Outsider Donald Trump won the 2016 election running a campaign that was definitely not by the book. The American people rewarded him with the White House. Outgoing President Obama oversaw the transition that also was not by the book. Fired FBI Director James Comey James Brien ComeyFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show Comey, Rice, Clapper among GOP senator's targets for subpoenas amid Obama-era probe GOP chairman to seek subpoena power in investigation of Russia probe, 'unmasking' requests MORE , a man whose job requires doing everything by the book, admitted that when it comes to President Trump Donald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE , he threw out the book. That is a problem.
The American people have the right to choose outsiders who do not take traditional political paths to Washington. The FBI, where justice must be blind, has no such right. It has an obligation to be fair and impartial. But revelations show that FBI conduct toward Trump and his administration was a frightening violation of fairness, as Obama officials and senior FBI agents had been duped by Russia, giving way to their worst fears over a man they held in disdain and forcing the country through three years of bitter misery over a false collusion accusation in the election.
They owe the country an apology. In politics, as in life, it is often a terrible mistake to believe the worst in an opponent. Trump very regularly, at least on Twitter, does it to his antagonists. He is wrong to do so. But the Obama administration and the FBI did it to Trump and his campaign in a way that is unacceptable with the rule of law. It is one thing to tweet with reckless abandon. It is another thing to use the powers of the government against an opposition candidate for president. If you are going to use government powers to surveil an opposition campaign, you better have the goods. We found out that the Obama administration did not have them.
Look at 2016 from the eyes of Obama officials. Emails of the Democratic National Committee were hacked. The intelligence community said that Russia was behind it and interfered in the election. Trump then called on Russia to release emails of Clinton. Carter Page had contact with Russian officials. George Papadopoulos told an intermediary he had information on the hacked emails. Top Trump aides met with a Russian to get dirt on Clinton. Michael Flynn had dinner with Vladimir Putin and was paid by a Russian organization to give a speech. Then a dossier alleging sinister doings by Trump with Russians fell into the hands of the FBI.
What was the FBI supposed to do? Look the other way? If there is smoke, there is likely fire, they thought. However, the tragic original sin that afflicted Obama officials and certain FBI agents is that they actually believed the worst of these allegations might be true. They bought the idea that Trump himself was doing the bidding of Putin and that he had people on his team who were in the pockets of Russian officials.
They apparently feared the worst in Trump and set into motion a series of calamitous events. Clinton running mate Tim Kaine alleged in 2017 that the eldest Trump son possibly committed treason. Shortly before the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller Robert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE concluded in 2019 that there was no collusion, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe was asked by Anderson Cooper if Trump might be a Russian asset. He responded, “I think it is possible.” Just think about that. Top FBI leaders were duped into thinking the unthinkable that the American people elected a Russian agent as president. With judgment like that, it is amazing that the FBI could get anything right.
It explains why the Obama administration did not give a defensive briefing to Trump to warn him of their suspicions. If Trump was in on it, how could they warn him? According to the infamous memo Obama national security adviser Susan Rice wrote for herself on her last day in office, Comey also feared Flynn might be passing classified information to the Russians, even though Rice noted that Comey had no proof.
Comey, in coordination with former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, took it upon himself to brief president elect Trump on the dossier, including the part that was uniquely about Trump. If Christopher Steele was wrong, Trump would know it. Assuming Trump was not in a Moscow hotel with Russian prostitutes, as Steele alleged, what else would Trump conclude upon meeting Comey other than the head of the FBI has no idea what he is talking about?
It remains important to learn what Barack Obama Barack Hussein ObamaThe battle of two Cubas Obama on the death of George Floyd: 'This shouldn't be "normal" in 2020 America' Democrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA MORE and Joe Biden knew and what they authorized. Whatever they signed off on was not done by the book. The FBI improperly obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to surveil Page. The FBI should have closed its investigation into Flynn but it did not due to a directive from Comey and McCabe. The FBI got Flynn by, as Comey has admitted, taking advantage of the turmoil in the early days of the Trump administration to set up an interview that would not have been done in either the Bush administration or Obama administration.
Obama officials and FBI leaders overreacted to a man they loathed. They could not believe he won the White House, and their worst fears took hold of them. They put the nation through misery. They ran with collusion, leaked it everywhere, and most of the press happily went along. But they were wrong. I do not know if what they did was a crime, but it certainly was a scandal done out of malice, and it was certainly not conducted by the book.
Ari Fleischer ( @AriFleischer ) served as press secretary to President Bush from 2001 to 2003. He is the president of Ari Fleischer Communications.