Almost lost in the impeachment news is the documented and now impossible-to-refute revelation that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, was on the receiving end of abusive government targeting and spying — both tactics more at home in totalitarian regimes than in a free society.
According to the Justice Department Inspector General report, officials within the Obama administration manipulated the evidence to launch a federal investigation of the Trump campaign and, yes, even spy on the campaign. In seeking a warrant to surveil the campaign, the FBI showed up to federal court with falsified documents and made use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provisions for surveillance, under the pretext of some national security concern.
Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that his investigation unearthed only “basic and fundamental” errors, but no political bias as the root cause of the falsified evidence and abusive behavior of the FBI towards then-candidate Donald Trump.
Horowitz blamed entrenched incompetence at the FBI in his attempt to assuage reasonable Americans’ concerns that the United States government engaged in illegal activities to destroy a political opponent’s campaign. Horowitz acknowledged, “Errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams.” So, we should rest easy now because what looked like intentional tampering and falsifying of evidence and a coordinated political attack was really just bureaucratic incompetence?
Where have we seen this before?
The government’s relentless pursuit of Trump and its response once caught are now easily recognizable as something akin to Washington elites’ playbook.
The tea party, no stranger to the government’s extreme abuse and targeting techniques, has noted the similarities between what the Obama administration did to the Trump campaign and what it did, repeatedly, to conservatives.
It was, after all, Obama’s IRS that systematically targeted conservatives and right-of-center groups, singling them out for audits, investigations, and other forms of harassment. The IRS during this time also engaged in a years-long profiling program of conservative organizations, blocking their applications for non-profit status, and effectively silencing those groups and sidelining them from political and policy engagement.
When caught, the IRS apologized and promptly blamed the incompetence of lower-level “front-line people” in the Cincinnati “Determinations Office” of the agency. Low-level incompetence is a go-to excuse that masks everything from political bias to violating individuals’ basic Constitutional rights. No wonder it’s the preferred justification for government abuse.
In both cases, the end goal was the same — to sideline those viewed as political opponents. From 2010 to 2013, countless tea party groups and individuals aligned with conservative causes, including working to repeal Obamacare, were silenced and unable to participate fully or petition the government as a group. The targeting of Donald Trump had a similar aim — not just to block one candidate from office, but, in a larger sense, to continue silencing many of those same conservatives who were tired of Washington’s status quo.
Both the tea party movement and the popularity of Donald Trump revealed the extent to which everyday Americans were ready to disrupt business as usual in Washington and challenge the status quo. These two political movements both aimed to increase government accountability and restore the founding principle of a government by the people, working for the people. And it was precisely for those reasons — for the threat the tea party and Donald Trump posed to the Washington elites — that the government swiftly took action to shut down and sideline us.
The government’s agenda here is a marked departure from the type of representative government our founders envisioned. The two scandals, and the utter inability of the government, once caught, to take responsibility for wrongdoing or appropriately address the wrongs, remind us of the paradox James Madison observed in Federalist 51. Given that humans are imperfect (and not angels), government is a necessity for society. But government, being comprised of imperfect men, must be obliged to control itself. What we see today is a government unable, and increasingly unwilling, to control itself.
A simple definition of tyranny may be when the government exists for, and is directed by, the ruling elites, acting on their own agenda. When one considers the government’s actions — keeping enemies lists, falsifying evidence, spying on fellow citizens, and using the investigative agencies to harass political opponents — one can be forgiven for thinking immediately of the Soviet government at the height of its repressions.
The tea party predicted that if the government, including the individual officials, were not held accountable for its wrongdoing in the IRS targeting scandal, it would not only be free to do something similar in the future, but would actually be emboldened to do so.
It turns out we were exactly right.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.