WASHINGTON – President Trump has begun an aggressive new effort to rewrite the narrative of the Russian inquiry by making ill-founded and baseless accusations that former President Barack Obama masterminded an evil plan to overthrow him.
On Twitter, on television, at Rose Garden and even on the White House’s official social media page, Mr. In recent days Trump has targeted his latest predecessor in a way that is not owned by a president who sits in modern times, accusing Mr. Obama for undefined and unspecified crime under vague but politically charged slogans “Obamagate.”
The President went further on Thursday by demanding that Obama be brought before the Senate “To testify about the biggest political crime and scandal in US history,” a scenario that has no precise precedent in American history. Within hours, Trump’s most loyal Republican ally in the Senate immediately announced that he would indeed investigate it, even though he might not call Obama.
In throwing allegations of arson to his predecessor, Trump did not offer evidence and did not even mention the “crime” of what he alleged was committed by the former president. Instead, Mr. Trump is likely to tie up an investigation by special adviser Robert S. Mueller III, who has angered him for years, returning to Mr. Obama while hinting with displeasure at the forthcoming revelations that will strengthen his claim.
In addition to diverting attention from the coronavirus pandemic, Trump’s focus on Obama allowed him to change his list of accusers by making them corrupt while simultaneously placing his challengers from the Democratic Party, the former Vice-President. Joseph R. Biden Jr., self-defense.
“This is all Obama, this is all Biden,” Trump said an interview on Fox Business Network which aired on Thursday. “These people are corrupt, all are corrupt, and we arrest them. We catch them. “
When host Maria Bartiromo asked if he believed that Obama was directing American intelligence services to spy on him, Mr. Trump agreed, without proof.
“Yes, he might direct them,” said Mr. Trump “But if he does not direct them, he knows everything – and you will see that,” he continued, adding that documents would be released soon to raise his accusation.
No evidence emerged that before the November 2016 election Obama was involved in F.B.I. investigate Trump’s advisers and any links with Russian campaign interference, let alone what he directed, even though his whereabouts have been reported in the news media. Obama was notified in January 2017 of a telephone call between Trump’s upcoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and the Russian ambassador to discuss the sanctions the president had just imposed on Moscow in response to an attempt to sabotage his election.
The document was released by Mr Trump’s allies this week shows that several Obama administration officials, including Biden, asked for an American identity that was not initially named in intelligence reports about contact with Russia, an American who turned out to be Flynn. Such “unmasked” requests are made thousands of times a year and, according to the document, this is agreed under normal procedures and the recipient is authorized to receive information.
But Mr Trump’s ally suggested the request shows that Obama’s aides must be involved in trying to “arrange” Mr. Flynn, who was interviewed by F.B.I. agent after Mr. Obama left the office and finally pleaded guilty to lying to them. Attorney General William P. Barr last week moved to throw the case, concluded that F.B.I. has no basis for interviewing Flynn, a decision which Obama later said would undermine the rule of law.
Mr Trump’s attack has been strengthened by Fox News, other conservative media and his re-election apparatus. He has even used his government platform to file charges, post Campaign-style “Obamagate” videos on the official White House Facebook page, a partisan message that blatantly would be deemed to cross the line in previous administration.
Trump often complains against his political opponents with sensational but not specific accusations, making advisers follow and trying to fill the dialogue. In this case, Trump hopes that enough intelligence will be released by his intelligence officials to muddy the water and provide a patina of confusion about what Obama might have done, according to people who know his thoughts.
Other presidents clash with their predecessors over policy or politics, sometimes even openly fighting. But excluding Richard M. Nixon and Watergate, no president sitting in modern times has explicitly and aggressively accused the former president of criminality.
“What makes Trump’s attack so horribly different from his predecessor is how he only concocts a scandal from empty air, cooking a conspiracy that has nothing to do with historical facts,” said Matthew Dallek, a presidential historian at George Washington University.
Trump returned to Obama in March 2017, two days after Jeff Sessions, then attorney general, resigned from the investigation into Russian election interference, a move that angered the president and led to Mr Mueller’s appointment.
The president denounced again last weekend after news reported about Obama’s criticism of Mr’s decision. Barr to negate Flynn’s guilty plea.
Trump began using the term “Obamagate” on Sunday but refused to explain what specific crimes he accused when asked the next day by a Washington Post reporter. “You know what the crime is,” the president said nervously. “The crime is very clear to everyone. All you have to do is read the newspaper, except yours. “
He still hasn’t explained, but on Thursday morning, he urged Senator Lindsey Graham, Republic of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to open an investigation.
“If I’m a Senator or Congressman, the first person I call to testify about political crime and the biggest scandal in US history, by FAR, is former President Obama,” Mr. Trump writes on Twitter. “He knows everything. Do it @LindseyGrahamSC, just do it. No more Mr. Good People. Don’t talk anymore!”
Less than two hours later, Mr. Graham announced hearings into the Flynn case and other matters, including whether Mr. Mueller should be appointed. Mr. Mueller the investigation concluded that Russia is carrying out a major operation to tilt the 2016 election to Mr. Trump and that there are some contacts with colleagues. Trump, but did not find enough evidence to prosecute criminal conspiracy.
“Saying we are living in an unusual period is an understatement,” Graham said in a statement. “We have a sitting president (Trump) accusing former president (Obama) of being part of a treason conspiracy to undermine his presidency. We have a former president who suggests the current president is destroying the rule of law by rejecting General Flynn’s case.”
However, Mr. Graham threw cold water at the idea of calling Mr. Obama. “The two presidents,” he added, “are welcome to come before the committee and share their concerns about each other. If there is no other it will be good television. However, I have great doubts about whether it would be wise for the country.”
F.B.I. opened its investigation of relations between Russia and the Trump campaign in July 2016 shortly after WikiLeaks released thousands of internal Democrat Party emails which intelligence officials said were hacked by Russian intelligence agents. Investigation, code named Crossfire Hurricane, was handled by a small group of law enforcement and intelligence officers, who did not notify White House officials of the investigation, according to accounts that have emerged since then.
When Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump meets in person two days after the November election, Obama warned him about Flynn, who had served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration. The former official said that the warning concerns Flynn’s work performance and his passion for conspiracy theories, not government investigations.
During their search, intelligence officials found telephone call records, which had been intercepted by the National Security Agency as part of routine surveillance by Russian officials. In one of the calls, Flynn urged Russia not to retaliate because the new, more welcoming and friendly government was ready to take over the office.
Obama discussed the call during a January 5 meeting at the Oval Office with James B. Comey, F.B.I. Director; James R. Clapper Jr., national intelligence director; and other officials. After the meeting, Trump told Sally Yates, deputy attorney general, that he “does not want additional information on this issue,” according to an interview recently disclosed by Ms. Yates to F.B.I.
Four days after Obama left office, Mr. Comey sent F.B.I. agent to interview Mr. Flynn about calling with Mr. Kislyak Mr. Flynn was charged with lying to the investigator, for whom he pleaded guilty. He then tried to change his plea and Mr. Barr agrees. A the judge who seemed skeptical will decide whether to allow it.
Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York, and Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman from Washington.
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