Home » Reviews » Politics & Social Sciences » Witch Hunt: The Plot to Destroy Trump and Undo His Election
Inventing a lie is easy. Spreading a lie is even easier. Uncovering the truth is hard. The truth will always have enemies. It is the inherent vice of corrupt men. Nothing is more dangerous to the public good than a lie contrived to usurp the reins of power.
Witch Hunt is the story of a pernicious lie that was invented and spread in a collusive effort to sabotage the election of Donald Trump. When the plot failed, the objective shifted. Newly aggressive tactics were deployed to destroy his presidency, undo his election, and drive him from office. There was never any credible evidence that Trump was a Russian agent. There were no seditious acts that he cooked up with the Kremlin. It was a damning fiction that constitutes what is surely the dirtiest political trick ever perpetrated in politics.
The most amazing part, now that the truth has been revealed, is how widely the lie was believed. How did a handful of government officials create the greatest mass delusion in American political history?
What people tend to forget about “witch hunts” is that there are no real witches, but the hunt persists because of an overwhelming and irrational desire to believe there must be witches. The absolute, unshakable faith in the impossible is what makes a witch hunt possible.
Trump’s enemies, blinded by their own bias and hatred, argued that he could not possibly have won the presidency absent some nefarious cabal to steal the 2016 election. To them, no other explanation made sense. They could not conceive that voters had legitimately placed him in office. There had to be witches flying about. The lie justified their hunch.
In each chapter of this book, the reader will discover people who bent the rules or broke the law because they knew in their hearts that witches would eventually drop out of the sky to prove their thesis. Surely the tangible evidence was there. It was simply a matter of waiting for the apparition. An astonishing array of theoretically smart people convinced themselves, based on nothing, that Trump had committed the most noxious crime in America: a treasonous conspiracy with Russia. At the heart of the witch hunt were rogue government operators determined to stop Trump. They were tenacious and unrelenting.
The peril to democracy today is not a foreign force but a malignant force of unelected officials here at home. Armed with immense power and often lurking in the shadows, they have revealed themselves capable of uncommon corruption. Their allegiance is not to the Constitution and the rule of law but to themselves. Personal animus and a voracious appetite for authority are what motivates their zeal. Anyone like Trump, who might jeopardize their hold on power, must be immobilized by any means and at any cost. To neutralize this threat and achieve their desired ambitions, they politicized their agencies, weaponized law enforcement, and persecuted people without respect for law or process.
There is little doubt that top Obama administration officials at the FBI, CIA, Department of Justice, and other federal agencies abused their authority for political purposes. James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr, James Clapper, and John Brennan all regarded themselves as above the law and accountable to no one. Supremely confident in their arrogance that they were smarter than the American people, who are empowered to choose a president, their actions would serve a higher moral purpose. Or so they persuaded themselves. Audaciously, they sought to incriminate Trump for crimes he did not commit. Witch Hunt unravels the plot hatched by these enemies of truth, their insipid deceptions, and the extraordinary actions they took to cover up their malevolent acts.
The mainstream media, riven with bias and easily exploited, enabled the hoax and became witting accessories to the witch hunt. Their disdain for Trump, both the man and his policies, influenced their adversarial reporting on a daily basis. Their methods failed them as they covered every twist and turn in the search for wrongdoing, instead of investigating ostensible wrongdoing. Whatever position Trump adopted or action he took was reflexively opposed by the liberal intellectual quotient that inhabits newsrooms almost everywhere. Trump was their nemesis. Even the few striving for fairness in their reporting frequently tweeted only the most partisan articles to their influential followers. Television commentators set a new standard for bloviating, simply making things up, and manufacturing all manner of falsehoods. They were all thirsting to gulp the Kool-Aid. Their reporting led many Americans to swallow the big lie.
Now, of course, the country can see the last two years clearly. The illicit scheme originated during the campaign season of 2016. It was secretly financed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Democrats, conceived by a foreign agent with a checkered past in espionage, and then brokered to solicitous collaborators at the FBI, the Justice Department, and elsewhere in government.1 The premise of the ruse was as outlandish as the actions of those who advanced it: they posited that Trump was a covert Russian asset who had spent many years “colluding” with the Kremlin to win the White House. This was contrary to all reason or common sense; it was utterly preposterous.
As with most mendacious smears, it was bereft of any proof to support it. There was nothing in the way of probable cause or reasonable suspicion to indicate that Trump had coordinated or collaborated with Moscow. There was no hard evidence; indeed, there was no soft evidence. The narrative patiently constructed on MSNBC and CNN for months—Trump would get a good deal on building a Russian hotel, Trump hires Russians to hack the DNC, and then the Russians secretly control our foreign policy—doesn’t even make sense. Trump did not conspire or, if you like, “collude” with Russia to influence the election. Others were colluding to frame him.
The first seeds of the canard appear to have been planted by the CIA under the partisan stewardship of Director John Brennan, who loathed Trump.2 The idea slowly germinated as Clinton sprinkled her campaign speeches with tenebrous references to her opponent’s patriotism, suggesting a veiled fealty to Russian president Vladimir Putin. It was rubbish, of course, but it tended to arouse the kind of suspicion that only political bombast during an election can engender. Clinton then took it a step further, fertilizing and harvesting the idea. Through a series of discreetly disguised transactions that served as firewalls, her campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired a former British spy by the name of Christopher Steele who conjured up an anti-Trump document known as the “dossier.” In a series of seventeen successive memos penned over a six-month period in 2016, these specious documents spun a fantastic tale of how Trump associates and the candidate himself had consorted with sinister Kremlin officials in an elaborate effort to pervert the election.3
As Steele disseminated his scribble, he confided to a high Justice Department official by the name of Bruce Ohr that he detested the Republican nominee and was desperate to prevent him from ascending to the presidency.4 The end would justify the means, even if that included falsifying or fabricating evidence against the candidate he despised. Over several months and with remarkable stealth, Ohr propagated the information to the FBI, which was already working secretly with Steele, who had been on the Bureau payroll since early 2016.
At its core, Steele’s “dossier” was based on little more than multiple hearsays from supposed Russian sources who were largely anonymous. It is quite possible that those unidentified sources never existed at all or, in the alternative, the ex-spy was fed Russian disinformation to the amusement of the Kremlin. Senior FBI officials well knew the sketchy provenance of the “dossier” and the mutable character of its author. Indeed, they had been warned.5 They didn’t care. They also knew that the accusations contained therein were so dubious and unverified that they could never be used in court or to initiate a formal investigation of its target.
Yet, undeterred by the constraints of law, the FBI used them anyway. Top officials exploited the “dossier” as a pretext to launch their investigation of Trump in direct violation of the regulations that govern initiating such a probe.6 In essence, the outlandish rumors fueled by the partisan enemies of Trump and the lawlessness of the FBI created the biggest political “con” of all time: a deliberate deception that managed to dominate and, to some extent, disable the Trump presidency.
The FBI first got its hands on the “dossier” on July 5, 2016, the very day that Director Comey stood in front of television cameras to absolve Clinton of various crimes for mishandling classified documents. As he twisted the facts and distorted the law, one of his agents was furtively meeting with Steele in London. When the agent read the document, he was stunned and remarked, “I have to report this to headquarters.”7 Thus, on the same day Comey cleared Clinton, the “witch hunt” began in earnest.
The formal investigation was opened three weeks later on July 31, 2016. That day, rogue FBI agent Peter Strzok texted his lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, admitting that the Clinton case had never really mattered, but the Trump case was “momentous” and did “MATTER.”8 During my interview of President Trump at the White House in June 2019, I showed him that text. He shook his head in disgust and said, “That text tells me it was all rigged from the very beginning, and it tells me that it is the worst scandal to hit the FBI.”9
Steele did not work alone. His carefully cultivated false narrative of Trump-Russia “collusion” was engineered by hired surrogates of Clinton’s campaign and the Democrats, namely Glenn Simpson, the founder of a company called Fusion GPS, which marketed itself as an opposition research firm. Simpson was aptly described by a major publication as “a mercenary for hire by anyone with fat stacks of bitcoins.”10 With clever calculation, Simpson and Steele hustled their “dossier” to the media and Clinton allies in the upper echelons of government, with the FBI as the ultimate receptacle of all phony information.11 Simpson would later clam up by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when subpoenaed to testify before Congress.
None of that impeded the FBI or President Obama’s Justice Department. Weeks before the presidential election, they misused the unverified “dossier” as the basis of a “verified” warrant application from a secret surveillance court to wiretap a onetime Trump campaign adviser, boldly asserting that he was a Russian spy.12 He was not. Vital evidence was concealed, the judges were deceived, and the court was defrauded.
The strategy to dismantle Trump’s bid for the highest office was dependent on proliferating the erroneous and lurid story that he was a modern-day “Manchurian Candidate” or “Putin’s puppet.”13 When it did not gain the desired traction and the Republican nominee was elected, his enemies doubled down on the scheme to portray him as a Russian stooge who would betray his nation once he set foot in the Oval Office. The complicit media were all too willing to convict Trump in the court of public opinion by perpetuating those calumnies without bothering to honestly examine the reliability of their sources or the ridiculousness of the narrative they were feeding daily. Trump’s improbable election had sent many in the press corps into a tailspin.
Equally unglued were Barack Obama’s intelligence agencies. With assistance from the outgoing president’s diplomats, they “unmasked” the protected names of hundreds of Americans identified in secret intelligence reports, including three senior Trump advisers.14 One victim of the unmasking was the incoming president’s pick to be national security advisor. His conversation with a Russian diplomat during the transition was secretly recorded and illegally leaked to the media to create the appearance of “collusion” so as to damage the newly elected president.15 In the waning days of the old administration, intelligence chiefs worked furiously to enact new rules that would relax the sharing of intel, making it easier to spread scurrilous information that could prove destructive to Trump.
Shortly before inauguration day, the CIA, FBI, and the director of national intelligence (DNI) concocted a plan for Director Comey to selectively brief Trump on only the salacious part of the “dossier” while deliberately hiding the Russia “collusion” accusation and who had paid for it.16 The discussion in the meeting was immediately leaked to journalists so that reporters would have an excuse to publish the contents of the “dossier,” which they did. The new president deserved the truth about the full document, not to be smeared in the media by a false narrative underwritten by the Clinton campaign and circulated by the FBI and intelligence agencies.
Almost overnight, the Trump-Russia phantasm ignited a public firestorm. Unfounded allegations that the president was in league with Putin served as rich fodder for endless stories, commentary, and denunciations on Capitol Hill and in the compliant press. That was precisely what the progenitors of the lie had desired all along. Within three months, Trump was fed up with Comey’s duplicity and misrepresentations. Privately, he was assuring the president that he was not under investigation. In public testimony before Congress he implied the opposite. Comey had also broken FBI rules in his handling of the Clinton email case. When Trump fired the FBI director, the escalating “witch hunt” became a full-blown political maelstrom. Incensed and angry that his mentor at the Bureau had been canned, the temporary “acting” FBI director Andrew McCabe initiated a new and surreptitious investigation of Trump.17 There was no legal justification for this. He did it because he could.
Over at the Justice Department, the emotionally overwrought Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, named Comey’s longtime friend and ally Robert Mueller III as special counsel.18 The appointment was an act of pure retribution against the president whom Rosenstein blamed for the unexpected and stinging public criticism the deputy AG had endured after recommending Comey’s termination. As for Mueller, he should never have accepted the job. He had more than one disqualifying conflict of interest, including his close ties to Comey, who was a pivotal witness.19 Even worse, Mueller had met with the president in the Oval Office the day before he accepted the assignment to investigate Trump. The appointment itself was not just perfidious; it was contrary to federal regulations, and Rosenstein must have known it. When confronted, he allegedly cowered behind his desk and blubbered, “Am I gonna get fired?”20
The appointment of Mueller had the insufferable Comey’s dirty fingerprints all over it. When he was sacked, he took with him presidential memorandums he had purloined from the government. In contravention of the law and FBI rules, he conveyed them without authorization to a friend for the sole purpose of leaking the confidential memos to the media in order to trigger the naming of a special counsel, who just happened to be his friend and former colleague Mueller. They were the same memos Comey had concealed from the Justice Department but delivered to the media.21 He vowed that he would never leak, and then he did. The devious plan worked, and a special counsel was appointed.
In private testimony before Congress more than a year later, Comey admitted that there was no evidence of “collusion” when the FBI had launched its investigation in July 2016, and by the time Mueller was named, “we still couldn’t answer the question.”22 This means that the initial probe should never have been opened in the first place, and the appointment of a special counsel some nine months later was not authorized under the governing regulations; there must first be some articulable factual basis or evidence suggesting that a crime may have been committed.23 There wasn’t any. But the Trump resistance operation was just getting started.
In a plot that should alarm all Americans, McCabe and Rosenstein met behind closed doors to consider deposing Trump from the presidency. But how exactly could he be evicted? The deputy attorney general proposed wearing a “wire” to secretly record Trump and recruit cabinet members to remove him from office under a contorted interpretation of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.24 When later questioned about this by Trump, Rosenstein denied the attempted coup against the duly elected president of the United States. “He said it didn’t happen. He said he never said it,” the president told me. “What he told other people is that he was joking. But to me, he claimed he never said it.”25 McCabe and another witness affirmed that it had been no joke.26 It appears that Rosenstein was not telling the truth.
As Mueller ignored his own conflicts with impunity, he hired a team of partisan prosecutors, ruining the special counsel’s integrity and the credibility of its investigation. Rosenstein, who was obviously a key witness in any obstruction of justice case, refused to recuse himself and continued to supervise the probe. According to Trump’s lawyer, Mueller knew within a few months that there was no collusion and confessed as much during a meeting on March 5, 2018.27 Yet he refused to say so for more than a year, likely affecting the midterm elections.
On March 22, 2019, the Mueller Report was finally submitted to the Justice Department. As expected, there was no evidence of criminal “collusion” or, as the special counsel affirmed, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”28 After a twenty-two-month investigation, hundreds of witnesses interviewed, thousands of subpoenas issued, and more than a million documents examined, the Russia hoax was exposed for what it was: a lie. Not a single person was ever charged with a “collusion” conspiracy offense.
Though perfectly willing to render a legal judgment on “collusion,” Mueller then announced that he had “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” on obstruction.29 His rationale was unintelligible. It got worse. He stated, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”30 What? As any lawyer will tell you, it is never the job of a prosecutor anywhere to exonerate people. By this one act, Mueller managed to reverse the burden of proof and invert the presumption of innocence which are sacrosanct principles in American law. Instead, he spent 183 pages smearing Trump by implying that, under certain circumstances which did not actually exist, the facts might sustain an obstruction case.
Attorney General William Barr was admittedly baffled by Mueller’s reasoning, describing it in Senate testimony as “strange” and “bizarre.”31 He and other top lawyers at the DOJ examined the report, analyzed the law and the facts, and concluded that the evidence was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”32 In a swipe at Mueller, Barr observed that the special counsel’s legal analysis “did not reflect the views of the department” but was the product of the personal views “of a particular lawyer or lawyers.”33 The attorney general insisted that Mueller could have rendered a decision on obstruction and that no Department of Justice rules prevented him from doing so.34
The witch hunt ended precisely as I had argued it would in my book The Russia Hoax. Trump did not “collude” with Russia, but his opponent who funded and endorsed the lie did. The Clinton campaign paid for Russian disinformation in a phony “dossier.” Clinton’s surrogates then fed the elaborate fraud to the FBI so that it would launch a dilating investigation of Trump, and they peddled it to the media to influence the 2016 presidential election. Clinton herself incessantly advanced the false conspiracy theory that held the nation and presidency hostage for more than two years.
As the fictive “collusion” narrative persisted, the media paid no attention to what Clinton did but devoted all of its scrutiny to what Trump did not do. Journalists were all too eager to accept as gospel the intelligence leaks that they assumed were accurate and truthful. Their lack of question or curiosity was animated by their antipathy toward the president. They embraced the “dossier” as scripture, teased by hope that it might somehow, inexplicably, be proven true. There has been no shortage of media malpractice in the age of Trump. It continues to this day, as reporters bang the drum of “collusion” and obstruction, the paucity of evidence notwithstanding. This has been a perplexing phenomenon, as Attorney General Barr noted in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the conclusion of the Mueller investigation:
How did we get to the point where the evidence is now that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous and accused of being a Russian agent? And the evidence now is that it was without a basis.
Two years of his administration have been dominated by the allegations that have now been proven false. And . . . to listen to some of the rhetoric, you would think that The Mueller Report had found the opposite.35
Barr was deeply disturbed by the answers he was getting when he inquired about the reasons why the Trump-Russia investigation had been initiated and the actions by government officials in pursuing a case that had proven to be utterly without merit. The known facts belied the explanations he was hearing. With stunning candor, he stated that “these counter-intelligence activities directed at the Trump Campaign, were not done in the normal course and not through the normal procedures as far as I can tell.”36 That was an understatement. The attorney general decided to launch his own investigation into potential misconduct and lawlessness. More lies and corruption will likely be exposed.
I decided to write this second book, Witch Hunt, because a wealth of evidence has emerged since the The Russia Hoax went to print in early June 2018. The inspector general at the DOJ issued a highly critical report on how the Clinton email case had been mishandled, if not rigged. More text messages between Strzok and Page surfaced, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the probe and emphasizing the bias that had contaminated the ensuing Trump investigation. The plot to overthrow the president came to light. So, too, did a myriad of details on how the Clinton campaign and Democrats, not Trump, were guilty of “collusion.” Prodigious lying and spying came into sharper focus with the release of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications and reports on the use of undercover agents. The doors were opened on heretofore closed-door testimony, as transcripts were belatedly made public. And, of course, Mueller eventually produced his magnum opus that managed to smear Trump while deflating the phony narrative that the president of the United States was a clandestine Russian agent who hijacked an election. It was folly at its best—or worst.
Attorney General Barr posed the correct question: How could it have ever happened? Witch Hunt uncovers the truth about the invented lies and corrupt actions of high officials who abused the power of their positions for political gain. They sought to subvert our rules of law and undermine the democratic process. By their venal acts, they damaged the institutions of American government. And they squandered the nation’s trust.
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