Debunking “Obamagate,” Trump’s Latest Conspiracy Theory
Moments like these require unrelenting truthtelling. We take pride in being reader-funded. If you like our work, support our journalism.
When most in the US arose for a COVID-19 dampened Mother’s Day on May 10, 2020, “Obamagate” was already trending, likely the work of many, many insomniacs or perhaps people in another part of the world. But what, exactly, is “Obamagate?”
Excellent question. It’s not entirely clear. That’s now shifted to “subpoena Obama.” Subpoena Obama for what? Again, it seems the words themselves are all the right needs.
Any coherent narrative about the alleged Obamagate is pieced together by people trying to make sense of the nonsensical. There is no underlying organic or concrete reason for the hashtag or phrase to trend at this time; it appears to be an offensive move to distract and justify as Trump’s administration tries to extricate disgraced former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn from his voluntarily-entered guilty plea. It also appears to be an effort to manufacture another “lock em up”/”deep state” grievance ahead of the 2020 election since the Ukraine extortion plot failed.
On May 8, 2020, Yahoo News reported President Barack Obama said, in a private call, that the dismissal of the Flynn charges challenges “the rule of law.” He described Trump’s coronavirus response as an “absolute chaotic disaster.”
What is Obamagate? The gist.
Some conservatives allege President Obama tried to prevent Trump’s election, personally launching the Russia investigation for that reason, though there is no evidence that Obama had any involvement in any investigations during his presidency.
Obamagate conspiracy theorists claim any investigations into Trump’s campaign are purely political, despite the evidence of the campaign’s extensive ties to Russia as outlined in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The legitimacy of the Russia probe was also confirmed by a Trump Administration Inspector General Michael Horowitz and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee. The re-emergence of this idea appears to be tied to the Trump Administration’s pending motion to drop all charges against Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.
Though in his December 2019 report, even the Trump Administration’s Horowitz found absolutely no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions” in opening the investigations into Trump campaign officials, Trump and Attorney General William Barr persist in trying to make it so. Within a 435-page report, having reviewed in excess of a million documents and conducted 100 interviews, the most damning thing he had to say was that there were 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in four FISA applications regarding Carter Page.
Barr, of course, took this tiny bone and ran with it, asserting that the report cast doubt on the entire operation. It most clearly did not.
In May of 2019 Barr appointed prosecutor John Durham to re-re-investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, despite the range of successful prosecutions and convictions by Mueller and a bi-partisan finding from the Republican-held Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump.
Yet the process has extended onward. Though results were promised in May or June of this year, they’re now surprisingly expected closer to the election.
Barr, in disregarding rules prohibiting prosecutors from impacting an election, claimed: “You don’t indict candidates or perhaps someone that’s sufficiently close to a candidate, that it’s essentially the same, you know, within a certain number of days before an election. But you know, as I say, I don’t think any of the people whose actions are under review by Durham fall into that category.”
Former Vice President to President Obama Joe Biden will face Trump on the November ballot. Biden’s name is included among those who were, by Acting DNI Richard Grenell’s own newly released docs, properly provided Flynn’s identity when he was unmasked. One need not even play two-dimensional checkers to see where this is going.
This current usage is not the first time conservatives tried to make “Obamagate” happen on Twitter. Following an inexplicably obscene first use of the term on April 28, 2008, an account used it to imply an Obama scandal with “Freddie and Fannie” after then-Senator Obama’s debate with Senator John McCain on October 7, 2008.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
“Unmasking” and “Obamagate”
When obtaining information pursuant to FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), the identities of US citizens also picked up while gathering intelligence are hidden, or “masked.” Republicans regularly decry the unmasking of Trump campaign officials, again, asserting political motivation.
But there’s a major problem with that attack. Until a US citizen is unmasked, officials do not know who they are; they are anonymous. Surveillance of Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak incidentally collected a conversation with a masked US citizen. Obama Administration officials did not know that citizen was Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn until after the NSA process permitting the unmasking.
On May 12, 2020, Trump’s acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell produced a list of Obama Administration officials to whom Flynn’s name was released. As per Grenell’s leak:
“Each individual was an authorized recipient of the original report and the unmasking was approved through NSA’s standard process…While the principals are identified below, we cannot confirm they saw the unmasked information.”
It appears the point of the release is to insinuate wrongdoing, including on the part of former Vice President Joe Biden, but the implication folds under the slightest scrutiny. You cannot deliberately politically target an anonymous person, and even Grenell admits the unmasking followed proper protocol.
Further in-depth reading on unmasking and Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) attempts to make this a scandal, read our piece here.
Michael Flynn’s Plea Deal, Russia, and “Obamagate”
Obama warned Trump not to hire Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor before the presidential handover. Later, Trump claimed to have fired Flynn because Flynn “lied” to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Flynn also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those conversations, but in February of 2020 he sought to change his plea, claiming he is “innocent.”
I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
Flynn discussed Russian sanctions with Russian officials while President Obama was still in office, and took over $33,000 to speak at a dinner for Russian propaganda outlet RT in 2015. There, he was seated next to Putin in that infamous photo which also includes former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
Flynn did not properly disclose that payment. He also received more than $67,000 from Russian businesses, and appeared as a “policy analyst” for RT, a paid position. Flynn also did not register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) or disclose his dealings with Turkey, which involved his son. It’s been reported previously that Flynn entered into the plea agreement to shield his son from criminal liability.
Trump famously said to James Comey about Flynn: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” It seems Trump found his guy in Attorney General William Barr, without having to deal with the fallout from a pardon.
In May, Barr’s office filed a motion to dismiss charges against Flynn, a move by which Trump claimed to be surprised. The filing sparked resignations among attorneys in the office. Additionally, Acting U.S. Attorney for D.C. Timothy Shea, who is not admitted to the D.C. District Court, signed the motion to dismiss, while apparently utilizing the bar number of another attorney on the motion. Though widely described as a “filing error,” Shea is not sanctioned to practice before that court and thus does not have a bar number of his own he could have used.
Trump’s Lies About “Obamagate”
President Trump began throwing accusations of “human scum” and “treason” at the Obama Administration last week after the DOJ filed the motion to dismiss Flynn’s case.
President Trump: “What the Obama Administration did is unprecedented… They’re going to pay a big price ’cause they’re dishonest crooked people. They’re scum. And I say it a lot. They’re human scum.” pic.twitter.com/qZds8C5DdC
— The Hill (@thehill) May 7, 2020
On Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, President Donald Trump tweeted: “The biggest political crime in American history, by far!” while retweeting Buck Sexton, who alluded to an unnamed president using his “last weeks in office to target incoming officials and sabotage the new administration.”
Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Phillip Rucker’s query about that tweet on May 11 did not elicit any useful information:
Trump’s response: “Obamagate. It’s been going on for a long time. It’s been going from before I even got elected. And it’s a disgrace that it happened and if you look at what’s gone on and if you look at now all of this information that’s being released, and from what I understand that’s only the beginning. Some terrible things happened and it should never be allowed to happen and you’ll be seeing what’s going on over the next–over the coming weeks but I, and I wish you’d write honestly about it but unfortunately you choose not to do so.”
Rucker: “What is the crime exactly?”
Trump: “You know what the crime is, the crime is very obvious to everybody, all you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”
There you go, clear as mud, as they say. For a moment of levity, watch comedian Sarah Cooper doing this exchange justice.
Why “Obamagate” Is Nonsense
Obama wasn’t there.
While the FBI’s initial counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference began in 2016, all of the prosecutions of Trump campaign officials with alleged ties to Russia occurred after President Obama left office. Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May 2017, months after Trump’s inauguration.
Trump campaign officials and others actually committed crimes.
Mueller’s investigation resulted in 34 individuals or entities indicted, convictions, and guilty pleas. Eight total convictions, including Flynn, and, most recently, Roger Stone who received a 40-month sentence.
Politically-motivated unmasking makes no sense
Given that officials do not know who the masked individuals are until they are unmasked, it’s impossible to target someone for politically-motivated unmasking. It is the political snake that eats its own tail.
Obama really wasn’t there
In an attempt to blame Obama for prosecutions that started months after he left, some conservatives suggest that it was, nonetheless, Obama’s Justice Department. It would be a neat trick, given the timing of Mueller’s appointment. It also seems like a bad argument to claim your leader’s predecessor was so effective even in his absence and your leader so markedly ineffectual that somehow the predecessor was still calling the shots.
Coronavirus ends the “Obama’s Last Weeks” theory
Even if Obama set up an elaborate scheme to “target incoming officials” as alleged in Trump’s retweet, why would the new administration leave that scheme in place? The Obama Administration created a detailed plan and infrastructure in case of a pandemic, and Trump gutted it. In an attempt to undo Obama’s presidency, Trump ended DACA, tried to kill the Affordable Care Act, and ended countless environmental regulations. Why would he leave intact the one thing that could ultimately lead to his removal?
What Trump Hopes To Gain From “Obamagate”
Trump would love a change of conversation right about now. Not only have 2,000 former government officials called for Barr’s resignation over this unprecedented dropping of charges in Flynn’s case, unemployment is at a rate unseen since the Great Depression. More than 81,000 Americans have died of the COVID-19 pandemic; with just over 287,000 deaths worldwide, Americans are dying at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden maintains “the steadiest on record” lead over Trump in the November election.
There’s a lot of news for Trump, none of it good. He’s hoping to shift some blame and change the subject. Let’s hope the media doesn’t take another baseless Obama accusation seriously from the man who claimed Obama was born in Kenya.