We hear a lot about norms these days, and in particular, about how President Donald Trump’s typically juvenile behavior violates long standing norms and therefore harms democracy. There is something to this. Trump is, after all, boorish, a habitual liar and an all around disgrace. And that’s on a good day. For instance, Trump has recently taken to insinuating that Joe Scarborough may have been involved in the death of one of his staffers when he was a Congressman. The actual cause of death was an undiagnosed heart ailment; the woman died in Florida while Scarborough was in Washington.
That aside, no reasonable person should doubt that norms, manners and temperament are crucial elements for the institutions of civil society, the rule of law and for freedom generally. And here, Donald Trump’s behavior is destructive, and becoming more so.
So we are left to ponder a question: Why is it that there is so little interest from the defenders of norms in what is emerging as perhaps one of, if not the biggest political scandals in the history of the Republic? A scandal in which important norms were eviscerated and may well have involved Nixon style (or worse) criminal behavior by high level federal officials.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Obama Administration used federal law enforcement agencies to surreptitiously surveil members of the Trump campaign and the incoming administration. Obama officials submitted deliberately falsified documents to the FISA Court in a successful effort to obtain warrants to surveil Trump campaign and administration officials. Obama officials went on television to claim they had evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia even though under oath and in secret they admitted that they had no such evidence.
In the matter of the Russia Collusion allegation, and then the Michael Flynn matter, it turns out that much, if not the entirety of the subsequent investigation was simply based on a pretext largely invented by Christopher Steele who was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign using the law firm Perkins Coie as a cutout. In the process not only did numerous Obama Administration political officials make requests to have Michael Flynn’s identity unmasked, his identity was quickly (and illegally) leaked to the press, most famously to David Ignatious of the Washington Post.
The honor roll of Obama Administration officials who were suddenly interested in having Flynn’s name unmasked included: Susan Rice, Samantha Powers, James Comey, James Clapper, James Brennan, Treasury Secretary James Lew, then Chief-of-Staff Denis McDough and of course Joe Biden. For his part, Biden claimed he “knew nothing about these moves to investigate Flynn.” And then, ahem, his name showed up requesting that Flynn be unmasked on January 12, 2017.
Not only did former Director of National Security (and admitted liar) James Clapper submit an unmasking request in the Flynn matter, so did two of his deputies, Micheal Dempsey and Stephanie L. Sullivan. According to both Sally Yates and James Comey, James Clapper personally briefed President Obama on the Flynn-Kislyak calls as part of the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). But well before the unmasking requests were released to the public, Clapper testified behind closed doors under oath in the matter. He was asked (under oath) by Congressman Tom Rooney of Florida: “Did you ever brief President Obama on the Flynn-Kislyak phone calls?” Clapper had a one word answer: “No.” We know that was untrue.
The records also show that Samantha Powers made 260 unmasking requests during her tenure as U.N. Ambassador. She has testified that while most of these requests were made in her name, she herself did not make the them. According this version of events, someone else used her name in a national security matter, but she has no idea who it was.
In all there were 39 Obama Administration officials who made 53 separate requests to unmask Flynn between election day (November 8, 2016) and inauguration day (January 17, 2017). Most of the requests took place between December 14 and 16, 2016, which was 2 weeks before Flynn’s December 29, 2016 call with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, the predicate offered as justification for the Flynn investigation.
In this sordid tale we should not omit the handiwork of John Brennan, Director of the CIA. Brennan claimed that “he [Trump] is wholly in the pocket of Putin”. On Meet the Press he told Chuck Todd “I called [Trump’s] behavior treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and aid and abet the enemy, and I stand very much by that claim.”
He is not standing by it now, at least from his perch at MSNBC. After special counsel Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” Brennan backtracked. He said “I don’t know if I received bad information, but I think I suspected there was more than there actually was”.
I could go on with example after example, but the point is clear. Political operatives, law enforcement and intelligence officers in the Obama Administration conducted surreptitious surveillance on opposing Party’s presidential campaign and candidate. On national TV, they went so far as to fan flames about a non-existent Trump-Russia conspiracy, using “evidence” that they knew to be phony and manufactured by the Clinton campaign. We know this because Obama Administration officials have admitted to as much.
Evelyn Farkas, an Obama Administration Defense Department appointee, claimed on MSNBC that she was afraid that Trump administration officials might destroy evidence of the alleged collusion “if they found out how we knew what we knew about Trump’s staff dealing with Russians”.
But when questioned under oath behind closed doors by Rep. Gowdy of South Carolina, Farkas sang a different tune.
So, would someone please remind me again on how these norms are supposed to work.