As the investigations into the Trump-Russia investigation proceed, it’s not too difficult to figure out a few of the theoretical starting points.
The first and most obvious theory is the one largely promulgated in the media for the better part of two years. It goes something like this: The sharp, super-sleuth investigative skills of top officials within the Justice Department and our intel community enabled them to identify Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill’s Morning Report – White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE and his campaign as treacherous conduits to Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
That theory was summarily dismissed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that there wasn’t so much as even coordination between Russia and Trump, or any American. So that leaves several other possibilities … and none of them is good:
One possibility to be considered is that top Obama administration officials knew all along there never was any real collusion or crime at play, but they manufactured the false Russia premise in order to justify their political spying.
Under this hypothetical scenario, they wanted to get inside information on the Trump campaign and, perhaps, gather dirt against the competition for blackmail or political purposes.
The Obama officials had lots of help from foreign players such as the United Kingdom and Russia’s nemesis, Ukraine. Ukrainian-linked Democrats assisted with an early effort to gin up negative press coverage about key players, such as Trump associate Paul Manafort, who had been hired by the pro-Russian Ukrainian government prior to the anti-Russian Ukrainian government taking over in 2014. There were other Ukraine entanglements, such as the lucrative position earning millions of dollars that then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son got in 2015 to serve on the board of a Ukrainian energy company under the anti-Russia Ukraine regime.
Anyhow, under this scenario, after Trump defied all predictions and won the election, those who had conspired against him went into panic mode. They rightly worried that Trump, his national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and others outside the “establishment” would be able to see what Justice Department and intel officials had been up to in secret.
They were worried that not only would their furtive activities in 2016 be exposed but that their behavior during the past decade-plus, when there were many other documented surveillance and intel abuses. These abuses include improper surveillance of American citizens, political figures, journalists and other targets.
One can only imagine all the things they did that never became public. Whose communications did they pretend to capture accidentally? Whose bank records, photos, emails, text messages, internet history and keystrokes were monitored? What unverified or false evidence did intel officials present to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get wiretaps on political enemies? Who improperly “unmasked” whom?
Hypothetically, these government officials — desperate to keep their deeds in the dark — rushed to amplify the Trump-Russia collusion narrative. Putting Trump under investigation, even if under false pretenses, would accomplish the goal of keeping him from poking around into their business and practices. Any attempts he’d make to find out what was going on inside his own Justice Department or intel agencies would automatically be declared “Obstruction!”
However, they were sloppy.
First, they were sloppy in the improper actions they undertook over a decade or more. They never imagined outsiders would ever really get a look at the evidence of their alleged wrongdoing. Then, they became sloppier in their panic-stricken attempts to cover up after Trump got elected.
As you can see, this scenario presumes a level of corruption.
For those who aren’t prepared to accept the possibility that some within our Justice Department and intel community would frame Trump and his associates to keep their own alleged crimes secret, there is at least one other possibility. But it may not be much more palatable.
They didn’t know
If Mueller is correct and there was no collusion or even coordination between Russia and Trump, or any American, and if the Obama administration officials who insisted that was the case are not corrupt, then they collectively suffered from one of the most historically monumental cases of poor judgment in U.S. intelligence history.
Under this scenario, the seasoned experts entrusted to protect our national security committed the kind of bush-league mistakes that few novice investigators would make. They jumped to conclusions with no evidence. They let their own biases lead them down trails in the wrong direction. They misinterpreted evidence, misread people’s actions and barked up the wrong trees. They misconstrued exceedingly common business and political contacts with Russians as deep, dark, dastardly plots. They wasted energy and resources chasing specters, ghosts and conspiracies where none existed.
Under this scenario, the misguided obsession over nonexistent treachery and enemies of the state caused the officials to underestimate or ignore the real threats that were right under their noses.
We do know this much: Only after Trump was elected did these officials ring major alarm bells about the Russians. It’s as if they are utterly unaware that the election interference they suspected and detected happened while they were in charge.
Or maybe they just hope to convince us to look the other way.
Instead of looking the other way, we might be well advised to open the books and examine how these officials were running their shops well before 2016. What does either scenario imply about how these operators behaved behind closed doors? How did they use their power and the powerful tools at their disposal? How well did they guard the nation’s interests and our deepest secrets?
Whether they were corrupt or inept, whether they knew or whether they didn’t know, the questions seem important to answer.
Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”