Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
On September 4, 2001, Robert Mueller took over the FBI. At his confirmation hearings, fraud had overshadowed discussions of terrorism. And as FBI Director, Mueller quickly diverged from the common understanding that the attacks that killed 3,000 people had been an act of war rather than a crime.
In 2008, Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, who had been unleashed from Guantanamo Bay, carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq. Al-Ajmi had been represented by Thomas Wilner who was being paid by the Kuwaiti government.
Wilner was a pal of Robert Mueller. And when the families were having dinner together, Mueller got up and said, "I want to toast Tom Wilner. He's doing just what an American lawyer should do."
“I don't know what he was doing from inside the government. I'd like to find out,” Wilner mused.
We know some of what Mueller was doing. The same official who paved the way for raiding the president’s lawyer, who illegally seized material from the Trump transition team and whose case is based in no small part on illegal eavesdropping, fought alongside Comey against surveilling terrorists. Materials involving the Muslim Brotherhood were purged. Toward the dawn of the second Obama term, Mueller met with CAIR and other Islamist groups and a green curtain fell over national security.
But the surveillance wasn’t going anywhere. Instead it was being redirected to new targets.
Those targets were not, despite the wave of hysterical conspiracy theories convulsing the media, the Russians. Mueller’s boss was still quite fond of them. Barack Obama did have foreign enemies that he wanted to spy on. And there were plenty of domestic enemies who could be caught up in that trap.
By his second term, the amateur was coming to understand the incredible surveillance powers at his disposal and how they could be used to spy on Americans under the pretext of fighting foreign threats.
Two birds. One stone.
While the Mueller purge was going on, Obama was pushing talks with Iran. There was one obstacle and it wasn’t Russia. The Russians were eager to play Obama with a fake nuke deal. It was the Israelis who were the problem. And it was the Israelis who were being spied on by Obama’s surveillance regime.
But it wasn’t just the Israelis.
Iran was Obama’s big shot at a foreign policy legacy. As the year dragged on, it was becoming clear that the Arab Spring wouldn’t be anything he would want to be remembered for. By the time Benghazi went from a humanitarian rescue operation to one of the worst disasters of the term, it was clearly over.
Obama was worried that the Israelis would launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear program. And the surveillance and media leaks were meant to dissuade the Israelis from scuttling his legacy. But he was also worried about Netanyahu’s ability to persuade American Jews and members of Congress to oppose his nuclear sellout. And that was where the surveillance leapfrogged from foreign to domestic.
The NSA intercepted communications between Israelis and Americans, including members of Congress, and then passed the material along to the White House. Despite worries by some officials that "that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress", the White House "believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu's campaign."
The precedent was even more troubling than it seemed.
Obama Inc. had defined its position in an unresolved political debate between the White House and Congress as the national interest. And had winkingly authorized surveillance on Congress to protect this policy in a domestic political debate. That precedent would then be used to spy on members of the Trump transition team and to force out Trump’s national security adviser.
National security had become indistinguishable from the agenda of the administration. And that agenda, like the rest of Obama’s unilateral policies, was enshrined as permanent. Instead of President Trump gaining the same powers, his opposition to that agenda was treated as a national security threat.
And once Obama was out of office, Comey and other Obama appointees would protect that agenda.
We still don’t know the full scope of Spygate. But media reports have suggested that Obama officials targeted countries opposed to the Iran sellout, most prominently Israel and the UAE, and then eavesdropped on meetings between them and between figures on the Trump team.
Obama had begun his initial spying as a way of gaining inside information on Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran deal. But the close election and its aftermath significantly escalated what had been a mere Watergate into an active effort to not only spy, but pursue criminal charges against the political opposition. The surveillance state had inevitably moved on to the next stage, the police state with its informants, dossiers, pre-dawn raids, state’s witnesses, entrapments and still more surveillance.
And the police state requires cops. Someone had to do the dirty work for Susan Rice.
Comey, Mueller and the other cops had likely been complicit in the administration’s abuses. Somewhere along the way, they had become the guys watching over the Watergate burglars. Spying on the political opposition is, short of spying for the enemy, the most serious crime that such men can commit.
Why then was it committed?
To understand that, we have to go back to 9/11. Those days may seem distant now, but the attacks offered a crossroads. One road led to a war against our enemies. The other to minimizing the conflict.
President George W. Bush tried to fight that war, but he was undermined by men like Mueller and Comey. Their view of the war was the same as that of their future boss, not their current one, certainly not the view as the man currently sitting in the White House whom they have tried to destroy.
Every lie has some truth in it. Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, his frequent claims of allegiance to American ideals, are true, as he sees it, if not as he tells it. Men like Comey and Mueller believed that the real threat came not from Islamic terrorists, but from our overreaction to them. They believed that Bush was a threat. And Trump was the worst threat imaginable who had to be stopped by any means.
What Comey and Mueller are loyal to is the established way of doing things. And they conflate that with our national ideals, as establishment thugs usually do. Neither of them are unique. Washington D.C. is filled with men and women who are registered Republicans, who believe in lowering taxes, who frown at the extremities of identity politics, but whose true faith is in the natural order of government.
Mueller and Comey represent a class. And Obama and Clinton were easily able to corrupt and seduce that class into abandoning its duties and oaths, into serving as its deep state against domestic foes.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? It’s the old question of who watches the watchmen that no society has found a good answer to. And the answer is inevitably that the watchers, watch themselves and everyone else. What began as national security measures against Islamic terrorism was twisted by Obama and his deep state allies into the surveillance of the very people fighting Islamic terrorism.
Spygate was the warped afterbirth of our failure to meaningfully confront Islamic terrorism. Instead, the political allies of the terrorists and the failed watchmen who allowed them to strike so many times, got together to shoot the messengers warning about the terror threat. The problem had never been the lack of power, but the lack of will and the lack of integrity in an establishment unwilling to do its job.
After 9/11, extraordinary national security powers were brought into being to fight Islamic terror. Instead those powers were used to suppress those who told the truth about Islamic terrorism.