President Trump’s conservative allies are trying to turn the tables on Democrats and the media over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump’s defenders once claimed that the president was the subject of a witch hunt driven by unsubstantiated rumors of ties between the president and Moscow.
Now, the president’s supporters are flipping the script, arguing the investigation that began during the Obama administration is the real scandal.
There has been a steady drumbeat in conservative circles warning that Obama-administration holdovers and “deep state” actors have been abusing the powers of the government to spy on and illegally leak information about Trump and his top lieutenants.
Breitbart News, the conservative website once helmed by Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, has dubbed this phenomenon “Deep State-gate,” a reference to nefarious forces working from within the government to undermine Trump.
The warnings about government subterfuge only grew louder after Trump made the unsubstantiated claim that President Obama ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the presidential race.
Pro-Trump commentators such as Mark Levin and Fox News’s Sean Hannity — and even some conservative “Never Trump” publications, including the National Review and Weekly Standard — are increasingly slinging the deep-state allegations against the mainstream media outlets that have for months reported on wide-ranging investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia.
“The news media reported the leaks. The news media reported the surveillance. They reported it repeatedly. This is the mainstream media, and as far as I know, they’ve never retracted their story,” Hannity said on his show Monday night. “Everybody knew about it. It was not something that was hidden. Now, in fact, Donald Trump mentions that it happened, and suddenly somehow this is outrageous.”
Conservatives say either the Obama administration was spying on the opposition presidential candidate during the campaign, or the mainstream media’s reports about massive interagency investigations into Trump and his allies have been overblown to make the president look guilty of colluding with the Russians.
“They’re all pivoting, including the media,” Levin said Monday night on Hannity’s show. “They were trying to present the case of overwhelming connections, overwhelming concern, overwhelming potential evidence of Trump and the campaign involved with the Russians … I say these are police state tactics, and you have no basis for all these investigations. Now, they’re saying, wait a minute … we didn’t do these wiretaps, eavesdropping, electronic surveillance. Now the media are completely confounded. So which is it?”
The media and Democrats are fighting back.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) this week called on the Justice Department’s independent watchdog to investigate communications between Trump campaign officials and Russia.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have followed FBI director James Comey in asking the Justice Department to swat down Trump’s claim that Obama unilaterally tapped phone lines in Trump Tower.
And when Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s claims have “been reported pretty widely by a quite a few outlets,” including The New York Times, the BBC and Fox News, anchor George Stephanopoulos shot back.
“I have got to stop you right there,” he said. “Every single article you just mentioned does not back up the president’s claim that President Obama had him wiretapped. Not a single one of those articles backs that up.”
Still, the new tack from the right has sufficiently muddied the waters around the Russia investigation, stirring a complex debate about Title III criminal investigations and warrants requested under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In its front-page article on Monday rebutting Trump’s wiretapping claims, the Times spent three paragraphs differentiating its reporting on investigations into the Trump-Russia connections from the Trump administration’s claims that his campaign may have been the subject of illegal wiretapping.
The Times and other news outlets have reported that the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement network and other intelligence operatives are investigating whether Moscow aided Trump and his associates during the campaign.
They have reported that there is widespread and common surveillance of Russians, which likely led to the downfall of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
The Times ran a story on inauguration day titled “Wiretapped Data Used In Inquiry of Trump Aides,” which described how “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump.”
And the Times has reported that Obama-administration officials left behind clues leading to ties between Trump and Russia so their successors might follow the trail.
While none of this backs up Trump’s specific claim that Obama had his “wires tapped,” conservatives say arguing that point misses the forest for the trees.
They say the media was eager to pick up and run with allegations that Trump was in bed with the Russians — and Democrats were eager to investigate those claims at any cost — but that they both now find themselves in a bind.
“For months, the media-Democrat complex has peddled a storyline that the Putin regime in Russia hacked the U.S. presidential election,” writes the National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, a former attorney and respected voice in the conservative legal world.
“At a certain point, if compelling evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to steal the election did not materialize, the much more interesting question becomes, ‘How did the government obtain all this information that has been leaked to the media to prop up the story?’… In short, the media and Democrats have been playing with fire for months. The use of law-enforcement and national-security assets to investigate one’s political opponents during a heated election campaign has always been a potentially explosive story.”
These questions have already provoked Republicans into action.
The House and Senate Intelligence Committees will probe Trump’s claims and leaks pertaining to national security as part of the investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has opened an inquiry into allegations the FBI worked with the British spy who authored a controversial opposition research dossier on Trump during the 2016 election.
And the conservative group Judicial Watch, which was instrumental in securing the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails, is suing the CIA, DOJ and Treasury for information on Flynn’s correspondences with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak.
“President Trump is on to something,” Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The Obama-connected wiretapping and illegal leaks of classified material concerning President Trump and General Flynn are a scandal. Judicial Watch aims to get to the truth about these crimes and we hope the Trump administration stands with us in the fight for transparency.”
Source: The Hill