As the collusion avenues led to dead ends, Republican investigators for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee traveled on a new lane. They discovered a number of behind-the-scenes moves that they said transformed a traditionally acrimony-free transition into a partisan transfer of presidential power.
Among the findings: Obama appointees relied on Democratic opposition research to push Trump collusion claims into the public domain. They also leaked sensitive material to news media, some of it grossly misleading.
In addition, House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, California Republican, is seeking access to Justice Department documents to determine whether the FBI inserted a spy into the Trump campaign.
Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to President George W. Bush, said Obama aides “made life extremely difficult for the incoming team.”
“In retrospect, we now know this is one of the worst transitions in American history,” Mr. Fleischer told The Washington Times. “On the surface, they played nicely and said nice things. But below the surface, it is clear several people in the Obama administration were doing everything they could to leave time bombs behind that would detonate all around Donald Trump and his administration.”
He pointed to an Obama operative who “unmasked” the name of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in a U.S.-intercepted call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The Obama person then leaked the call to The Washington Post, causing immediate upheaval inside the new White House.
“The Obama administration did many things in their power to harm the Trump administration as they got their feet on the ground,” Mr. Fleischer said. “All these things revolve around a tight circle that have access to the highest levels of intelligence, and they all have a common theme: Trump colluded, when there’s no evidence of it. But they were so spooked by what they saw, I think, it’s highly likely the Obama people rushed to conclusions and made life extremely difficult for the incoming team.”
At the White House, partisanship generally recedes during a transition.
“It was the president-elect who, over the course of the campaign, indicated that he thought that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin was a strong leader,” Mr. Earnest told reporters on Dec. 12, 2016. “It was the president-elect who indicated the potential that he would withdraw from some of our critically important NATO commitments. It was the president-elect who refused to disclose his financial connections to Russia. It was the president-elect who hired a campaign chairman with extensive, lucrative, personal financial ties to Russia. It was the president-elect who had a national security adviser on the campaign that had been a paid contributor to RT, the Russian propaganda outlet.”
Nick Shapiro, who was an adviser to CIA Director John O. Brennan, said that, contrary to conservative charges, the White House and the CIA kept a close hold on information about Trump-Russia suspicions and Moscow computer hacking.
“Senior Obama administration and career intelligence and law enforcement officials were all very worried about the Russian interference in the election, as they should have been, but they have in fact been heavily criticized for not being vocal enough with the public about it,” Mr. Shapiro told The Washington Times. “Many former senior Obama officials have been out defending why they didn’t do more publicly, and that was because of what Trump himself said during the campaign, that he wouldn’t accept the results of the election if he lost. They took extraordinary steps to avoid letting the very legitimate concerns about the Russian interference be characterized as partisan.”
Republicans cite the following examples of Obama supporters undermining Mr. Trump:
Opposition research dossier
The Obama Justice Department and the FBI hierarchy embraced the list of collusion charges leveled by former British spy Christopher Steele. He was paid by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign to investigate Mr. Trump and his campaign.
The FBI deployed the Steele dossier to obtain at least one wiretap on a Trump volunteer and made its charges a blueprint for questioning and targeting Trump associates. James B. Comey, who was FBI director when the bureau bought into the dossier, said he tried to “replicate” its charges.
Now on a book tour, he has offered no criticism of Mr. Steele’s work.
The FBI and Steele
The FBI hierarchy made a commitment to hire Mr. Steele and then a paid Democratic Party operative to continue investigating the president-elect and possibly the presidency. Mr. Steele told a Justice Department contact that he was “desperate” to sink the Trump campaign. The bureau fired him after he lied about talking to news media.
The contact, senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, continued to receive anti-Trump data from his wife’s employer, Fusion GPS, the investigative firm that hired Mr. Steele.
Mr. Steele continues to investigate Mr. Trump via the Penn Quarter Group, run by Daniel Jones, a former senior staffer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. Mr. Jones acquired $40 million from a small group of donors and has told the FBI that he is paying Fusion GPS and Mr. Steele.
Peter Strzok and Lisa Page
Perhaps no other narrative is emblematic of a “deep state” than the text messages of FBI lovers — Special Agent Peter Strzok and counselor Lisa Page.
Mr. Strzok led the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. Ms. Page served as a senior counsel to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired in March for lying under oath about a leaked news story.
Special counsel Robert Mueller immediately fired Mr. Strzok when apprised by the Justice Department inspector general. Ms. Page has resigned.
“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected. But I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Mr. Strzok texted in August as his counterintelligence investigation got under way. “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
The agent’s explanation for how he planned not to “risk” a Trump presidency has not been revealed publicly.
President Obama’s top intelligence officer leaked dossier material to CNN at about the same time Mr. Comey privately briefed the president-elect on Jan. 6, 2017, about the dossier’s prostitution charge. Mr. Comey withheld from Mr. Trump the fact that the charge came from Democratic opposition research. In his memos for the record, Mr. Comey wrote that it was Mr. Clapper who urged him to brief Mr. Trump on the salacious material.
CNN ran a story on Jan. 10, 2017, saying the Russians had compromising material on the president-elect. Mr. Clapper first denied but later admitted that he had leaked to CNN, according to the Republican majority report of the Houseintelligence committee.
Mr. Clapper is a fierce Trump foe, having cast him as an agent of Mr. Putin. CNN hired Mr. Clapper as an analyst in August 2017.
An Obama political appointee at the State Department brought Mr. Steele together with Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton operative who briefed him on supposed Trump dirt. Mr. Steele delivered the material to the FBI.
Washington media wrote a number of articles on Trump-Russia collusion and quoted unidentified Obama officials. The New York Times greeted Mr. Trump on Inauguration Day with a story claiming conspiracy. The next month, it again relied on Obama people to report that there was a huge number of intercepts and phone records between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.
Mr. Comey later told Congress that the story was wrong.
Evelyn Farkas, the Pentagon’s top Russia analyst during the Obama era, said on MSNBC last year that she urged her former colleagues to secure as much intelligence material as they could to protect it from destruction by Trump aides. She left the Pentagon in 2015 and advised the Clinton campaign.
“That’s why you have the leaking, because people were worried,” said Ms. Farkas, who is now a scholar at the Atlantic Council.
The retired three-star Army intelligence officer held phone discussions with Mr. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, on an upcoming U.N. vote on Israel and Moscow’s response to Obama-imposed punitive sanctions for election meddling.
On Jan. 12, 2017, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported on the phone calls, quoting an unidentified Obama official. Other stories followed. The Obama administration was leaking top-secret intercepts.
When interviewed by two FBI agents in his first week as national security adviser, Flynn said those topics were not discussed. The agents told their superiors that they didn’t believe Flynn was deceptive.
Sally Q. Yates, a holdover deputy attorney general from the Obama administration, visited the White House and told officials that Flynn was at risk for Russian blackmail. She believed he violated the 1799 Logan Act, an obscure law preventing private citizens from working with foreigners against government policy.
Mr. Trump fired Ms. Yates when she failed to follow his Muslim immigration ban.
Suddenly, a law that few had heard of became weaponized in the liberal media against Flynn. Conservatives said it was an example of Obama people spinning the media in unison against the new administration.
The Republican report from the House intelligence committee disclosed that Flynn in December 2016 was the subject of the counterintelligence investigation. Mr. Comey had decided to close the investigation in December 2016 but he kept it open because of the Kislyak phone calls.
The plea deal with Mr. Mueller did not mention any conspiracies. There has been much press speculation about why Flynn chose to admit guilt, some of it centering on his huge legal costs.
Sen. Harry Reid
As the campaign raged in August 2016, Mr. Brennan, the CIA director, briefed eight senior members of Congress on two issues: ongoing Russia election interference and his bombshell assertion that Trump people may be part of the conspiracy.
Harry Reid, Senate minority leader at the time, promptly wrote an Aug. 27 letter to Mr. Comey, the FBI director, laying out the collusion theory without quoting Mr. Brennan. The letter was leaked to The New York Times and migrated into other media, marking what appears to be the first official Democratic charge of a Trump-Moscow conspiracy.
“The evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to mount,” wrote Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat.
“Congress should hold hearings to investigate Obama administration officials who worked behind the scenes to sabotage Trump and associates during the campaign, transition and administration,” Mr. Gordon said. “In some countries, their actions might be considered a coup attempt. And like they enjoy saying about us, ‘Let the investigation follow the facts, wherever they may lead.’”