Covert Surveillance By The Government Of The Opposition's Presidential Campaign Is Not OK

As more information comes to light of the extent of the surveillance of the Trump presidential campaign by the Obama FBI and CIA, the progressive media defense of the government's conduct becomes increasingly monotone and totally devoid of skepticism.  Of course our brave protectors had to surveil the opposition presidential campaign!  Trump and his people were talking to the Russians!

Over at CNN, they have now hired ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to utter the talking points of the day.  Recall that back in March 2017, appearing on Meet the Press, Clapper strenuously denied that there was any "wiretap" on the Trump campaign.  Clapper's new line, delivered on ABC's The View on May 22, is that actually the government wasn't really surveilling the campaign, but only "the Russians," and Trump should be happy about that:

"With the informant business, well, the point here is the Russians," Clapper said. "Not spying on the campaign but what are the Russians doing? And in a sense, unfortunately, what they were trying to do is protect our political system and protect the campaign."    

Over at the New York Times, the new official line is that, so long as the word "Russia" can be mentioned, any and all surveillance of opposition campaigns is perfectly OK.

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A Few Comments On The Latest Revelations Of FBI Corruption

Apologies to all for not being on the job when yesterday's big New York Times compilation of the latest FBI leaks dropped on the world. . . .

In the intervening day since the latest FBI revelations, a few thousand commentators have already thrown in their thoughts on the situation.  Rather than repeat what many others have already said, I will just offer a few observations.

First, I told you so.  On the question of FBI, and Obama administration, surveillance of the Trump campaign, sadly things are playing out just as I predicted over a year ago (April 7, 2017), in a post titled "Reasonable Inferences About The Weird Obsession With Russia."  The gist of that post was that you would be very unlikely to go wrong by inferring, even from what was known then, that high-ranking officials in the Obama administration had succumbed to the overwhelming temptation to use the tools of state surveillance to advantage their political friends and disadvantage their enemies.

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Resounding Echoes Of Watergate In The Susan Rice Email

It has now been a few days since Senators Grassley and Graham released a letter they had sent to ex-National Security Advisor Susan Rice, demanding information from her about a meeting held in the White House on January 5, 2017, and attaching to their letter a redacted copy of a remarkable email describing the meeting that Rice sent to herself on the government email system on January 20, 2017 at 12:15 PM.The Grassley/Graham letter and attached Rice email can be found here.   

You will recognize January 20 at 12:15 PM as being about 20 minutes after Donald Trump was sworn in as President, and therefore the same number of minutes after Susan Rice's term as National Security Advisor had ended. She had no further government business to do, and therefore had no possible legitimate purpose related to government business to write herself this email on the government email system.


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Obama: The Most Corrupt President In American History?

During the years of the Obama presidency, do you recall members of his administration and his media echo chamber constantly crowing that this administration was the most "scandal free" in history?  To give you a tiny reminder, here is an article from The Hill on January 15, 2017, just a few days before Obama stepped down, quoting then Chief of Staff Denis McDonough talking to Jake Tapper on CNN's State of the Union:

“I will say that the thing I’m most proud of, Jake, is an administration now acknowledging that we will have 6 days left or 5 days left, that has been historically free of scandal.”

Well, here we are just over a year later, and suddenly things are coming out about the prior administration that are not only a "scandal," but seem to take corruption to a whole new level in American experience.  Perhaps it is time for a review of President Obama to see where he ranks on the corruption scale.

At the outset, I will make a distinction between two forms of political corruption, both bad, but one far, far worse than the other.  The first, less bad sort is the common political corruption of our experience, namely the pol on the take.  The pol takes payments (bribes) from a member of the public, and in return provides political favors to the briber in betrayal of the taxpayers' trust.  OK, that's pretty bad.  But in my view, far, far worse is corruption in the form of use by an elected official of the powers of the government to advantage one side of the political divide (his or her own, of course) over the other, and thus to perpetuate the power of the pol and his friends and supporters.  This form of corruption goes to the very integrity of our democracy -- to those things that distinguish us from a Banana Republic.  

I don't have much to criticize Obama about as to corruption type one.  Perhaps he was smart enough to realize that an ex-President in today's world can immediately step out of the job and earn tens of millions of dollars by selling vapid ghost-written books or giving speeches at $500,000 a pop.  Why take the risk of accepting bribes?

But let's consider the case of Obama and corruption type two.  I'll do a small roundup:

  • New Black Panther Party.  During the prior Bush ("W") administration, career and line prosecutors at the Department of Justice had prepared a prosecution of a group called the New Black Panther Party for crimes including voter intimidation.  (Perhaps you can recall the pictures of the NBBP members with rifles standing outside voting places in Philadelphia.)  On assuming office, Obama and his new AG Eric Holder promptly shut down the case.  The Civil Rights Commission investigated, and in 2011 issued a scathing report.  Jennifer Rubin summarized the findings in the Washington Post (quoted at PowerLine): "1) the New Black Panther Party case brought by career Justice Department employees was meritorious on the law and the facts; 2) there is voluminous evidence of the Obama administration’s political interference in the prosecution of the New Black Panther Party case; 3) there is ample evidence that the Obama administration directed Justice Department employees not to bring cases against minority defendants who violated voting rights laws or to enforce a provision requiring that states and localities clean up their voting rolls to prevent fraud . . . .  "  By the way, I think this was a valid exercise of the "prosecutorial discretion" function of the executive, and therefore not a crime.  That doesn't mean that it was not deeply corrupt.
  • IRS.  In the run-up to the 2012 election, the IRS delayed the granting of tax-exempt status to pro-life and Tea Party groups, with the clear purpose and effect of suppressing the ability of those groups to participate in the political discussion relating to a presidential election.  From this collection of Obama-era scandals: "[P]ro-life and Tea Party groups were deliberately targeted for extra scrutiny, their tax exemption applications outrageously delayed until after the 2012 election without actually being refused. . . .  [I]n the follow-up scandal, . . .  IRS officials brazenly lied about having backups of relevant computer data. The American people were expected to believe that multiple state-of-the-art hard drives failed, and were instantly shredded instead of being subjected to data recovery procedures. . . .  [S]candal kingpin Lois Lerner got to enjoy her taxpayer-funded retirement after taking the Fifth to thwart lawful congressional investigation."  This one clearly did involve crimes.
  • Phony prosecutions of big banks followed by illegal, unconstitutional transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to Democratic Party-supporting groups.  This one has been the subject of extensive coverage at Manhattan Contrarian, collected under my Phony Prosecutions tag, and in my view was the biggest political scandal in American history prior to the current FBI disaster.  The Obama/Holder/Lynch Justice Department pursued dozens of "prosecutions" of the biggest banks, mostly on the thinnest of charges, with complete confidence that the banks would never take a case to trial.  The correct word for the process was "shakedowns."  Something like $100 billion was collected in total.  (Read the articles at the tag for many, many examples, including quotes from the "charges"; but, as just a such few examples: "[A] settlement by Citi with Fannie and Freddie for $968 million for losses in the financial crisis, even though it was F&F that had set the terms of the loans; and another settlement by BofA for $2.8 billion for essentially the same thing; and a settlement of those two plus five other banks for $8.5 billion with OCC for alleged improper documenting of mortgages ("robosigning"); and then ten settlements by JPMC with various federal agencies between 2011 and 2013, all of them over $50 million (and some over a billion).  In September 2013 it was a $920 million settlement with JPMC over trading losses that should have been none of the government's business.  In August 2014 it was a settlement with BofA of $17 billion (!) for, supposedly, 'failing to have third party loan level due diligence' as to loans going into securitization deals.")  Then they put provisions into the settlement agreements allowing the settling banks to get credit on their settlements by "contributing" large amounts of money to a favored list of Democrat-supporting groups.  From Kimberley Strassel in the Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2015: "The [Justice] department is in the process of funneling more than half-a-billion dollars to liberal activist groups, at least some of which will actively support Democrats in the coming election.  It works likes this: The Justice Department prosecutes cases against supposed corporate bad actors. Those companies agree to settlements that include financial penalties. Then Justice mandates that at least some of that penalty money be paid in the form of “donations” to nonprofits that supposedly aid consumers and bolster neighborhoods.  The Justice Department maintains a list of government-approved nonprofit beneficiaries. And surprise, surprise: Many of them are liberal activist groups. The National Council of La Raza. The National Urban League. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition. NeighborWorks America . . . . "   The transfer, at the behest of the "Justice Department," of this vast amount of money belonging to the taxpayers to Democrat-supporting groups was in clear violation -- actually, outright defiance -- of the provision of the Constitution stating that "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law. . . . "  It was this situation that caused me to lose all remaining faith or confidence in the Justice Department, well before the current round of scandals.

All of the above matters involve decisions made by top members of the Obama administration, highly likely with the specific approval of Obama himself in each instance.

And now we are on to the current FBI scandal, much of it involving matters occurring during the last year of the Obama administration.  

Writing in National Review on Tuesday this week, Andrew McCarthy makes a compelling case that President Obama had to have been personally involved in making the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for misuse of classified information.  It seems that some of Hillary's transmission of classified information over non-secure lines went right to Obama himself at his own secret personal email account:

Obama, using a pseudonymous email account, had repeatedly communicated with Secretary Clinton over her private, non-secure email account. These emails must have involved some classified information. . . .  If classified information was mishandled, it was necessarily mishandled on both ends of these email exchanges. If Clinton had been charged, Obama’s culpable involvement would have been patent. In any prosecution of Clinton, the Clinton–Obama emails would have been in the spotlight. For the prosecution, they would be more proof of willful (or, if you prefer, grossly negligent) mishandling of intelligence. More significantly, for Clinton’s defense, they would show that Obama was complicit in Clinton’s conduct yet faced no criminal charges. That is why such an indictment of Hillary Clinton was never going to happen.  

And finally, was Obama personally involved in the use of the Trump/Russia Dossier to seek a FISA warrant to surveil the Trump campaign?  We await the definitive proof.  But:  Do you think that the Clappers and McCabes and Comeys and Lynches of this world would have done such a thing without at least a nod from the boss?  And, given all of the above, do you think that Obama would have hesitated to give that nod?  

Prior to the Obama administration, the biggest corruption in U.S. history of the "type two" variety that I am aware of was the Watergate burglary, and its subsequent coverup (which did directly involve President Nixon).  That incident does not remotely approach in scope or significance the "type two" corruption of Obama and his administration. 


The Manhattan Contrarian Stands Up For President Obama -- Sort Of

On Monday, December 18, Politico published a rather important piece by reporter Josh Meyer titled "The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook."   The thoroughly sourced (mostly not anonymous!) and lengthy (some 14,000 words) piece tells the story of Project Cassandra, a Justice Department effort that ran from about 2008 to 2015, and investigated criminal activity of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization.  In Meyer's telling, Project Cassandra uncovered criminal activity (mostly drug dealing) in the range of about $500 million, but was systematically shut down by the Obama administrations via directives "from the top," in connection with Obama's efforts to reach the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that was a hallmark of his foreign policy.

A few choice quotes from Meyer's introduction will give you a sense of the scope of his findings:

In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a POLITICO investigation.  The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities. . . .  

[A]s Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way, according to interviews with dozens of participants who in many cases spoke for the first time about events shrouded in secrecy, and a review of government documents and court records. . . .  “This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” said David Asher, who helped establish and oversee Project Cassandra as a Defense Department illicit finance analyst.  “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”

That sounds rather damning!  So how could the Manhattan Contrarian possibly be standing up for President Obama?

The issue is that a number of right-wing sources have jumped on Obama's shutting down of Project Cassandra as an example of presidential "obstruction."  Admittedly, it's not a large number of sources, at least as far as I can find.  But consider these examples:

  • New York Post, headline of a December 19 column by Jonathan Tobin:  "Now, this is presidential obstruction."
  • Conservative author and radio host Mark Levin on Facebook, December 19:  "Barack Obama actually DID obstruct criminal investigations involving Hezbollah and Iran. But most of the media either downplay it or ignore it."  
  • Carteret County News-Times, December 20 (OK, not a major source):  "It’s . . . no surprise that the leftist media doesn’t mention the Obama administration’s decision to kill Project Cassandra, a federal investigation into international drug smuggling, money laundering and terrorism by Hezbollah, the terrorism arm of Iran.  That would be obstruction of justice."

The use of the term "obstruction" by these sources may well be in reaction to the use by dozens of progressive or "mainstream" sources of the same term to describe some actions of President Trump (such as asking then-FBI Director Comey to "go easy" on Michael Flynn, and/or then firing Comey), and even to support calls for impeachment of Trump.  Certainly, if you find Trump's conduct in those instances to be objectionable, let alone a basis for impeachment, it's hard to understand how you would not find Obama's conduct as to Project Cassandra (as described by Meyer) to be far more objectionable.

But the problem is, none of this conduct, by either Trump or Obama, is "obstruction" -- at least as the term "obstruction" is used in the context of "obstruction of justice," which is a federal crime, and thus a potential subject for a criminal prosecution and/or impeachment of a President.  As I have pointed out in multiple posts, for example this one,  "the prosecutorial discretion function of the government belongs to the President."   Under the Constitution , the Justice Department, including all the prosecutors, reports to the President, and the President has the right, if he wants, to direct who will and who will not be investigated and prosecuted.  The fact that the President rarely exercises this right does not mean that he does not have it.  Thus Obama was completely entitled to let Hezbollah off the hook, just as Trump was completely entitled to let Flynn off the hook.  (Of course, in fact, Trump did not let Flynn off the hook, at least not yet.  Trump does still have the ability to pardon Flynn.)  

Now, it's a completely different question whether it's a good idea to let all of Hezbollah off the hook on a massive criminal conspiracy involving hundreds of millions of dollars as well as associated terrorist activity.  That seems like a major political issue going to the heart of whether U.S. foreign policy was being competently conducted and whether the safety of the American people was being properly protected.  No, I am not standing up for President Obama on those questions.  Why the Meyer/Politico revelations have not yet caused a firestorm of coverage in the progressive press, I cannot explain.  I guess these revelations just don't fit the preferred narrative of the moment.    

U.S. Regains The Ability To Identify Real National Security Threats

Maybe Donald Trump is just not your type of guy, and certainly not the guy you would want to be President; but keep in mind who was the alternative.  Before these things fade into the memory hole, bring back to mind a few of the wildly incompetent policies of the previous administration.  Looking around today for a candidate as the policy of the previous administration that could be the very most wildly incompetent of all, with a very real potential to put the security of the country in serious jeopardy, my leading contender is the decision to declare "climate change" to be a top-priority national security risk.

Do you remember Obama doing that?  It wasn't that long ago.  In his second inaugural address in January 2013, Obama declared that “no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”  Then, over the next couple of years, he ramped up the claimed "challenge" of climate change from mere "greatest threat to future generations" to an "immediate threat to national security."  Think about that for a minute -- how would it even work?  Suppose the temperature goes up a few degrees over the next few decades.  Does it mean that we don't have an army any more?  Does it mean that our weapons won't work?  Nevertheless, in a National Security Strategy document in February 2015, the Obama administration declared climate change to be “an urgent and growing threat to our national security,”  Then in May 2015, Obama gave a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.  Excerpt:

I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.  And so we need to act, and we need to act now.

Supposedly, something like sea level, or maybe wildfires, or maybe floods -- all completely speculative -- would somehow make the country harder to defend.  Meanwhile, when Obama talked about "acting now," what he meant was restricting production fossil fuels in the United States.  What did he think was the fuel that powers the planes and ships and missiles, let alone powering the economy that provides all the logistical support to keep the military functioning?  As far as I could tell, he had no idea.  In the name of "national security" he would hobble and ultimately shut down our own oil and coal and gas industries, leaving us to go begging for the necessary fuel to -- where?  OPEC?  Russia?  Venezuela?  You really need to be delusional not to be able to distinguish the real national security threat here from the imaginary one.

As you probably know, in a new National Security Strategy document released yesterday President Trump reversed this ridiculous policy of President Obama.  The new document does not contain any section explicitly dealing with "climate," but it does have a section titled "Embrace Energy Dominance."  Key quote:

Access to domestic sources of clean, affordable, and reliable energy underpins a prosperous, secure, and powerful America for decades to come.  Unleashing these abundant energy resources—coal, natural gas, petroleum, renewables, and nuclear—stimulates the economy and builds a foundation for future growth. Our Nation must take advantage of our wealth in domestic resources and energy efficiency to promote competitiveness across our industries. . . .  Climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system. U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy secu- rity interests. Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.  The United States will continue to advance an approach that balances energy security, economic development, and environmental protection.  

Bullet dodged, at least for the moment.

Now, perhaps on reading this, you remain skeptical that hobbling U.S. fossil fuel energy production could jeopardize national security by making the U.S. dependent on the likes of OPEC or Russia for fuel needed to run the military or the economy.  If so, I would urge you to pay attention to what has just been occurring in the UK.  The UK is thought to have substantial natural gas-bearing shale formations (full extent unknown due to lack of exploration) that could be tapped to supply fuel for the country.  However, during the whole time of the shale gas revolution in the United States, the process of horizontal drilling and "fracking" for gas has been essentially shut down by regulators over concerns of environmentalists.  The first exploratory well after the moratorium finally got going just this August.  From the Financial Times, August 17:

Drilling has started on the first UK shale well for six years even as debate intensifies among geologists over how much gas is available for fracking. Cuadrilla, the company leading the push to bring US-style shale gas production to the UK, said on Thursday it had begun drilling a vertical well expected to reach 3.5km beneath its site near Blackpool, Lancashire. . . .   Fracking has been on hold in the UK since 2011 when two small earth tremors were blamed on exploratory operations by Cuadrilla at another site near Blackpool. Cuadrilla was given the go-ahead by the government last year to resume drilling, reflecting ministers’ hopes of replicating the shale revolution that has cut US gas prices and bolstered American energy security.

Lacking a home-grown, land-based gas supply from fracking, the UK has been relying on gas from the aging North Sea fields, as well as gas that comes from the Middle East and also Norway via pipelines across Europe.  Both of those sources then suddenly experienced supply disruptions in the past couple of weeks.  From the Telegraph, December 13:

Around 40pc of the UK’s domestic [natural gas] supplies have been wiped out until the new year due to the emergency shutdown of the North Sea’s Forties pipeline, operated by Ineos. Supply from Europe has also been constrained by the explosion at a hub in Austria and technical problems in the Norwegian North Sea.    

Time to crank up the vast reserves of solar panels?  No, dummy, those don't work in the winter.  Wind turbines also have zero ability to step up in an emergency.  The first result of the supply disruptions was a huge spike in natural gas prices in the UK:

[R]ocketing demand in Europe [has driven] the price for gas delivered to the UK to more than $10 per million British thermal units.

For comparison, a representative recent spot price in the U.S. was $2.84 per million BTUs.  But you've got to get your energy somewhere.  So who will sell you gas at a gouging price when you are desperate?  The answer, of course, is Russia:

Britain has emerged as the unlikely first recipient of gas from a sanctioned Russian project after fears of a winter supply crisis drove prices close to five year highs. . . .  Now a deal has been struck to bring the debut cargo from Yamal to the Isle of Grain import terminal via a specially built ice-breaking tanker by the end of the month.

The Telegraph includes this picture of a smiling Vladimir Putin:


It's really hard to believe how dumb these people are to have put themselves in this position.  But then, when they make their decisions, they do it against the backdrop of the U.S. military shield, let alone of the frack-happy U.S. as an alternative emergency supplier when Russia puts on the squeeze.  But if we had shut down our fracking over concerns about "climate change," we would have been dependent on OPEC and Russia like Europe and the UK are now.  Who would have been our emergency supplier when those guys decided to put on the squeeze?  And, rest assured, Hillary, following in Obama's footsteps, would have enthusiastically put the country in this position.