wages of appeasement, manifested in negligently lax security for our diplomatic and security personnel in the American-induced badlands of Libya.

What was not known at the time of Petraeus’s testimony was that, four weeks earlier, Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI had formally started investigating the CIA director for alleged security lapses concerning his contacts with his mistress.

Voters learned of all that only a few days after Election Day, with the CIA director’s stunning resignation and apology, and subsequent plea bargaining to a lesser offense — all leading to the replacement appointment of John Brennan, known subsequently for lying under oath with impunity on two occasions to Congress.

Apparently, Obama and Eric Holder felt that, after weeks of investigation, it was critical only after Election Day to immediately announce the fate of Petraeus. This was at a time when some in Congress were complaining that CIA testimonies were less than candid and were unrealistically promoting the administration’s narrative that the Benghazi debacle was the result of spontaneous rioting rather than the work of skilled terrorists who had planned the attacks. Some House members would soon complain that Petraeus’s post-resignation testimony on the nature of the attackers (that they were likely Islamic extremists) differed from his pre-election comments that the video had enraged Libyans and provoked untrained mobs to attack the consul and annex.

Had Petraeus resigned before Election Day, would voters have become curious about the circumstances of his abrupt departure? Would they have asked questions about what exactly the U.S. was doing in Libya and under whose direction?

In other words, the Obama administration, perhaps more so than prior administrations, played politics with the news cycles, abused campaign-finance laws, leveraged its powers of incumbency for partisan advantage, put reelection aims on par with or above U.S. security concerns, left hanging key U.S. allies, and sought to use the administrative state to enhance its 2012 reelection chances and to diminish the opposition’s party 2016 candidate. And all that likely helped reelect Barack Obama.

Until recently, I believed that none of this Obama skullduggery rose to the level of impeachable offenses that would have nullified the 2012 election and canceled out the votes of millions of Americans.

Now, under the new standards established by Adam Schiff, Gerald Nadler, and Nancy Pelosi, all that and more from the Obama administration were most eminently impeachable.

 

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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