They both had a political motivation to smear him.
The origin of the Obama administration’s investigation of imaginary Trump-Russia collusion remains murky, but this much is clear: John Brennan, Obama’s Trump-hating CIA director, stands at the center of it.
Brennan pushed for a multi-agency investigation of the Trump campaign, using as his pretext alleged intelligence from an unnamed Baltic state. That “intelligence” was supplied at the very moment Baltic officials had their own political motivation to smear Trump.
“Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was – allegedly – a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign. It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States,” reported the BBC’s Paul Wood.
Is it just a coincidence that Brennan got this tape recording from a Baltic State intelligence agency in April when officials in the Baltic States were up in arms over candidate Trump? Recall that in March of 2016 — the month before Brennan allegedly got the recording from Baltic spies — Trump made remarks about NATO that the press was hyping as hostile to the Baltic States.
To CNN, on March 21, Trump said, referring to the need to re-think America’s relationship with NATO:
We’re paying disproportionately. It’s too much. And frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea. And everybody got together.
But we’re taking care of, as an example, the Ukraine. I mean, the countries over there don’t seem to be so interested. We’re the ones taking the brunt of it. So I think we have to reconsider keep NATO, but maybe we have to pay a lot less toward the NATO itself.
Hillary and her allies in the media seized on these remarks and ripped Trump on the false claim that, if elected, he would “pull out of NATO,” leaving Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to fend for themselves against Russia.
Such fearmongering set off an anti-Trump panic in political circles within the Baltic States. Out of it came a steady stream of stories with headlines such as: “Baltic States Fearful of Trump’s Nato Views” and “Estonian Prez Appears to Push Back on Trump’s NATO Comments.”
The president to which that latter headline referred was Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a former journalist at Radio Free Europe who grew up in New Jersey (his parents were refugees from Estonia) and whose brother, Andres Ilves, works for the BBC. Toomas served as president of Estonia from 2006 until October of 2016.
He had a “good relationship” with the Obama administration, as he told BuzzFeed. Both Ilves and Obama are alumni of Columbia University. Ilves made it clear to reporters that he didn’t care for the “rhetoric” of Trump and spoke disparagingly of Trump’s knowledge of foreign policy. Taking a shot at Trump campaign surrogate Newt Gingrich (who questioned whether the United States should go to nuclear war over a “suburb” of Russia), Ilves said, “We’re not a suburb of St. Petersburg.” Ilves spoke of his “warm” relations with Joe Biden (who on a showboating visit to the Baltic States in 2016 said that they should disregard Trump and reminded them that Obama promised to protect the Baltic States as if they were American soil).
After he left office in 2016, Ilves, who has an active Twitter presence, tweeted out John Brennan’s criticism of Trump. Ilves is now at Stanford as a visiting fellow in a program under the direction of Michael McFaul, who served as a Russian expert for the Obama administration.
Again, BBC’s Paul Wood said that Brennan obtained the recording that set off the Trump investigation from the “intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States.” Was it Estonia’s intelligence agency? If not Estonia’s, which intelligence agency gave it to Brennan? And who exactly, besides John Brennan in the Obama administration, assessed the value of that recording? Did the investigation start on Brennan’s say-so?
Both Brennan and officials in the Baltic States had strong incentives to help Hillary and hurt Trump. That Brennan and some Baltic spies teamed up to inflate the significance of some half-baked intelligence from a recording isn’t surprising. Only in such a feverish partisan milieu would basic questions go unasked, such as: Is it really a good idea to investigate a political opponent on the basis of a lead provided by a country that wants to see him lose?
Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Egon Tintse/Creative Commons)