Another Great Trump Conspiracy Theory Meets Its Predictable Demise

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Among the GOP’s many efforts to counter-program the Russia investigation with lightly crafted conspiracy theories, one of the most persistent has been the so-called unmasking of Michael Flynn.

The idea was that Obama administration officials were deliberately targeting associates of Donald Trump — and in particular Flynn — by demanding the disclosure of their names in intelligence reports before Trump took office, doing so to political purposes. It fueled long-running allegations that the government was “spying on” Trump, who had chosen Flynn as his national security adviser.

We knew before that this theory had collapsed. We now know how spectacularly.

BuzzFeed News revealed a previously top-secret Justice Department report Tuesday night that details the findings of a review ordered by Trump Attorney General William P. Barr. The report is a resounding rejection of conspiracy theories, which have been seeded and fertilized throughout Trump’s four years in office by Trump allies and GOP members of Congress.

Essentially, the idea was that Obama officials could have sought Flynn’s identity from intelligence detailing his December 2016 calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and then leaked details for political purposes. (Flynn would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI about those calls.) And there were valid questions early on about the Obama administration’s use of unmasking, as we wrote in 2017.

But the allegations almost always went beyond the known facts. And now the Justice Department report says the allegations went far beyond what actually happened.

Then-President Trump has long said that Obama officials “spied” on his campaign. The Post reported on October 13, 2020 that the Justice Department found no foul play. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Oliver Contreras/The Washington Post)

In his newly disclosed September 2020 report, then-U.S. attorney John Bash found “no unmasking requests made before Election Day that sought the identity of any apparent Trump campaign associate. “. He said much the same about the transition period between Election Day 2016 and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

“I have … investigated whether any senior officials obtained the identity of General Flynn in connection with these communications through an unmasking request made during the transition period,” Bash wrote. “The answer is no.”

“According to the FBI, the Bureau has not released an intelligence report discussing these communications and containing hidden information. [U.S. person identity information] for General Flynn before the inauguration of President Trump,” Bash wrote. “For this reason, public disclosure of the communications could not have resulted from an unmasking request.”

Bash said the FBI’s version “is consistent with my review of the unmask tapes, which revealed no unmask requests consistent with a report dealing with these communications.”

Bash’s Big Conclusion: “I found no evidence that senior U.S. officials released the identities of U.S. individuals contained in intelligence reports for political or other inappropriate reasons during the 2016 election period. or the transition period that followed.”

Flynn’s contact with Kislyak was first revealed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius on January 12, 2017. In a phone call, the two men discussed sanctions in a conversation that could have gone to against an unenforced federal law called the Logan Act. But speaking to the FBI later, Flynn denied discussing sanctions. He pleaded guilty to that offense, but Barr’s Justice Department then took the extraordinary step of trying to have the case dismissed, and a lame president, Trump, pardoned Flynn.

Bash’s report becomes public after we already know that his review did not result in any criminal charges. Matt Zapotosky and Shane Harris of The Washington Post reported in October 2020 that the review had quietly ended. Now we know these are not just prosecutable crimes; he also found virtually nothing to back up the various claims made by Trump and his allies.

And that’s quite a far cry from how it’s often been tossed on the right. Often it wasn’t just “this sounds fishy”; it was that “it’s a proven scandal”.

After Ignatius’ report, a Bloomberg News columnist reported in April 2017 that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice called for unmaskings in intelligence reports related to the campaign and Trump’s transition period. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said it was a “smoking gun” and claimed it amounted to “spying on the Trump campaign.”

The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board went so far as to state that “Rice would have had no obvious need to unmask Trump campaign officials other than political curiosity.”

Rice did herself a disservice by making confusing comments about it. But even then, it was obvious that there were actually plenty of reasons to believe it was business as usual for someone in his position.

The conspiracy theory simmered for a few years, until Republican senators in the 2020 election year released a list of Obama administration officials who allegedly called for Flynn’s unmasking — information that had been provided by the Acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist. .

And again, many on the right, despite the lack of truly damning information, ignored all plausible alternative explanations for how Flynn’s name became known. They did so even as Ellen Nakashima of The Washington Post announced that Flynn’s name was never blacked out in the first place. They did so even as one of their own, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.), questioned why Grenell’s list “obviously contained no record showing who exposed the identity of the General Flynn for his phone call with Ambassador Kislyak”.

Conservative journalist John Solomon said a “crime has certainly been committed”. Fox News’ Laura Ingraham bet that this information was definitely leaked to the media illegally. Paul again invoked the smoking gun: “We kind of have the smoking gun because now we have the declassified document with Joe Biden’s name on it.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) called it “bigger than Watergate.”

Bash’s report not only finds that there was no inappropriate unmasking, but also that the claims about all those Obama officials who supposedly called for unmaskings in the declassified Grenell report were badly overcooked.

“Most importantly, all but one of the requests that listed a senior official as the authorized recipient of General Flynn’s identity were made by an intelligence professional to prepare a briefing for the official, and not at the direction of the official,” said writes Bash, adding, “Nothing in the content suggests officials were seeking derogatory information about General Flynn or targeting him inappropriately.”

There was indeed something of a high temperature floating over the alleged scandal, but rather than smoke, it was hot air.

About Harold Hartman

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