For four months, the mainstream press was very content to have Americans believe — indeed, they encouraged Americans to believe — that a vigorous national-security investigation of the Trump presidential campaign was ongoing. “A counterintelligence investigation,” the New York Times called it.
As I contended in a column this weekend, it was essential for the media and Democrats to promote the perception of an investigation because the scandalous narrative they were peddling — namely, that Trump-campaign operatives conspired with the Putin regime to “hack the election” — required it.
Russia obviously did not hack the election. Russian intelligence services may have hacked e-mail accounts of prominent Democrats, although even that has not been proved. And there is even less evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign in that effort — as one would expect, in light of the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russians sought to hack accounts of both major parties.
So, for this fatally flawed storyline to pass the laugh test, the Left needed the FBI. Even if the election-hacking conspiracy story sounded far-fetched, the public might be induced to believe there must be something to it if the Bureau was investigating it.
But when the election-hacking narrative went on too long without proof, the risk the Democrats were running became clear. If the FBI had been investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded in purported “Russian hacking of the election,” that meant the incumbent Obama administration must have been investigating the campaign of the opposition party’s presidential candidate.
Moreover, if such an investigation had involved national-security wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), that would suggest that the Obama Justice Department had alleged, in court, that Trump associates had acted as “agents of a foreign power” — in this case, Russia.
Get it? If there is no hacking conspiracy — and there manifestly is not — the big scandal here is not possible Trump-campaign collusion with Russia. It is that the Obama Justice Department may have used its legal authorities to investigate the Democrats’ top political adversary. And not to be overlooked: This would have been done at the very same time the same Obama Justice Department was bending over backwards to whitewash the extremely serious criminal case against the Democrats’ nominee, Hillary Clinton. It would have meant Obama had his thumb on the election scale.
I began pointing this out in early January, but matters did not come to a head until last Saturday morning. In a tweet-burst, President Trump made the controversial allegation that President Obama had ordered that Trump be subjected to wiretapping at Trump Tower, where his campaign had been headquartered.
To say the least, it is unfortunate that this was the angle Trump chose to pursue. There is plenty of support for the overarching proposition that the Obama administration used its law-enforcement and intelligence powers to investigate Trump associates during the campaign. There is, to my knowledge, no evidence that Trump personally was wiretapped. So instead of highlighting the alarming things that may be true, President Trump’s tweets obsessed over something that probably is not true.
Nevertheless, even if Trump’s allegation was false, the tweets demanded attention to the real scandal: Was the Obama administration investigating the Trump campaign?
That was the uh-oh moment for the media-Democrat complex. That was when it dawned on them not only that the election-hacking conspiracy narrative wasn’t working, but that the investigation of the Trump campaign could be a much bigger scandal.
So, after insisting for four months that the Trump campaign was under investigation for conspiring with Putin to steal the election from Hillary Clinton, the media decided that it better adopt a different strategy: “Investigation? What investigation?”
Thus the claim, suddenly, is that Obama was never investigating Trump. How could we possibly believe such a thing . . . even if it’s the thing the media have wanted us to believe for four months.
That brings us back to the New York Times.
On January 20, when the paper was trying to promote the “government investigating Trump–Russia conspiracy to steal the election” narrative, here’s the headline that appeared on the big story: “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides.”
See? They wanted you to assume the “inquiry” was focused on Trump aides who had connections to the Trump campaign. The report elaborated that investigators were poring over “intercepted communications” of three associates of Donald Trump. Among them was Paul Manafort, who had been Trump’s campaign chairman until August. The intimation was clear: The FBI was conducting a FISA investigation targeting Trump associates to determine whether the campaign had colluded with the Putin regime to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. Only in the fine print did the Times acknowledge that whatever the government might be investigating may have nothing to do with Trump, the Trump campaign, or Russian hacking.
But now that the media have been called on this, now that the Obama administration has been called on investigating the Trump campaign, what happens?
Have you checked the Times’s January 20 story lately?
Turns out the story has suddenly, quietly been given a new headline. No longer is it “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides.” Instead, readers are now told, “Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry into Trump Associates.”
Why would the Times change its headline in this manner, weeks after the fact?
Because, during the four months when the media-Democrat complex wanted you to believe there was a Trump–Putin conspiracy to hack the election, they needed you to believe that the Justice Department was targeting Trump associates for surveillance because they were Russian agents.
Now that they don’t want you to believe there was an investigation — because that would be an Obama abuse of power — they want to convince you that Trump associates were never targeted for surveillance. “If the conversations of these Trump guys were intercepted,” they want you to conclude, “it’s not because we were targeting them. No, no, no: It’s because we were monitoring Russian agents whom they just happened to call.”
Nothing to see here . . . move along.
We shouldn’t move along. Let’s see the FISA applications and warrants. If there was no targeting of the Trump campaign, as the media and Democrats now say, let’s hear an explanation of why they’ve pretended otherwise for four months. If the Trump campaign was targeted for an investigation, let’s hear why.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.