by Victor Davis Hanson
Before the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the idea that the Russians or anyone else could warp or tamper with our elections in any serious manner was laughed off by President Obama. “There is no serious person out there who would suggest that you could even rig America’s elections,” Obama said in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.
Obama was anxious that the sure-to-be-sore-loser Trump would not blame his defeat on voting impropriety in a fashion that might call into question Clinton’s victory. After Clinton’s stunning defeat, Russian “collusion” – thanks initially to efforts by Obama holdover Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to go after Michael Flynn and the successful attempts of the CIA and FBI to seed the bogus Steele dossier among the government elite – became a club to destroy the incoming Trump Administration.
How ironic that Russian “collusion” was used as a preemptive charge from those who actually had colluded with Russians for all sorts for financial and careerist advantages.
The entire so-called Uranium One caper had hinged on ex-President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and their Clinton Foundation uniting with Russian or Russian-affiliated oligarchs to ease restrictions on the sale of North American uranium reserves to a Russian company with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Coincidentally what followed were massive donations from concerned Russian parties to the foundation, as well as a $500,000 honorarium to Bill Clinton for a brief Moscow speech. Note that no more money has been forthcoming from Russia to either of the Clintons or their foundation.
Had Donald Trump been caught, as President Obama was in Seoul in March 2012, on a hot mic assuring the Russians that he would be more flexible with Russia after the 2020 election (“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved – but it’s important for him [Putin] to give me space”) he would likely now be facing real impeachment charges.
Imagine the cries of outrage from Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) had Trump inadvertently blurted out to the world that he was willing to warp U.S. security interests to fit his own reelection agenda. (Remember: “This is my last election . . . After my election, I have more flexibility.”) Such a stealthy quid pro quo certainly would have been the crown jewel of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
The locus classicus of Russian collusion, however, is Hillary Clinton’s effort in 2016. The facts are not in dispute. Using the three firewalls of the Democratic National Committee, the Perkins Coie law firm, and Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS, the Clinton campaign paid a foreign national, British subject Christopher Steele, to compile a smear dossier against Clinton’s then-opponent, Donald J. Trump.
Steele then bought Russian and Russian-related sources to produce supposed dirt on Trump. None of these Russian-generated smears would ever be verified. In fact, almost immediately most slurs proved to be outright lies and completely made up in their details—if not the stuff of a Russian disinformation campaign.
Nonetheless, Steele seeded his contracted dirt during the 2016 election, and later during the Trump transition and presidency, among the highest Obama Administration officials at the Justice Department, FBI, and CIA. After more than three years of ex-Obama officials’ obfuscation, stonewalling, and chronic lying, we now know Clinton used Russian fake sources both to generate damaging anti-Trump media stories and to prompt government investigations designed to hamstring his governance. Again, if there is such a thing as “Russian collusion,” then Hillary Clinton is its font.
Obstructors of Justice
Mueller spent more than $34 million and wrote over 440 pages to inform the American people that Trump could not realistically be indicted for obstructing justice, mostly because the underlying crime – “collusion” – never existed in the first place. Moreover, Mueller and other officials were never actually hampered in their investigations. No matter: “obstruction” was supposedly the key to destroying the Trump Administration after collusion imploded. To this day it remains the battle cry of the impeach-Trump Left.
But what exactly would real obstruction of justice look like it? It might be a deliberate effort by government officials to mislead and impede the proper conduct of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in an effort to spy on an American citizen deemed useful in proving “collusion.”
That is, James Comey, Sally Yates and others signed FISA requests when they knew, but did not dare disclose to the court, that their sources of evidence – the Steele dossier and news accounts in circular fashion based on it – were unverified, products of Hillary Clinton’s bought oppositional research, and written by a contractor at the time fired by the FBI for unprofessional conduct.
Had Comey simply told the court that Clinton had paid for his evidence, that the Yahoo News account was not independent but based on the dossier, that he had fired Steele as an FBI collaborator, and that nothing in the dossier had been verified, then the court never would have granted him permission to spy on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. In other words, top FBI and Justice Department officials deliberately obstructed and essentially destroyed the normal protocols necessary to protect the sanctity of legal surveillance, during the election, the Trump transition, and the early Trump presidency.
Or maybe obstruction would be defined as the efforts of a recused attorney general like Loretta Lynch, who had stepped aside from the FBI probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails, to have met secretly on an airport tarmac with the spouse of the target of her department’s investigation.
Or would obstruction be classified as Lynch supposedly ordering the FBI not even to use the word “investigation” when it was investigating Clinton? Or would obstruction constitute deliberately destroying more than 30,000 emails under subpoena, in the fashion that Clinton ordered her aides to “bleach bit” her correspondence and destroy mobile communication devices?
Or would obstruction be classified as deleting emails germane to an investigation of the collusion scam in the fashion of Nellie Ohr erasing emails received from her husband’s government email account, or perhaps in the manner of Mueller team staffers who wiped clean the mobile phones of the fired Lisa Page and Peter Strzok?
Or would obstruction characterize the brag of the anonymous New York Times guest editorialist? He preened in a September 5, 2018 column that he was an unnamed high administration official and NeverTrump Republican who, along with like-minded “resistance” leaders, was trying his best to disrupt his own president’s governance. What would anonymous’s obstruction entail – deliberately ignoring legal mandates? Failing to follow new federal guidelines? Trying to subvert nominations? Illegally leaking to the press? Obstructing anything he did not like, whether in legal or illegal fashion?
The pathetic attempt to invoke the ossified Logan Act – with two indictments and no convictions in the law’s 220-year history – by Sally Yates likely fueled much of the Trump collusion investigations, well before Mueller’s misadventure.
Yates testified before Congress that her theory of supposed violations of the Logan Act prompted her own request for FBI interviews with Michael Flynn. Trump’s first national security advisor had purportedly dared to talk about sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the Trump transition in the days before Obama left office. In other words, Obama officials believed there really was a viable Logan Act, or at least the façade of one that could be deemed useful to destroy a political opponent.
But for the sake of argument, assume it is unwise to allow any private citizen to subvert government foreign policy. What then would be a classical definition of a Logan Act violation?
Perhaps the ongoing efforts of former Secretary of State John Kerry fit the bill. During the lead-up to the Trump’s Administration’s cancellation of the Iran deal and in its aftermath, private citizen Kerry met with high Iranian officials and purportedly advised them how to obstruct or at least survive the ramifications of Trump’s new Iranian policies.
In spring 2018, Kerry’s sought out meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Norway, Germany, and perhaps as well at United Nations headquarters in New York. He purportedly discussed ways to preserve the spirit of the prior Iran deal negotiated by the two – an agreement which was no longer official U.S. policy and had just been canceled by Trump.
In other words, the ex-secretary of state and, again, now private citizen Kerry met secretly with an Iranian foreign minister to brainstorm about how the elements of their deal might survive his own country’s current policies. Note that Senator Dianne Feinstein likewise just met with Zarif, a sort of copycat performance of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2007 meeting with the murderous Bashar al-Assad, who at the time was doing all he could to help Iran spike American deaths in Iraq.
If Kerry’s machinations were deemed grey violations of the Logan Act, how about the more overt recent efforts of another former State Department official Susan Thornton? Here is what she boasted about recently in Shanghai to an audience of Chinese analysts and academics:
I tell all our foreign counterparts they should keep steady, keep their heads down and wait. [They should] try to not let anything change dramatically . . . If this skeptical attitude towards talking diplomacy continues in this administration, you might have to wait till another administration . . .
Thornton seems to be advising the likely veneer of the Chinese apparat and government to stall out the Trump Administration and thus wait to find a more familiar and compliant America that would follow past protocols. That advice might be taken to mean she is advising them to stonewall her current American president and find better ways to facilitate the accustomed serial Chinese patent and copyright infringement, dumping, currency manipulation, technological appropriation, massive trade and account surpluses, and imperialist initiatives in the South China Sea.
When Thornton crows, “I tell all our foreign counterparts” she seems to assume that she is playing the role of omnipotent shadow State Department grandee, whose message is geared to assist almost any power other than her own government.
Thornton’s advice is old news. It is simply a more muscular version of former Obama Pentagon official Rosa Brooks’ June 30, 2017 reassurance to the nation and the world (“3 Ways to Get Rid of President Trump Before 2020”) about how best to depose the just inaugurated U.S. president without having to wait for a constitutionally mandated election in four years.
After just a week of Trump in office, Brooks had concluded Trump had to go. Her blueprint for his forced retirement was in an apparent answer to “the question being asked around the globe” (note how our would-be best and brightest always boast of having their hands on the pulse of the like-minded global elite).
Presumably Brooks would reassure her foreign friends and kindred Democrats at home that Trump most certainly could be stopped after just a few days in office – if only the right people began the right adoption of her tripartite strategy of either impeachment, removal under the 25th Amendment, or an outright military coup (e.g., “The fourth possibility is one that until recently I would have said was unthinkable in the United States of America: a military coup, or at least a refusal by military leaders to obey certain orders.”)
The revolutionary Brooks could sum up Trump after a few days in office as a likely target of a military plot (one far more likely to have been successful than Andrew McCabe’s later comical 25th Amendment effort to record Trump secretly and then convince the Cabinet of his mental derangement). Brooks ended her scenarios with a triumphant approval of the idea of a revolutionary coup d’état never before seen in our history: “For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: ‘No, sir. We’re not doing that,’ to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.”
Noble Dangerous Leaking
Lately, House impeachment hounds Nadler and Schiff have whined that Trump’s effort to declassify government intelligence records concerning the collusion scheme poses a grave threat to national security. In other words, the chronic leakers who recently demanded an unredacted Mueller report and serially leak supposed impending “bombshells,” suddenly have become anti-leakers and pro-redactors. The only common denominator in their chameleonism is Trump hatred.
But what would dangerous and illegal leaking consist of?
James Comey leaking to media conduits classified, private-one-on-one presidential conversations to prompt the appointment of a special prosecutor?
Andrew McCabe feeding the media self-serving hoaxes about collusion?
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seeding to CNN the private Comey briefing with President Trump – and then deploring such illegal leaks, as he leveraged that scoop to land himself a future CNN analyst billet?
FBI sources planting stories of pre-election “collusion” with Yahoo and Mother Jones?
Or how about leaks to tip off the media about the timing Roger Stone arrest? Or periodic Mueller team “walls are closing in” and “noose is tightening” leak-lies to the obsequious media?
What have we learned about the Left’s moralistic talk of Trump’s supposed collusion, obstruction, Logan Act violations, and leaking?
One, that these are all projections of real resistance behavior. The zeal to remove Trump by any means necessary justified colluding with Russians, obstructing justice, undermining his administration abroad, and chronic leaking.
Two, these deep-state and media elites are narcissistically delusional. So inured are they to deference that they really believed they should have the power, indeed the right, to subvert democracy, to overturn a U.S. election on the justification that the wrong voters had voted for the incorrect candidate and both needed to be corrected by the right people. All that is why the last 28 months have been both scary and dangerous.
Real coups against democracies rarely are pulled off by jack-booted thugs in sunglasses or fanatical mobs storming the presidential palace. More often, they are the insidious work of supercilious bureaucrats, bought intellectuals, toady journalists, and political activists who falsely project that their target might at some future date do precisely what they are currently planning and doing – and that they are noble patriots, risking their lives, careers, and reputations for all of us, and thus must strike first.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).