by Robert Romano
We’re already a few months into the Democratic nominating contest for president in 2020, early polls are coming in, and it appears that former Vice President Joe Biden is the presumptive frontrunner for the nomination to take on President Donald Trump in the general election.
The latest Morning Consult poll conducted April 1 to April 7 has Biden with 32 percent of Democrats saying he’s their choice, 23 percent picking Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), 9 percent choosing Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and 8 percent opting for Robert “Beto” O’Rourke (D-Texas).
The results are confirmed by the latest The Hill/Harris X poll conducted April 5 to April 6 showing Biden at 36 percent and Sanders at 19 percent, the March 25 to March 26 Harvard-Harris poll showing Biden at 26 percent and Sanders at 18 percent and the March 17 to March 20 Fox News poll with Biden at 31 percent and Sanders at 23 percent.
The March 25 Emerson poll shows Biden and Sanders neck-in-neck in Iowa, 25 percent to 24 percent, respectively, while the Feb. 28 UNH poll shows Sanders with an early advantage over Biden in New Hampshire, 26 percent to 22 percent.
And Biden has not even announced his candidacy yet, instead allowing demand for him to jump into the race to build as the perceived elder statesman who knows his way around Washington, D.C. and who can take on President Trump.
Obviously, a lot can change in a year, but that’s the state of the race as of right now. Being the presumptive front-runner on the Democratic side, then, and having already served, it makes sense to determine what sort of baggage Biden might be bringing with him from the former Obama administration.
Namely, in light of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s finding of no conspiracy or coordination between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia after a nearly three-year investigation that was originally ordered by intelligence agencies and the Justice Department during the Obama administration, the key question is: What did Biden know about the Russia collusion hoax and when did he know it?
Some answers may come from a Jan. 20, 2017 email that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice sent to herself on the day Trump was inaugurated about a Jan. 5, 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, in which Rice wrote, “On January 5, following a briefing by IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election, President Obama had a brief follow-on conversation with FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present.”
This was the Russian interference into the 2016 election briefing given a day before then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued the joint intelligence assessment on the same, but the version that was given to former President Barack Obama and then-President-Elect Trump on Jan. 5, 2017 also reportedly included some of the allegations leveled by former British spy Christopher Steele in his infamous dossier, paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, that Trump was a Russian agent.
By this time, the investigation was already well underway into the Trump campaign and then transition, which had both been subjected to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants, beginning in Oct. 2016, giving the Justice Department access to emails, phone calls and other records of Trump and his team’s communications. The Steele dossier allegations were the heart of the FISA warrants and formed the basis for the ongoing investigation. The intelligence community had used the allegations themselves as proof that the allegations were true.
We also now know based on Mueller’s findings that no conspiracy with Russia was uncovered. No members of the Trump campaign, transition or administration — indeed, no Americans — were charged for engaging in espionage with Russia to hack the DNC or John Podesta, put their emails on Wikileaks or anything else. It was all a lie.
According to Rice — who falsely claimed within days of the deadly 2012 Benghazi assault on the U.S. consulate that it was inspired by a video — former President Barack Obama supposedly, laughably wanted to make certain that the investigation, which was about to be carried over to the Trump administration, would be done “by the book.” Per Rice’s email to herself, “President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities ‘by the book’. The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book. 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.”
The email continued, “The President asked [then-FBI Director James] Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he would.”
The email was uncovered from the National Archives by then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and the current Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Feb. 12, 2018, who wrote a letter to Rice with very pointed questions. This was widely reported at the time.
Less so was Rice’s response, via her attorney, Kathryn Ruemmler, in a letter on Feb. 23, 2018.
In it, Rice, via her attorney, denies that the meeting covered the Steele dossier allegations at all, denies knowing there as an active FBI investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016, and denies knowing that there were ongoing FISA warrants and surveillance into the Trump campaign and then transition, claiming to have only found out about it all via Comey’s Congressional testimony and press reports later. Yeah, okay.
Note that Rice only admits to items that were already in the public sphere at the time of the Jan. 5, 2017 meeting, namely the matter of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, that there was an otherwise perfectly legitimate conversation in Dec. 2016 between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak over the phone about sanctions the Obama administration was levying, which was illegally leaked to the press and led to Flynn’s firing. Ruemmler writes, “President Obama and his national security team were justifiably concerned about potential risks to the Nation’s security from sharing highly classified information about Russia with certain members of the Trump transition team, particularly Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.”
In hindsight, Rice’s email and her attorney’s response to Grassley and Graham appear highly suspicious.
For starters, you had the Obama administration compartmentalizing intelligence information pertaining to Russia and presumably the counterintelligence investigation with the express intention of hiding it from the Trump administration. This raises the question of just how much President Trump has been kept in the dark about. We know Comey was fired for lying to Trump’s face repeatedly about the extent of the Russia collusion investigation. It is now reasonable to ask how much the President and his team still do not know about it.
Secondly, you had the incumbent party, the Obama administration, spying on the opposition party, the Trump campaign, in an election year, probably the most highly classified investigation that was going on at the time, complete with FISA surveillance, and we’re to believe that the National Security Advisor who presides over the National Security Council knew nothing about it on Jan. 5, 2017, days before she was about to leave office.
This looks like a CYA (cover-your-ass) on behalf of Obama to create plausible deniability for the former president. The only reason for Rice to say she didn’t know about the FISA warrants is so one could surmise that Obama and his team did not know either. Taken at face value, Obama, as portrayed in the email is telling the FBI he doesn’t want to know about any investigation, implying at least an awareness that the matters discussed would have most certainly prompted an investigation.
In effect, Obama telling them to go “by the book” was telling them to continue pursuing the investigation.
Overall, Rice’s contention that the White House knew nothing is an unbelievable, unsustainable narrative. For starters, recall Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake’s April 3, 2017 report that “former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign…” that was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s unmasking the identities of U.S. persons incidentally picked up in surveillance. Per Lake’s reporting, Rice was unmasking American citizens connected to the Trump campaign.
Rice later admitted to the unmaskings in an interview on MSNBC on April 4, 2017 in response to Lake’s reporting: “There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to, name not provided, just a U.S. person, and sometimes in that context in order to understand the importance of that report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was.”
For Rice’s letter and Lake’s reporting to be true, you’d have to believe that there was not one but two snooping operations into Trump by the federal government at the time of the Jan. 5, 2017 meeting. One run by Rice, and the other run by Comey and Yates at Justice. And that Yates and Comey’s own investigation, which was ongoing, wasn’t briefed to Obama and Rice. That, independently, the White House and the Justice Department decided to spy on Trump over a suspected conspiracy with Russia.
On one hand, it’s almost worse if Obama and Rice did not know about the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. Then there really is an independent deep state, that can carry on investigations into political opponents on a whim on behalf of their benefactors while the President and the National Security Council know nothing about it, essentially without any political oversight.
Because that’s what Rice’s response via her attorney to the Grassley and Graham letter leads us to believe. That the Justice Department and the intelligence agencies were carrying on a rogue investigation, complete with FISA warrants being approved in federal court, without any direction by the elected President and his team into a crime — conspiracy with Russia by Trump and his campaign to interfere in the 2016 elections — that we now know per Mueller was never committed.
If so, then Obama and Biden are arguably the worst President and Vice-President combo in American history. If this investigation could have been going on and carried over into the Trump administration without them knowing about it, then Obama and in extension Biden are too stupid to be allowed anywhere near the White House ever again.
Moreover, if the Justice Department acted all on its own — that’s what the Obama White House wants us to believe — that would mean the whole national security apparatus that was weaponized to engage in political warfare needs to be ripped out of the ground. Agencies say they need these tools to fight the bad guys. If so, it’s time to come clean. Did this go to the top or not? Who ordered the investigation?
Even if Obama and Biden knew, reforms are still very much needed. Somebody should have come forward much sooner. Where were the whistleblowers?
If Obama and Biden knew about the phony investigation into the political opposition, and then had underlings write emails to themselves and lie about it to Congress to deflect culpability, they’re evil. The cover-up always makes it worse. Neither is a good alternative.
If Biden is going to run for president, he must be made to answer for how the Obama administration he served in could spy on the opposition party in an election year at the behest of the Clinton campaign, and if he doesn’t have a good answer that isn’t some version of “I learned about it in the newspaper,” he must be unequivocally rejected.
When you get down to brass tacks, Obama and Biden should have known everything about the counterintelligence investigation, not into Russia, but into Trump.
If we really want to spend the next two years talking about how something like this could ever happen in America then, by all means, Biden should run and the Democrats should nominate him. The Russia collusion hoax is an albatross that will be hung around Biden’s neck, a mark of shame for eviscerating the Constitution — and the American people will never forget.
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
Photo “Joe Biden” by Joe Biden. Background Photo “Department of Justice Building” by Another Believer. CC BY-SA 3.0.