90 Miles From Tyranny : The Deep State Leak Campaign Against Trump Has Switched From Offense To Defense

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Deep State Leak Campaign Against Trump Has Switched From Offense To Defense

Past and present U.S. officials say the template for the current anti-Trump leak campaign can be traced back to the Obama administration’s efforts to sell the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

A trail of evidence appearing in major news outlets suggests a campaign to undermine President Trump from within the government through illegal leaks of classified information, and then thwart congressional investigators probing the disclosures.

Last Monday the Justice Department released a handful of texts and other documents that included two former officials known for their anti-Trump bias—Peter Strzok and Lisa Page of the FBI—discussing the DOJ’s “media leak strategy.” Strzok now says, through his lawyer, that that strategy was aimed at preventing leaks. Nevertheless, days later he and Page approvingly mention forthcoming news articles critical of Trump associates.

“The leaks that have been coming out of the FBI and DOJ since 2016 are unconscionable,” said retired FBI supervisory special agent James Gagliano. “There’s a difference between whistleblowing and leaking for self-serving or partisan purposes.”

Leak Template Constructed for Iran Deal

Past and present U.S. officials say the template for the leak campaign can be traced back to the Obama administration’s efforts to sell the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which made the press reliant on background conversations and favorable leaks from government officials. Obama adviser Ben Rhodes told the New York Times in 2016 that “we created an echo chamber” that “helped retail the administration’s narrative.”

“That same configuration,” said Michael Doran, a senior official in the George W. Bush White House, “the press, political operatives, newly minted experts, social media validators—was repurposed to target Trump, his campaign, transition team, then presidency.” The echo chamber’s primary instrument in attacking the current White House, said Doran, “is the Russia collusion narrative.”

RealClearInvestigations (RCI) has found that the anti-Trump leaks fall into two broad categories, or phases. Initially the leaking was an offensive operation aimed at disrupting Trump’s agenda, especially through leaks alleging connections between his campaign and the Russians. Its early successes included leaks of highly classified material that led to the firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from overseeing that probe.

The second phase, which began roughly a year into the Trump administration, has been more defensive, pushing back against congressional oversight committees that had uncovered irregularities in the FBI’s investigation of Trump.

This phase has been marked by the willingness of press outlets to run stories backing off earlier reported leaks that proved to be deeply misleading, including the roots of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign and the relationship between Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr and the opposition research firm that produced a central document of that probe, the largely discredited “Steele dossier.”

This second phase has also included articles and opinion pieces—some written by journalists who have published classified information—dismissing suspicions of an orchestrated campaign against Trump as, to use the phrase invoked in a recent New Yorker article, a “conspiracy theory.”

“Former Obama officials and their press allies can call it a ‘conspiracy theory’ or whatever they want,” a senior U.S. official—familiar with how Obama holdovers and the media jointly targeted Trump figures—told RCI. “But they can’t say it’s not true that former Obama officials were furiously leaking to keep people close to Trump out of the White House.”

Setting Up Page and Papadopoulos

The focus of the ongoing anti-Trump campaign became clear in March 2016 when the candidate identified Carter Page and George Papadopoulos as foreign policy advisers. For reasons that remain unclear, FBI officials decided that Page, in particular, was a Russian asset and that others on the team might be as well. Instead of alerting Trump to this possibility, law enforcement set up a sting operation.

As RCI has previously reported, FBI informants and figures associated with Western intelligence approached the Trump team with offers of Russian-sourced dirt on Clinton. Among the seven mysterious approaches, the most significant...
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