Should the FBI Run the Country?
Since the media would doubtless answer that loaded question, “It depends on the president,” let us imagine the following scenario.
Return to 2008, when candidate Barack Obama had served only about three years in the U.S. Senate, his sum total of foreign policy experience. And he was running against the overseas old-hand, decorated veteran, and national icon John McCain—a bipartisan favorite in Washington, D.C.
Stories also abounded that the Los Angeles Times had suppressed the release of a supposedly explosive “Khalidi tape,” in which Obama purportedly thanked the radical Rashid Khalidi for schooling him on the Middle East and correcting his earlier biases and blind spots, while praising the Palestinian activist for his support for armed resistance against Israel.
Even more gossip circulated that photos existed of a smiling Barack Obama with Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim extremist and radical pro-Gaddafi patron, who in the past had praised Adolf Hitler and reminded the Jews again about the finality of being sent to the ovens. (A photo of a smiling Obama and Farrakhan did emerge, but mysteriously only after President Obama left office).
Imagine that all these tales in 2008 might have supposedly “worried” Bush lame-duck and pro-McCain U.S. intelligence officials, who informally met to discuss possible ways of gleaning more information about this still mostly unknown but scary Obama candidacy.
But most importantly, imagine that McCain’s opposition researchers had apprised the FBI of accusations (unproven, of course) that Obama had improperly set up a private back-channel envoy to Iran in 2008. Supposedly, Obama was trying secretly to reassure the theocracy (then the object of Bush Administration and allied efforts to ratchet up pressures to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weapons) of better treatment to come. The conspiratorial accusation would imply that if Iran held off Bush Administration pressures, Tehran might soon find a more conducive atmosphere from an incoming Obama Administration.
Additional rumors of similar Logan Act “violations” would also swirl about Obama campaign efforts to convince the Iraqis not to seal a forces agreement with the departing Bush Administration.
Changing Status Quo Calls for a Federal Investigation
Further, conceive that at least one top Bush Justice Department deputy had a spouse working on the McCain opposition dossier on Obama, and that the same official had helped to circulate its scandalous anti-Obama contents around government circles.
In this scenario, also picture that the anti-Obama FBI soon might have claimed that the Obama Iran mission story might have been not only an apparent violation of the Logan Act but also part of possible larger “conspiratorial” efforts to undermine current Bush Administration policies. And given Obama’s campaign rhetoric of downplaying the threats posed by Iran to the United States, and the likelihood he would reverse long-standing U.S. opposition to the theocracy, the FBI decided on its own in July 2008 that Obama himself posed a grave threat to national security.
More importantly, the FBI, by its director’s own later admission, would have conjectured that McCain was the likelier stronger candidate and thus would win the election, given his far greater experience than that of the novice Obama. And therefore, the FBI director further assumed he could conduct investigations against a presidential candidate on the theory that a defeated Obama would have no knowledge of its wayward investigatory surveillance, and that a soon-to-be President McCain would have no desire to air such skullduggery.
The Bush FBI would be further alarmed in 2008 that Obama would, in addition, reverse long-standing U.S. foreign policy by restoring relations with Venezuela, Cuba, and “resetting” policy with Russia.
Envision as a result that the Bureau would have notified the CIA of its concerns about a likely Obama radical new change in U.S. foreign policy toward archenemy, theocratic Iran. The CIA director would then also begin tipping off important Republican senators of the dangers Obama posed. He would spice up his warnings with the preliminary “data” gleaned from shared FBI-inspired counterintelligence surveillance operations of the various members of the Obama campaign—specifically, FISA-court ordered surveillance focused on, say, the Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett.
Again, no proof of any collusion, but lots of worries that the outsider Obama would pose a level of danger to the status quo.
At about the same time, in the weeks before the election, the Bush FBI and Justice Department would have presented to the FISA court a dossier paid for by the McCain campaign—produced through the use of both law and opposition research firms that had hidden the improper use of McCain campaign fund payments, as well the fact that the anti-Obama dossier was compiled by a British retired spy, with a long known hostility to the Obama candidacy.
Unverified Claims, Anonymous Sources
In this continuing thought experiment, the FBI would not verify any of the dossier’s salacious accusations, which covered lurid accusations concerning Obama’s personal life, his college years.
Nonetheless, the Bureau would still believe that the dossier was important enough to support further investigation into Obama’s radical and suspicious behavior during the campaign—including the possibility of conducting federal surveillance on his staffers through the FISA courts. Such warrants would be obtained and used to reverse-target Obama campaign officials through the excuse of focusing on Valerie Jarrett and her supposed Iranian ties.
In addition, imagine that in talks with the CIA, the FBI director decided to insert a government informant into the Obama campaign to ascertain whether his outreach to Iranian officials or his ideas about resetting the Middle East comprised a national security threat—and, given some of the salacious material in the McCain bought dossier, whether Obama himself might be compromised as some sort of Manchurian candidate by blackmailers working for Iranian or Russian intelligence.
Finally, after the stunning defeat of John McCain, both the CIA and FBI would have been worried that the incoming Obama Administration might soon learn that the intelligence services had warped the FISA process by not apprising the court that the dossier was unverified, much less that it was paid for by the McCain campaign and its author severed from FBI contact. And they were further anxious that members of the Bush Administration had deliberately unmasked names of surveilled Obama aides and advisors, and leaked them illegally to the press.
Suspicious Activities, Thickening Plots
As a result of partial disclosures of such intelligence community misbehavior, President Obama would have fired the FBI director, who in retaliation would have leaked confidential memos of his private talks that he had with President Obama himself—in hopes of creating enough outrage to lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor to review Obama campaign and administration suspicious activity abroad.
The FBI noted that Obama’s first interview as president was with the Arab language Al-Arabiya, in which he sharply criticized past U.S. policies toward the Middle East; his June 2009 Cairo speech, in which he seemed to fault the West for much of the chaos in the Middle East while parroting Islamic “talking points” about Islam’s key contributions to Western culture; his silence when 1 million Iranians protested the theocracy during the so-called “Green Revolution”; and assorted loose gossip that he might be willing soon to trade billions of dollars for hostages and ease sanctions to conclude a so-called Iran deal.
Finally, also imagine that by 2012 under increasing pressure due to endless leaks, and Republican hostility, President Obama had relented and allowed the appointment of a special counsel, who turned out to be a friend of the fired FBI anti-Obama director.
Almost immediately, more leaks from the new special counsel’s team suggested that Obama himself might be also compromised by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
During the 2012 Obama reelection campaign, Republican activists, former administration officials, and members of the Romney campaign would find access to some of the Bush-era surveillance dating back to 2008 and began leaking transcripts to the press.
Where Does It All Lead?
An exasperated Obama himself would have threatened to dismiss the special counsel as he serially complained that he had been an earlier victim of “wiretapping,” based on purchased smears by the McCain campaign.
Obama was especially infuriated that Bush Administration officials in the FBI, Justice Department, CIA, State Department, and the National Security Council had worked with McCain campaign operatives to circulate the dossier on his prior friends and activities to media outlets. And why were former Bush CIA and FBI officials going on television to charge Obama with veritable treason?
The president was even more incensed that after his inauguration, the FBI had continued its FISA court surveillance of former campaign operatives, and persisted with surveillance of his own national security advisor.
For most of his presidency, an exasperated and harried President Obama tweeted incessantly that the FBI surveillance and special counsel investigation were constantly marked by leaks to Fox News and the conservative press on irrelevant issues and unproven stale gossip—such as old 2008 Obama campaign finance violations.
A number of former Obama associates—Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, David Axelrod—were reportedly being leveraged by special counsel attorneys in exchange for limiting their own legal exposure in a variety of areas.
Obama, in our thought experiment, would have charged that the role of the Bush-era FBI, CIA, DOJ, and special counsel’s team had become part of a “resistance” to delegitimize his presidency.
Celebrity talk of injuring Obama and his family would be daily events. Actor Robert De Niro talked of smashing Obama’s face, while Peter Fonda dreamed of caging his children. Johnny Depp alluded to assassination. It soon became a sick celebrity game to discover whether the president should be blown up, whipped, shot, burned, punched, or hanged.
Imagine that if all that had happened.
Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).