Democratic operatives, the press and the FBI have worked daily from his 2016 anti-Washington candidacy to his third year in the Oval Office to disable and cast aside Donald Trump, a chronology of events shows.
Whether it was two FBI agents plotting to “stop” him or a Kremlin-sourced dossier filled with bogus allegations or inaccurate news stories that told of a Russia conspiracy that never happened, President Trump has found the Washington establishment to be an existential threat.
Today, the assaults are culminating in House Democrats’ plan to impeach him.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama loyalists kicked off the insurgency by trying to persuade members of the Electoral College not to vote for Mr. Trump even though he had won their states.
John Podesta, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, endorsed a unique election stop: Electors must first hear an FBI and intelligence briefing on Russian election interference.
This meant the electors would have likely been authoritatively told by Obama appointees the contents of a Russian-sourced dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign, which Mr. Podesta chaired.
At the time, December 2016, the FBI hierarchy had fallen in love with a dossier that said Mr. Trump was a Russian spy and that he directed the biggest election conspiracy in history. None of it was true.
Impeachment talk started on Jan. 20, 2017 — Inauguration Day. “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump Has Begun,” said a Washington Post “politics” article. That same day, The New York Times put at the top of its front page an unspecific story about rampant FBI wiretaps targeting unknown Trump people.
Today, Russia has given way to Ukraine as the cause for removal. House Democrats plan to impeach Mr. Trump for urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call to cooperate in an investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son’s involvement in that country’s corrupt business world.
Mr. Trump, a billionaire builder of tall buildings and golf courses, has not always helped himself. He briefly promoted WikiLeaks, the receiver of Russian-stolen Democratic Party emails. He excessively praised Russian President Vladimir Putin. He refused to accept the fact that Russia hacked the other party. He suggested that Moscow might find Mrs. Clinton’s 33,000 State.gov emails ordered destroyed.
Inappropriate remarks are not felonies. In the end, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, on which Democrats had so counted, found no Trump-Russia conspiracy to hack computers or mount social media warfare.
A chronology of a Washington insurgency:
⦁ Mr. Trump’s election immediately brought a liberal campaign to intervene with the Electoral College to prevent the president-elect from collecting the 270 votes required to win the White House. Some electors, most of them for Mrs. Clinton, demanded an intelligence briefing before voting.
Mr. Podesta issued a statement endorsing this extracurricular step, bolstered by Washington Post and New York Times stories that Russia was trying to help Mr. Trump.
“The bipartisan electors’ letter raises very grave issues involving our national security,” Mr. Podesta said. “Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed. We believe that the Administration owes it to the American people to explain what it knows regarding the extent and manner of Russia interference and this be done as soon as possible.”
⦁ During the campaign, a former British spy’s dossier began circulating in Washington, perhaps as early as the first week in July at FBI headquarters. A Washington Times analysis showed that Christopher Steele made 13 Russia conspiracy allegations against Mr. Trump and associates. None was proved to be true.
Mr. Steele was paid by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee via opposition research firm Fusion GPS. Fusion had a major in-house ally. Nellie Ohr, an anti-Trump researcher, was married to Bruce Ohr, the No. 4 official at the Justice Department.
Mr. Ohr became a Clinton messenger, taking Mr. Steele’s astounding allegations directly to the FBI’s highest levels and inside the Justice Department to lawyers who eventually would serve on Mr. Mueller’s staff.
Clinton attorneys also pressed the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Trump. A pet project was that a dedicated computer server existed between Trump Tower and Moscow’s Alfa Bank.
The Mueller report released in March eviscerated Mr. Steele’s theories traced to Kremlin intelligence chieftains. Republicans said that if any campaign was involved in Russian interference, then it was the Clinton operation with its dossier.
⦁ Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat whose constituents include Hollywood’s anti-Trump activists, hasn’t disappointed them.
He led the way in the House in embracing the Democratic Party’s Steele dossier and all of its unverified charges as he sat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is supposed to be committed to verified facts.
He said often that he had seen evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.
When he took over as chairman this year and Republicans demanded he step down for lying to the American public, he listed several incidents he said added up to collusion. They were all known events, such as Donald Trump Jr.’s agreeing to meet with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Mrs. Clinton but had none.
⦁ Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm hired by the Clinton campaign, in turn hired Mr. Steele and then aggressively promoted his dossier. Fusion worked for the same Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. Fusion was hired to help a wealthy Russian accused by the U.S. of money laundering.
Fusion pushed other conspiracies outside the dossier, such as the legend that a dedicated computer server connected Trump Tower to Alfa Bank, run by Putin-connected oligarchs.
After a 2016 New York Times story dismissed that conspiracy, Fusion was able get a story in Slate.com and then in 2018 in The New Yorker magazine.
Cybersecurity professionals said the server data cited by liberal activists was from a marketing spam account linked to a server in Pennsylvania.
In his testimony to the House intelligence committee, Mr. Mueller dismissed the Alfa internet connection, one of the few anti-Trump conspiracies he publicly shot down.
Asked by a Republican lawmaker about the conspiracy theory, Mr. Mueller said, “Because I believe it not true doesn’t mean it would not be investigated. It may well have been investigated although my [belief] at this point is not true.”
The Mueller report described an Alfa executive’s contact with the Trump transition but made no mention of any computer connection.
⦁ The FBI, led by James B. Comey and Andrew McCabe, embraced the dossier. It was used to justify at least one yearlong wiretap on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. FBI agents traveled to Rome in October 2016 and cemented a $50,000 deal with Mr. Steele to continue investigating Mr. Trump, even though it had little luck with corroborating his information.
The wiretap application signed by the FBI certified that a Yahoo News story backed up Mr. Steele’s claims as an independent source. The Yahoo story, in fact, came from Mr. Steele.
Mr. Comey provided a dossier briefing to President Obama. He traveled to Trump Tower to do the same for the president-elect. Afterward, he went to the FBI field office for a video conference to fill in agents conducting a counterintelligence probe into Trump aides. In other words, Mr. Comey was an investigator.
It is unclear to this day how the dossier influenced the FBI mindset. Mr. McCabe, as deputy director, was one of the first agents to be briefed on the dossier and opened a spy investigation into Mr. Trump in May 2017. Did Mr. Steele affect the decision? Mr. McCabe’s memoir doesn’t mention the dossier.
⦁ Inside the FBI’s counterintelligence unit, agent Peter Strzok expressed a strong dislike for Mr. Trump and his voters in messages to Lisa Page, a senior FBI counsel. He pledged to “stop” Mr. Trump and referred to an unspecified “insurance policy.” He talked of new dossier allegations coming his way.
Fired by Mr. Trump, Mr. Comey made sure that his memos for the record about his White House discussions made their way to The New York Times. Mr. Trump at one meeting mentioned the probe of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and asked whether Mr. Comey could consider “letting this go.” A White House counsel later said it was without precedent that a former FBI director would leak information to the news media in order to destroy a president.
⦁ Mr. Obama’s hand-picked intelligence chieftains didn’t hesitate to use their vast power of information to damage the president — even if untrue.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and CIA Director John O. Brennan became ardent Trump critics on their CNN and MSNBC soapboxes.
The anti-Trump news networks were more than willing to hear the two imply, and sometimes state outright, that the president was a Russian asset or agent — in other words, a traitor.
Mr. Clapper and Mr. Brennan’s partisan roles seemed unprecedented for men who headed America’s information collection and ran spies.
Mr. Brennan fed Mr. Comey any information he came across about any Trump associate contact with a Russian.
He predicted that a large number of Trump allies would be indicted on Russian conspiracy charges. When none was, he said he must have been misinformed.
The Mueller report, the product of nearly a three-year FBI investigation, contained nothing about Mr. Trump having any kind of an informant relationship with Moscow. In fact, in the probe directed to explore “any links” between a Trump associate and a Russian government official, the president had none of any consequence.
Last week, Mr. Brennan sat on a stage for an event at George Mason University with former CIA Director John McLaughlin. Mr. McLaughlin wholeheartedly supported CIA employees going after Mr. Trump.
“Thank God for the ‘deep state,’” he said, using a term conservators coined for liberal bureaucrats sabotaging the Trump White House.
⦁ The Washington news media generally endorsed the Democratic Party’s dossier — that is until the Steele narrative fell apart. Reporters then left it behind without much soul-searching.
After all, journalists were in on the operation. Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS lined up briefings in hotels and restaurants with the most powerful newsrooms in town. Mr. Steele convinced them that Mr. Trump was a spy and conspirator even though they had trouble confirming.
The Washington press wrote hundreds of stories with the consistent theme that there was a Trump conspiracy to help Russia hack computers.
Some of the stories, while far-reaching in impact, were bogus and seemed sourced to Obama-Clinton loyalists.
The New York Times, in the aftershock of BuzzFeed’s posting of the entire Steele dossier, reported that a year’s worth of intercepts and phone records directly tied the Trump campaign to Kremlin intelligence — in other words, conspiracy.
Such records didn’t exist, Mr. Comey said.
CNN said former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was intercepted talking to Russian intelligence about helping the campaign. He was not.
Well into 2017, news media were reporting that Mr. Mueller was confirming Mr. Steele’s allegations. CNN and CBS News reported this. Mr. Mueller did not.
⦁ Democrats quickly latched onto the Logan Act, which is nearly as old as the country and has been prosecuted only once — and that case never went forward.
As written in 1799, a private American citizen can be found guilty of a crime for opposing U.S. foreign policy in a discussion with another country’s official.
Democrats said certain statements Mr. Trump made as a candidate could violate the Logan Act.
During the transition, the FBI intercepted calls between Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to Obama-imposed sanctions.
As news of the intercept spread at the FBI, the Obama Justice Department began spreading the word “Logan.”
The Washington Post broke the first story on the call and cited what Democrats were saying: a possible Logan Act violation.
Sally Q. Yates, Mr. Obama’s deputy attorney general, went to the new White House. She raised concerns that Flynn wasn’t accurately portraying the Kislyak conversation and mentioned that Flynn may have violated the Logan Act, sending the White House legal team into frantic research.
As the Mueller report said: “The FBI investigative team also believed that Flynn’s calls with Kislyak and subsequent denials about discussing sanctions raised potential Logan Act issues and were relevant to the FBI’s broader Russia investigation.”
The FBI’s Mr. McCabe “recalled the [White House] officials asking him whether Flynn’s conduct violated the Logan Act. McCabe responded that he did not know, but the FBI was investigating the matter because it was a possibility,” the Mueller report said.
In his memoir, “The Threat,” Mr. McCabe wrote of his phone call to Flynn the day before Mr. Strzok and another agent went to the White House on Jan. 24, 2017, to interview the new national security adviser.
He wrote: “The tone was as friendly, and as detached, as if we were planning a playdate for our kids.
“One thing he said stands out in my memory. When I told him that people were curious about his conversations with Kislyak, Flynn replied, ‘You know what I said, because you guys were probably listening.’”
So it was the obscure, never-enforced Logan Act that sent two agents to Flynn’s office. Flynn ended up lying about the discussed sanctions even though he knew the FBI had a call transcript.
Ms. Yates told a Senate subcommittee in May 2017 that she informed White House Counsel Don McGahn that it was not just a case of Flynn being inaccurate about his call but that Flynn’s topic of conversation was off base.
“We then walked through with Mr. McGahn essentially why we were telling them about this, and the first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that Gen. Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself,” she testified.
In other words, the Logan Act was her “first” concern.
In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators. He cooperated with Mr. Mueller but never implicated any Trump ally in a Russian conspiracy, and no one was ever charged in one.
⦁ The deep state had the White House national security staff full of detailees, the official designation for U.S. government employees sent temporarily to other agencies.
Republicans believe Mr. Trump inherited a cabal of detailees loyal to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton and were bent on sabotaging the new White House — thus the “deep state.” Almost immediately, classified Trump phone calls and foreign visitor meetings were leaked. Trump aides challenged the versions of events.
Press reports have profiled the Ukraine phone call whistleblower as a CIA analyst who worked in the Obama White House with Mr. Biden and stayed into 2017.
John Dowd, Mr. Trump’s attorney through much of his faceoff with Mueller prosecutors, was asked to assess Washington’s long war on Mr. Trump.
“The selfish political left and the media elite are leading this country into another civil war by abusing, trivializing, politicizing and subverting our constitutional and legal structure,” Mr. Dowd said. “The damage to the country and its children is incalculable.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at email@example.com.
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