If you read the newspapers, tuned into the cable TV pundits or received an email from one of the Democrats running for president, you’d swear Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement Sanders says he would inform FBI about offers of foreign intel Sanders says he would inform FBI about offers of foreign intel MORE was back to his treasonous ways.
All that was missing was an annoying OMG text exclamation punctuating the unfounded claims that Trump might violate the law in 2020 by accepting intelligence on a political rival from a foreign country. The inference, of course, is that it would come from a hostile power such as Russia or North Korea or Iran.
Actually, what Trump told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos was that he’d consider taking intelligence dirt about a rival from a friendly ally. (Norway was the actual example he used.)
Sound familiar? That is EXACTLY what the Obama administration did in 2016. It’s something no one in the media or the political space grasped during the tsunami of breathless reaction that followed the interview.
In July 2016, the Obama administration accepted unsolicited information from Alexander Downer, an Australian diplomat who just happened to have helped arrange a $25 million government donation to the Clinton Foundation years before. Downer said that he had witnessed a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, bragging about some dirt that the Russians supposedly had on Democratic candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz says he could ‘enthusiastically’ vote for Biden over Trump Dershowitz says he could ‘enthusiastically’ vote for Biden over Trump Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid MORE.
Though Downer’s claim was reported two-plus months after the alleged event, and was only hearsay gathered at a London tavern, the Obama administration gave it to the FBI which, in turn, thought it was weighty enough to justify opening a counterintelligence case against the lawfully elected Republican nominee for president.
In other words, the Democratic administration accepted dirt from a foreign friendly and used it to justify investigating its GOP rival.
And then, OMG, they did it again just a few weeks later.
In October 2016, less than three weeks from Election Day, the Obama Justice Department approved a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to spy on the Trump campaign through its former adviser, Carter Page. The primary evidence supporting the warrant? A dossier written by a foreign friendly named Christopher Steele, a retired MI6 intelligence agent from Great Britain. Of course, the Justice Department and the FBI forgot to tell the courts that Steele actually was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign, but that’s a small detail for the purpose of this column.
For the second time in three months, the Obama administration took dirt on Trump from a foreign ally — this time, from one in Europe — and weaponized it for a criminal investigation.
No offense, but the media really are giving Trump way too much credit for the idea he floated on ABC News. The real scandal is that he’s just plagiarizing a playbook already used by Obama, Clinton and those 2016 Democrats.
And every Democrat and media pundit who accuses Trump of treason for considering taking dirt from, say, Norway in 2020 has now, by extension, accused the Obama administration of committing treason in 2016.
Of course, you’d never know that from the way the media and politicians have treated it.
The whole episode reminds me of one of my earliest memories as a professional journalist.
When I first hit the presidential campaign trail as a reporter chasing the likes of Bob Dole, Jesse Jackson, George H.W. Bush and a young Al Gore across the farm fields of Middle America in 1988, I stumbled across a silver-haired man at a greasy-spoon restaurant in La Crosse, Wis. He was an old factory worker at the local brewery. A blue-collar company man who leaned Democrat.
I was sitting at the table across from him, obliviously banging on the keys of my Radio Shack Tandy 103 computer (a model now relegated to the Smithsonian’s heap-pile of technology) when he asked me the obvious: “You one of those reporters?”
“Yes, sir,” I answered politely.
“Do me a favor. Don’t dumb-down politics,” he said. “We’re smarter than you think.”
I’ve kept that sentiment close to my heart for three decades. And those looking to twist Trump’s ABC News interview into something it was not should take heed of the wisdom I was offered that day in La Crosse.
American voters are a lot harder to fool than the political elite think.
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He serves as an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @jsolomonReports.