Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
How do you legally spy on your political opponents?
At some point in time that question was asked in the White House, at the DNC or in the hotel suites where Hillary and her staff were staying during her speaking tours. It wasn’t exactly asked that way.
But it was asked. And now we know more of the answer.
What Hillary and Obama did wasn’t Watergate. That was amateur hour. Its sophistication is a tribute to the left’s deep knowledge and control of the workings of Washington, D.C. The men and women who planned this and carried it out understood not only government, but had an intimate familiarity with the loopholes in the laws and the networks of contacts that could realize their highly illegal plans.
The eavesdropping on Trump officials carried the ‘fingerprints’ of an administration that bypassed Congress to fund left-wing groups by blackmailing banks into huge settlements paid out to political allies in a billion dollar slush fund and sent pallets of foreign currency to Iran on unmarked planes. A complete lack of ethical norms was combined with the careful use of legal loopholes to protect the actions of the perpetrators even while they were engaging in a criminal conspiracy.
The revolutionary cell is embedded into left-wing organizing. These cells combined into networks across government, the media and the non-profit sector to pursue a collective agenda. The latest revelations about the Trump dossier give us greater insight into how Obama and Hillary’s people conspired to legally eavesdrop on political opponents by breaking up that eavesdropping into a series of legal actions carried out across different cells.
The road that led to Susan Rice and Samantha Power ‘unmasking’ Trump officials began with the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee funding a dossier pushing Trump-Russia conspiracies. The dossier was sourced through Fusion GPS which is notorious for handfeeding material to reporters.
The Clinton campaign was seeing to it that whatever Fusion GPS produced would make its way into media stories without having Hillary’s fingerprints on it. Indeed the only reason we learned that Hillary and the DNC were ultimately behind the dossier was a congressional subpoena that risked exposing other Fusion GPS clients.
But the second reason was far more devious and devastating.
Fusion GPS’ man for the job was Christopher Steele. The former British intelligence figure had connections with FBI people. Hillary Clinton wasn’t just doing “opposition research” as her former press secretary has claimed. The best way to do opposition research in an American election doesn’t involve hiring a Brit in London with contacts in Russian intelligence and the FBI.
That is however the best way to independently produce information that can be injected into an intelligence investigation. (It’s also, perhaps not coincidentally, a great way for the Russians to inject their own material into a presidential election without getting their fingerprints on it.)
Hiring Fusion GPS and then Steele created two degrees of separation between the dossier and Hillary. A London ex-intel man is a strange choice for opposition research in an American election, but a great choice to create a plausible ‘source’ that appears completely disconnected from American politics.
What would an ex-M.I.6 agent have to do with Hillary, Obama or Trump?
The official story is that Steele was a dedicated whistleblower who decided to message an FBI pal for reasons “above party politics” while the Fusion GPS boss was so dedicated that he spent his own money on it after the election. Some figures in the FBI decided to take Steele’s material, offering to pay him for his work and reimbursing some of his expenses. Portions of the dossier were used to justify the FISA eavesdropping on Trump officials and were then rolled into the Mueller investigation.
That is how cells coordinate by breaking up a larger plot into a series of individual actions that just happen to produce the ideal result. Hillary and the DNC hire Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS hires Steele. Steele contacts an FBI pal. The FBI takes up the dossier. And then it’s turned into a pretext for eavesdropping.
But there isn’t supposed to be a link between the Democrats and the eavesdropping.
That’s why Marc Elias, the Clinton campaign and DNC lawyer who hired Fusion GPS, had denied it in the past. It’s why Fusion GPS fought the investigation so desperately. Opposition research isn’t a crime. A conspiracy to eavesdrop on your political opponents however is very much a criminal matter.
A forensic examination of the dirty dossier’s journey shows us that this modern Watergate was a collaborative effort between an outgoing Democrat administration and its expected Dem successor. The effort was broken up into two big pieces. The Clinton side would generate the material. The Obama side would make use of it. Steele was positioned as the interface between the two sides of the effort.
The London detour created and laundered the dossier. Moving the operation offshore tangled the connection between the Clinton side and the Obama side. This was important because what Steele produced wasn’t really opposition research, but a pretext for a government investigation.
That pretext couldn’t come directly from Hillary. But the FBI was too politically divided to generate it.
Obama Inc. needed that pretext, but it also didn’t want to generate it internally. Any investigation of the political opposition was inherently explosive. It was better if the intelligence came from outside and especially overseas. That was why Fusion GPS brought in Steele.
The first FISA request was filed in June. It was shot down by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That was the same month we were told that Fusion GPS hired Steele. The second FISA request came through in October. That was the month, Steele did his first media interview with Mother Jones.
Two birds were being killed with one stone.
Obama’s Watergate depended on extensive compartmentalization. The process that led to the eavesdropping on Trump officials and their unmasking at the hands of his officials had to appear as ‘clean’ as possible. Susan Rice and Samantha Power could make unmasking requests to the NSA, but they couldn’t be involved in generating the investigation that led to those requests.
Seeding the media with an astroturf campaign through Fusion GPS created the appearance of an organic push to investigate Trump-Russia ties. Targeting the lefty fringe of the media, Mother Jones, The Guardian, would bake in the narrative among a demographic already prone to conspiracy theories.
The operation was vastly more sophisticated than the crude ugliness of Watergate. But it was not unique in that regard. The fusion of government loopholes, political campaigns, media operations, opposition research and covert funding had occurred more than once during the Obama era.
The most recent example of such a fusion before Trump-Russia was the Iran Deal in which members of Congress were eavesdropped on, money was moved around through non-profits to influence the media, a White House operation planted stories in the media and billions were smuggled to Iran. This mixture of influence operation, propaganda, eavesdropping and laundering has likely happened far more often in the previous administration than we know.
The IRS targeting of conservatives, shutdown theater and the Libyan War offer more examples.
Obama’s eavesdropping on Trump didn’t break the norms. They had already been thoroughly broken. The network that is being uncovered, the interfaces between media insiders, top government officials and private interests, demonstrates why Obama Inc. believed that it could get away with it.
It had gotten away with all its old abuses. There was no reason to doubt it could do so again.
America still has elections. The rule of law exists. In theory. But the network being uncovered in the dossier investigation looks very much like something that would be found in a totalitarian state.
The combination of media propaganda, government surveillance and contrived investigations of political opponents is the sort of thing you would expect to find in… Russia. The key players were wary enough that they compartmentalized their conspiracy, breaking it up across the private and public sector, the media, private firms, law enforcement figures and even another country. But that just makes it look like a cross between terrorist cells and organized crime.
And that is what we are dealing with here.
The left’s networks are becoming increasingly malignant. They executed a sophisticated attack on the political process while contriving to blame it on their victims. What the attack reveals is just how much the levers of power in our political system are embedded in the shadowy networks that operate in and around government. And what those networks are willing to do to win.