When it comes to the unlawful surveillance on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the most important question is, what did President Obama know and when did he know it? If we are to believe the testimony in the Justice Department inspector general’s report on FISA abuse, Obama didn’t know anything about the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Neither did his attorney general, her deputy, or anyone in the White House. At least not that they can recall – an expression used over 200 times in the report.
Yet against this we have the Sept. 2, 2016, text message from Lisa Page to her paramour Peter Strzok saying “POTUS wants to know everything we are doing.” True to form, the IG report goes to great lengths to argue that “knowing everything” in fact meant knowing nothing at all.
The text message first appeared in Feb. 2018 when it was released by Congress, and later in the June 2018 IG report on bias in the FBI’s investigations leading up to the 2016 election. The message was critically important because it elevated the scandal to the White House level and dragged it into the Obama Oval Office. But the June 2018 IG report basically ignored the importance of this message, and the new report takes pains to explain it away.
The public debate about the issue goes back to the first revelations about the illicit spying, when President Trump tweeted that he “Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” The president was roundly mocked for this “baseless” claim, and pundits and politicians huffed mightily that such a spying operation was unthinkable. Of course, now we know many of the details of this sophisticated and falsely obtained surveillance operation. (RELATED: FARRELL: Big Tech Is Censoring Judicial Watch For Talking About White House ‘Whistleblower,’ But It Won’t Stop Us)
And note the carefully worded denial that came from the Obama camp at that time. Spokesman Kevin Lewis said that it was “simply false” that the White House ordered surveillance against “any U.S. citizen” — but more to the point that “no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice.”
So this was not a denial that spying ever happened, just that Obama had nothing to do with it. It hearkens back to Obama’s similar claim made in April 2016 regarding the Hillary Clinton email investigation, that “there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI, not just in this case, but in any case.”
So who knew about Crossfire Hurricane according to testimony in the new IG report? FBI Director James Comey admitted he was kept well informed on the investigation. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe discussed it with him at regular briefings starting in August 2016.
But Comey is as far as the information went, so the report claims. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says she was not briefed, she provided no guidance, and she was completely uninvolved in the Carter Page FISA authorization request. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was likewise out of the loop. Neither Lynch nor Yates had any knowledge of White House meetings about Crossfire Hurricane. Office of the Attorney General staff had “no recollection” of these matters, though email evidence shows thy were informed of the effort to seek a FISA warrant against Carter Page. And Lynch admitted Comey and McCabe had told her about Carter Page being a suspected Russian collaborator in the spring of 2016, before Trump was even nominated. Comey and McCabe did not recall this meeting. (RELATED: PUZDER: Impeachment Has A Silver Lining — Trump’s Killer Trade Deal)
Comey testified that there was “no request from the White House to investigate members of the Trump campaign” or inquiries regarding collusion. Yet Lisa Page’s infamous September 2 text was in the context of putting together talking points for a Comey meeting presumably at the White House, because “POTUS wants to know everything we are doing.” Strzok replies, “I’m sure an honest answer will come out of that meeting.” But an answer to what?
Strzok testified that these texts referred only to the generic question of Russian election meddling. Yet the report reveals that Comey told Obama and other officials at a White House Situation Room meeting around the same time that “the FBI was trying to determine whether any U.S. person had worked with the Russians” and that they were looking into “four individuals with ‘some association or connection to the Trump campaign.'”
Others present at the meeting were Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, none of whom were interviewed for this report. Incredibly, Comey claimed that no one at the meeting “responded or followed up with any questions” (p. 110).
This revelation should have been a major headline from the IG report was buried in the media narrative that there was “no political bias” in this obviously grossly biased and ill-predicated domestic spying operation. (RELATED: HILL: With Just 18 Votes To Spare, What If Impeachment Fails?)
Former Whitewater Independent Counsel Robert Ray was “aghast to learn how little involved the attorney general and the deputy attorney general of the United States” were in Crossfire Hurricane. He said he could not believe “that there is an investigation that would take you inside a presidential campaign and four people who were targeted within that campaign and that doesn’t require some kind of supervisory review and initiation beyond simply the inner-reaches of the FBI.”
Indeed, as Attorney General William Barr said, spying on a presidential campaign is “a big deal.” People can rationalize it or explain it away, but any plain reading of the record tells us what we need to know. Obama wanted to know everything they were doing, and it looks like he did.
Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research for Judicial Watch, a nonprofit watchdog group. He previously worked as a counterintelligence case officer.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.