Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Trump's Treacherous Team Snooped on Obama Officials. That's Gutter Politics

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon in the Oval Office. (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon in the Oval Office. (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By Jill Abramson, Guardian UK
08 May 18

The president resorting to the dark arts to dig dirt on his predecessor over the Iran deal recalls the worst excesses of Johnson and Nixon

he history of presidents who obsess and dig up dirt on the administrations that preceded them isn’t pretty. Think Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. These two former presidents, who unleashed the FBI and others to dig up dirt on the Kennedys, fulminated to the end about their perceived enemies.

Trump has actually exceeded them in paranoia and low political tactics. The Observer’s scoop about Trump aides practicing the black art of opposition research against the Obama administration officials who led the negotiations on the Iran deal reveals an outrage of immense scope. The Trump team hired a notorious Israeli spy outfit, Black Cube, to snoop into the personal lives of two former Obama officials, Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, hoping to dig up evidence that they had revealed classified information to reporters, among other things.

When contacted, Rhodes properly observed that this was a “chillingly authoritarian thing to do”. Indeed, it recalls the worst of Nixonian tactics, including treating principled political adversaries as dangerous enemies to be destroyed. Nixon had his famous Enemies List, filled with the names of some of the most revered journalists Washington ever produced, including the late columnist and Pulitzer prize winner Mary McGrory. Nixon was also behind the attempt to steal the psychiatric files of Daniel Ellsberg, who served in Johnson’s Pentagon and leaked the Pentagon Papers.

Black Cube is the worthy inheritor of these kinds of heinous reputational hit jobs.

Coming off the Observer story, the New Yorker revealed that Black Cube may have sent emails to the wives of Rhodes and Kahl via the same shell companies it used on behalf of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein in an effort to discredit his accusers. You can tell a lot about a president by the company he keeps, although Black Cube has denied any connection to Trump. 

Trump has labeled the Iran deal the “worst deal ever”. If it’s really so bad, why do the president’s aides have to sink this low to torpedo it? That’s the key question.

The only leader who has tried harder than Trump to kill the Iran deal is Benjamin Netanyahu, which is why, no doubt, the Israeli firm was hired shortly after Trump visited Tel Aviv and met with the Israeli prime minister to discuss it.

This kind of gutter politics is also signature Netanyahu, who, like Trump, is facing an epic corruption investigation that could cost him his job.

No one wants to see Iran dropping nuclear weapons on its neighbors or the rest of the world. The whole point of the nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama’s team was to prevent this from ever happening. The deal may not be perfect. But its intent was to make the world safer. Scrapping the deal in the face of a 12 May deadline will only return the world to its very dangerous nuclear status quo.

No one should be surprised that Trump’s allies would stoop to dirt-digging. During the campaign, after all, his son, Donald Jr, responded with glee when he learned that a Russian lawyer might have a nice pile of dirt on Hillary Clinton. “Love it,” he exclaimed after learning of the potential trove. The subsequent Trump Tower meeting that took place with the lawyer, also involving Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, is of keen interest to Robert Mueller.

More broadly, Trump’s mad desire to denigrate Obama shows his fundamental insecurity. It calls to mind his ridiculous, early lie that his inaugural crowd was bigger than his predecessor.

Insecurity is also partly what drove Johnson and Nixon crazy about the Kennedys and their need to tarnish the halo of the assassinated JFK. They couldn’t stand the country’s love affair with its slain leader, just as Trump can’t stand attention being focused on the legacy of Obama, which looks better and better every day that Trump is in office.

It’s impossible to write about Trump and the political dark arts without conjuring the name Roger Stone. Interestingly, Stone wrote a wild book in 2013 resurfacing the long-discredited conspiracy theory that LBJ killed JFK.

Presidents and presidential aides who obsess on the past are dangerous and beg for history’s punishment.

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