With Obamagate, Trump returns to a favorite distraction tactic

The theory, as Trump’s allies have described it, is that Obama was involved in an effort to entrap Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI. The Justice Department last week moved to dismiss Flynn’s case, giving the theory a boost, as did newly released documents detailing the early stages of the Flynn probe. But the specifics are murky.

“You know what the crime is,” Trump said on Monday, when pressed at a White House briefing about what exact offense had been committed. “The crime is very obvious to everybody, all you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”

The blunderbuss trumpeting of an anti-Obama narrative is a tactic Trump has employed throughout his political career. Over the years, Trump’s attacks on Obama have veered from the baseless — the president is not an American citizen, Obama tapped my phones — to exaggerations and falsehoods about his predecessor’s record — Obama shipped plane loads of cash to Iran, Obama left the strategic national stockpile empty. In each case, the real estate developer-turned president has used these stories to distract from unwelcome stories while elevating himself and exciting his base. The questionable details are rarely important.

The “OBAMAGATE!” effort appears no different. It has drawn attention away from the rising coronavirus death toll and a spate of cases within the White House — an inconvenient counterpoint to the president’s insistence that it is safe to return to work. It has provided chum to Trump-boosting pundits. And it portrays Trump as victorious over enemies who are tied to his likely 2020 opponent, Joe Biden.

“President Trump always does best when he has a foil to go head to head with,” said Jason Miller, the former communications chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign and co-host of the podcast “War Room.” “But the other thing that’s important here — this is a reminder that Joe Biden is part of the establishment, part of the problem, part of the Washington infrastructure.”

Matt Gertz, who has spent several years tracking Fox News coverage as a senior fellow at the liberal watchdog Media Matters, sees it as an attempt to hype up an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, led by John Durham, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut.

“This is, I think, the beginning of the story,” he said. “I think that this is coming as Fox News and Trump and Republicans are trying to create space for Attorney General William Barr to announce some sort of sweeping result of the investigation that he and John Durham undertook,” Gertz said.

Trump’s attempts to delegitimize Obama by insinuating conspiracy theories go back years. In 2011, Trump revived the inaccurate claims that Obama was born in Kenya as he went on a PR blitz floating the possibility of a presidential run. When he did run for president several years later, Trump continued to hint at other Obama conspiracies, vaguely claiming, for instance, that Obama had “something to hide” by not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.”

The pattern continued into Trump’s presidency, reaching its apex when the president falsely accused Obama of ordering the wiretapping of Trump Tower.

And now, Trump has finally affixed Obama with a “gate” suffix.

The new line of attack revved up after DOJ moved to drop its charges against Flynn, who had been trying to rescind his guilty plea over lying to authorities about his conversions with the top Russian diplomat shortly before Trump took office.

Some of Trump’s allies have alleged Obama was part of an FBI plot to trick Flynn into lying as part of an attempt to take down the next president. They point to an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 5, 2017, at which Obama, Biden, former FBI Director James Comey and others discussed Flynn and the broader probe into Russian election interference.

The theory got an injection of new life with the recent release of FBI notes from Flynn’s case and interviews House lawmakers conducted with several Obama figures about the situation. While the documents contained no smoking gun, Trump’s allies have seized on several details, including that the FBI was about to close the Flynn case before new evidence prompted officials to keep it open.

“This really was a conspiracy to do something that we’ve not seen in American history, and that was to actually perform a coup,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said on Fox Business News.

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