In researching my 2020 book, Unmasking Obama, I focused on one question above all others: What did Barack Obama know about the plot to link Donald Trump to Russia and when he did he know it? Unlike the Watergate era, when all the insiders in government and media rushed to discover what Nixon knew, only the outsiders have dared to ask about Obama.
Major credit here goes to Rep. Devin Nunes and his chief investigator Kash Patel, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and most recently Special Counsel John Durham. For all their good efforts, however, this probe remains very much a work in progress.
That caution established, the answer to the question in the headline is becoming increasingly clear. The information contained in Durham’s recent indictment of Russian national Igor Danchenko, when coupled with the CIA notes declassified in October 2020 by Ratcliffe, leads directly to the White House. In the past week, these revelations have gotten a fair share of attention, at least on the right side of the blogosphere. They deserve it.
What has not gotten attention, however, is the specious counter-narrative that Obama and his allies have been quietly constructing for the last five years. Deconstructing this counter-narrative may not put Obama’s Praetorian guard in prison, but it should provide Watergate-level amusement for those of us who believe prison is where Obama’s people belong.
The Rosetta Stone of the counter-narrative may well be a comprehensive article in the Washington Post from June 2017. Perhaps more than any other bit of Trump era “journalism,” this article — complete with photos and flow charts — revealed the major media’s eagerness to enable the ongoing Democrat-Deep State disinformation campaign. A July 2017 update — “The Post’s new findings in Russia’s bold campaign to influence the U.S. election” — contained even more bogus charts and timelines.
The Post article told of an early August 2016 “intelligence bombshell” sent by the CIA to then President Obama with “eyes only” instructions. “To guard against leaks,” the Post continued, “subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.” In its flow chart of events, the Post identified CIA Director John Brennan as the man who sounded the alarm:
CIA Director John Brennan first alerts the White House in early August that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an operation to defeat or at least damage Hillary Clinton and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.
Brennan’s contemporaneous notes, however, tell a different story. As Ratcliffe explained Sunday on Fox News, Obama did receive an intelligence bombshell from Brennan in early August 2016. Like the Post reporters, Ratcliffe used the word “early” to mark the time in August 2016 when Obama, Brennan, and others met to discuss Russian interference.
From Brennan’s contemporaneous notes, however, we know the conspirators discussed not a real plot by Russia but a fictional plot ginned up by Hillary Clinton foreign policy advisor Chuck Dolan “to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”
Complicating matters for Obama was that on July 31, just a few days earlier, the FBI had formally launched a surveillance operation on the Trump campaign based in no small part on the information British agent Christopher Steele had been providing. The investigation was code named “Crossfire Hurricane” after a lyric from a Rolling Stones song. If Jumpin’ Jack Flash “was born in a cross-fire hurricane,” so too was the operation named after him.
Caught in the crossfire was FBI Director James Comey who attended these early August meetings. Comey told the Office of Inspector General that Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice were in attendance along with himself and Obama.
One suspects there were meetings and then there were meetings. Obama and Brennan knew by early August 2016 that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign’s alleged involvement in the collusion plot. Importantly, they also knew the investigation was based on a Clinton dirty trick. At this point, Comey may not have known. If Durham can get someone to talk about these meetings — a big “if” — CNN may even pay attention.
Comey would surely have known about Clinton involvement by September 7, 2016. On that date, the CIA sent a memo to the FBI — attention Peter Strzok — relating “US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers as means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
Strzok has cause to lose sleep. It was he was who ran “Crossfire Hurricane.” Although Strzok told the Office of Inspector General “he never attended any White House briefings about Crossfire Hurricane,” he gave FBI lover Lisa Page the opposite impression.
On August 5, texting with Page, he quoted an unnamed power player, likely Brennan, as saying, “The White House is running this.” On August 15, Strzok memorialized the aspirations of all involved. “There’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” he texted Page. “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
According to the June 2017 Post article, Brennan’s early August report, “drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government,” made two bold claims. One detailed “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.” The second “captured Putin’s specific instructions … [to] defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.”
However fictional, this information tracks with the CIA September 7 memo citing Hillary’s plan. That memo also delineated the two, related Russia disinformation streams that would come to dominate the news for the next three years. One was the collusion of the Trump team with Vladimir Putin. The second was Russian hacking not just of DNC emails but of the election itself.
Much of the lengthy Post article dealt with “suspected Russian attempts to penetrate election systems.” Back when serious people could still talk publicly about foreign interference in U.S. elections, the FBI had allegedly detected such attempts in 21 states. Also on the Post’s flow chart was this gem:
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s efforts to secure the U.S. voting systems run aground when some state officials reject his plan, calling it a federal takeover.
Ironically, the Post quoted Gov. Brian Kemp, then Georgia’s secretary of state, as rejecting Johnson’s attempt for federal oversight. “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration,” Kemp told the Post. To the reporters’ astonishment, Kemp remained “unconvinced that Russia waged a campaign to disrupt the 2016 race.”
By June 2017, it had become clear to those willing to look that Kemp was right, but Team Obama and the media could not admit it. While still shoring up the Trump-Putin collusion narrative, they had to rewrite the election interference plot line. It was an easy fix. Obama himself had set the stage for the revision in a December 2016 press conference.
As he told the story, he confronted Putin at the G-20 summit in China in September 2016. “I felt that the most effective way to ensure [more hacking] didn’t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out,” said Obama, “and there was going to be some serious consequences if he didn’t. And in fact, we did not see further tampering in the election process.”
The Post bought the story. According to its June 2017 account, Obama told Putin that he “knew what [Putin] was doing and [he] better stop or else.” And that was that. Four years later, Obama operatives used Edward-Isaac Dovere, author of the widely discussed 2020 election book, Battle for the Soul, to launder their heroic tale. Brennan took the point on mythologizing Obama’s imagined smackdown of Putin.
I think Putin had to do his calculus, take into account that “I can do these things and maybe I’ll even try to affect the vote tallies, but if she does win, we’re probably going to have a rough time of it.” So if I were Putin at that time, I think my calculation would have been “OK, I’m not going to do the stuff on the technical front, because if we do something on the technical front, they’re probably eventually going to find out that. But if we do things on the information front, that’s basically propaganda.” That’s the type of stuff that intelligence services have been doing forever.
Team Obama summarized Russia’s apocryphal “information front” in the declassified version of the Intelligence Community Assessment released on January 6, 2017. Obama had personally commissioned the Intelligence Community Assessment a month earlier, and Brennan executed it. According to the report, Putin “ordered” an influence campaign. His goal was “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The assessment also insisted, “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Although Obama has been largely quiet about how he and his team transformed a Hillary-approved plot to kneecap Trump into a massive, multi-year government-run plot to do the same, his colleagues have been more forthcoming. The story they told did not have to be true. As with all cover-ups, it merely had to be plausible.
Susan Rice felt the need to establish an alibi for Obama on the very day Donald Trump was inaugurated. In what soccer fans call an “own goal,” Rice sent to “self” an email concerning a January 5, 2017, meeting Obama held with all the usual suspects — Comey, Brennan, Rice, Clapper, acting attorney general Sally Yates, and vice president Joe Biden. The email read:
President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities “by the book.” The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.
By 2020, of course, Obama’s “by the book” counter-narrative had collapsed everywhere except in the mainstream media. That did not stop acolytes Brennan and Rice from trying to sell it. In Dovere’s retelling, the drama began when Brennan arrived at a private White House lunch with a package of classified material. “The Russians weren’t just coming,” Dovere writes. “They were already here.” Dovere bought it all. For him, there were “elements of the interference that everyone could see.” Obama’s people were manfully sticking to their story.
That story was an epic one. The Post reporters went on to win Pulitzers for their reporting on what they called “the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy.” That’s not an easy story for anyone to walk back, especially for a president whose fingerprints are all over it.
Jack Cashill’s latest book, Barack Obama’s Promised Land: Deplorables Need Not Apply, is now on pre-sale. See www.cashill.com for more information.