There’s a Conan Doyle short story about Sherlock Holmes solving yet another murder and the incidental theft of a famous race horse from stables guarded by a dog. At one point, he mentions to someone how curious it was about the guard dog’s behaviour on the night in question. “But the dog didn’t do anything” responds the redoubtable straight man. “Exactly” pronounces Holmes. Sometimes, it’s not what’s happening that’s of interest, but what’s not happening, like a guard dog not barking.
For the last month, political reporting in America has been dominated by the accusation that the Obama presidency conducted a campaign of illegal surveillance against its domestic political opponents, specifically the soon to be president Trump and his campaign team. It was all kicked off by a single tweet from President Trump.
What is interesting is that it shows an insight on his part into the feeding frenzy aspects of a feral media and how it can be utilised to the advantage of someone they’re determined to bring down. The media are so starved of material from the White House that whatever scraps the president decides to throw them in the form of tweets, they have to run with them, especially if they’re contentious.
After all, he’s got upwards of sixty million followers on a variety of social media platforms he can communicate with immediately and directly, which is a teensy weensy little bit more than the entire sum of all the media’s viewers and readers put together.
The story and all the counter stories are running head against head, but in the meantime the essential meme of illegal political surveillance is steadily dumping a whole sack of shit all over the Obama presidency, and the growing stink of that scandal looks to be well on the way to becoming its abiding legacy.
In a manner akin to assaulting a multi-layer defense to get at the real truth, various lines have been successively breached. The first was that no such surveillance had taken place, but that didn’t last long as various people with knowledge of it confirmed it had.
The next one was that it was merely an incidental part of a much larger Reds under the beds mass surveillance operation, but blaming the Russians for everything including bugging Trump is starting to wear pretty thin with the average person these days.
Since the Reds under the beds excuse is patently failing, the next mitigation strategy is to say any incidental intelligence gained by bugging US citizens not directly relevant to the operation had their names redacted. Where this particular tale is starting to unravel is over the issue of unmasking – which is a request to the intelligence services for the real names of the redacted individuals.
As it happens, we’re now moving towards the next line of admissions where someone finally breaks omerta and testifies that such political surveillance was actually targeted at specific individuals and organisations, and the information about them passed on to the Democrat opposition and media for pillorying.
In the space of a month we’ve gone from it never happened to people scurrying for cover over accusations of politically-motivated unmasking.
It’s an old game every prosecutor has to play when they go after high-profile individuals. They ask or subpoena the individual to appear before them. If they turn up, you ask them some very simple but pointed questions, and they either deny any wrongdoing or take the fifth amendment not to incriminate themselves. All that happens then is the prosecutor works his way down the hierarchy until he finds someone who will dish the dirt on a superior for simple reasons of survival.
Any tough job requires a certain robustness that enables you to work away when the shit is ankle-deep. That comes with the territory. When it gets knee-high, you know you’ve problems, but when it gets neck high, it becomes a personal survival thing. By that stage your great career is already in the toilet and due to a rapaciously expensive legal system, you’re probably already looking at financial ruin.
The worst outcome and the one to avoid at all costs, is doing jail time and the only way out of that is doing a plea bargain with whoever is after you.
People like Trey Gowdy and Jason Chaffetz know all they have to do is work their way down the ladder grilling people for names always names and eventually people start to flip, and then freshly armed with new ammunition they can start working their way back up it again, either slapping perjury charges on people or asking new awkward questions.
With control of both houses of Congress and four years to spare, there’s no rush for them in getting the various minions to flip. It’ll become a race to see who makes the immunity deal to rat out everyone else before they get ratted out themselves. The first one to turn state’s evidence gets to walk away from any charges, the rest don’t.
I find it significant that people like FBI director James Comey, NSA director Mike Rogers and Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, have all refused to appear before closed sessions of the House Intelligence Committee. Draw your own conclusions from that but all three of these Obama appointees had the power to demand unmasking.
The term Zugzwang is used in chess where your opponent has manoeuvred you into a situation where it’s your turn to move but every available move will either significantly weaken your position or lose you the game. In effect, Trump has put Obama into Zugzwang.
That’s why Obama is staying safely hidden away off shore and out of the media limelight since the scandal broke, because he knows if he makes an appearance before the media, even they at this stage in the surveillance shitstorm have to start asking him some pointed questions about the growing scandal that could possibly land him in legal difficulties, never mind the reputational damage.
If he admits he ordered it, there will be some basic legal consequences which will tie him up in courtroom squabbles for the next five years or so. If he denies ordering it, but admits being aware of it, essentially the same legal difficulties will apply. If he denies all knowledge, then he’ll be admitting he didn’t know what his immediate subordinates like National Security Adviser Susan Rice, his Attorney General Loretta Lynch or FBI Director James Comey were up to, which would make him look like a complete bloody idiot barely in charge of the office of President of the United States.
The only damage limitation strategy is to run away and hide until it hopefully all dies down, which is exactly what he’s been doing for the last month, and is also exactly the dilemma Trump intended to put him into. Effectively, Trump has taken him off the board and by driving him into media purdah, is free to launch without reply his next weapon of mass reputational destruction, which looks to be the IRS having a hit list of right-wing people and organisations to be swamped under a deluge of oppressive tax investigations.
Despite a deafening silence from his fanboy media about it, his refusal to make any move is the only smart move left because it’s the least worse move on the board, but people are starting to draw their own conclusions about that. All it took to put him into that dilemma and effectively out of the game was one tweet by Trump and his insight into how the fake news media machine would inevitably react. A net worth of ten billion dollars buys a lot of usable dirt on your enemies, but you’ve still got to use it precisely and in so devastating a fashion that they’re so busy running for cover there’s no return fire.
Essentially, Trump gelded the threat of a subversive Obama hovering around his presidency with a single tweet, and he’s not finished with him just yet. Welcome to the hardball game Barack.
If you accept that on the balance of probabilities the Obama regime was illegally spying on Trump and using the intelligence gained as ammunition to leak to a Democratic friendly media, the knock on question you have to think about is whether that year-long and by all accounts routine activity was a one off aberration by Obama’s unsupervised minions or were a lot of other people having their privacy invaded by out of control intelligence services who’d been suborned by an administration to serve a purely domestic political agenda.
Once people start thinking along those lines, and they will any day soon, this thing will assume a huge and terrible life all of its own, growing bigger and consuming a lot of reputations, careers and possibly racking up some jail time for people towards the bottom of the power hierarchy. I said in a previous article that the abiding characteristic of Obama and his presidency was arrogance.
When you think about it, Trump was apparently bugged from the moment he entered the presidential race. At the time, he was universally considered a no hoper, so why bother to surveil only him? There is an obvious answer to that question. I’ll bet a pound against a penny, all the other candidates were being bugged as well.
Obama’s determined silence in the face of a scandal swirling around his presidency and threatening to engulf it is the dog not barking. A sycophantic fake news media are studiously not commenting on it, nor even chasing him for a denial even as we’re now moving into the second month of the furore, but when it grows big enough they’ll have little choice and that tardiness will be another nail in their credibility coffin.
What will be the most probable outcome of the business? A few buffer people will take a bullet for the Obama administration, a few months hence he’ll finally do a few soft interviews with the media, and they’ll bend over backwards to spin the hell out of any involvement he had in it, but by that stage his reputation and that of his presidency will be in tatters.
At some point, people who despise Trump are going to have to get around that blinding hatred and recognise they’re playing a chess game against someone who always seems to be comfortably two moves ahead of them. The recurring story of the last year is of a succession of supposedly politically clued-up people chronically underestimating him and paying the price.
He destroyed Obama and his legacy with no more effort than a single tweet that had the destructive effect of a precision-guided missile strike directly into the reactor room of a nuclear power station. Once landed, the chain reaction will amplify without him having to do anything more.