Obama’s Shady Trump-Russia Spinmeister

An explosive story by Sean Davis at The Federalist reveals that President Obama’s PAC, Obama for America, paid nearly $1 million in 2016 to the law firm that retained Fusion GPS, the consulting group responsible for the infamous Trump “dossier.” According to Davis, Federal Election Commission records show the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and Obama’s PAC paid Perkins Coie more than $12 million last year alone.

The article also notes that Neil King, Jr.—the husband of Shailagh Murray, one of Obama’s former senior advisors—went on to work for Fusion GPS shortly after the election. King was a longtime Wall Street Journal reporter who, while at the Journal, was also a colleague of Glenn Simpson, one of Fusion GPS’s founders. These links were never divulged in any of King’s election coverage for the Journal. These ties could explain the Obama White House’s almost daily attention to the Trump-Russia collusion plotline, fueled largely by Josh Earnest, Obama’s press secretary.

From the White House press podium, Earnest played a critical role in tossing Trump-Russia conspiracy chum to an eager White House press pool. He conferred White House credibility to a politically connected cybersecurity firm that claimed Russian hackers hit the DNC server; wove a tale of Trump campaign collusion after the election in a shameful attempt to discredit the president-elect; and, just days before Trump’s inauguration, childishly compared Trump’s obligation to defend himself against the dossier to Obama’s need to defend against “birther” allegations.

In retrospect, knowing what we know now, particularly that the spouse of one of Earnest’s colleagues was close to and subsequently hired by the same outfit digging up dirt on Obama’s biggest political foe, Earnest’s conduct calls into question the integrity of Obama’s communications shop both before and after the election.

Earnest first floated the Russia-hacked-the-election meme during his press briefing on July 25, 2016. It was the same day the FBI announced it would investigate “cyber intrusion involving the DNC” related to the hacking of that organization’s email server earlier in the year. But while the FBI’s statement did not mention Russia, Earnest—with the help of some willing reporters—fueled the unsubstantiated but politically explosive plot line that the Russians hacked the DNC, even suggesting it was an attempt to help Donald Trump.

Here is an exchange on July 25, 2016, between Associated Press reporter Josh Lederman and Earnest at the beginning of the daily briefing, one day after the emails exposed via the DNC hack led to chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ouster at the Philadelphia convention:

Lederman: Turning to the investigation into this hack that the FBI is now leading . . . are you prepared to say anything about whether Russia was involved in this hack and whether it may have been an attempt by a foreign state to try and sway the election towards Donald Trump?

Earnest: I know that there’s been a lot of public reporting about this particular matter and I know that there are some private sector entities that have conducted their own investigations and even released their own reports on these investigations. So the FBI has put out a statement indicating that they are investigating this situation . . . we know that there are a variety of actors who are looking for vulnerabilities in the cybersecurity of the United States, and that includes Russia.

*record scratch* Wait, what? The DNC server is hacked, no one knows who did it, but it’s automatically presumed to be helping Trump?

Further, the “entity” Earnest refers to is Crowdstrike, the firm hired by the DNC to investigate the hack. (We now know Perkins Coie also hired Crowdstrike on behalf of the DNC to look into the breach. To date, the DNC refuses to surrender its server to the FBI for a forensic analysis.) In June 2016, Crowdstrike posted a blog article identifying “two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries present in the DNC network” and concluded, “attacks against electoral candidates and the parties they represent are likely to continue up until the election.” Trump’s name was never mentioned, and early news articles reported the hackers did it to gain “opposition research on Donald Trump.” So, how could anyone conclude that the DNC hack was intended to help Trump?

Earnest referred to the unverified Crowdstrike post several more times during that day’s briefing. He was challenged at one point by CBS News reporter Margaret Brennan. “The Clinton campaign is being pretty direct in attributing this attack to Russia,” she said. “Do you think they’re jumping the gun?”

“Well, they’re not the only ones that have been pretty direct,” Earnest replied. “At least one high-profile private sector group issued a report drawing that link in rather bright lines. So, I’m saying that this is an observation that other people have made and at least one private sector entity that has looked at this matter provided a whole lot of evidence.”

With that, Earnest gave the White House’s blessing to the sole, unconfirmed report claiming Russian operatives were responsible for the DNC email hack. And the media was off and running.

Over the next few months, leading up to Election Day, the White House press corps brought up the topic of Russian election-interference on a daily basis. It is safe to assume now that Murray, Earnest, and perhaps the former reporters running Fusion GPS were working hard behind the scenes to push this story to the media.

After Election Day, Earnest became the spinmeister for an administration devoted to discrediting and smearing the president-elect. During one particularly shameful performance on December 12, Earnest unleashed this tirade (edited for space) and suggested Congress should investigate Trump:

You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefitted from malicious Russian cyber activity. The president-elect didn’t call it into question. He called on Russia to hack his opponent. He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton. So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on.

It was the president-elect who, over the course of the campaign, indicated that he thought that President Putin was a strong leader. 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. The president-elect’s team didn’t make any effort to obscure this. So all of that is information that was not obtained through intelligence channels. It’s information that all of you reported on well in advance of the election, and it’s all information that is, as far as I can tell, undisputed.

So I think what it does, it probably leads people to a variety of conclusions. One conclusion that it leads me to is the special responsibility that members of Congress have to take a close look at this.

Even more shameful is that the White House press corps sat there and accepted this rant; few challenged anything Earnest said (astonishing in light of the brutal scrutiny these same folks gave Sean Spicer and now give Sarah Sanders.) Consider this:

CBS’s Brennan: “Josh, you rattled off a number of facts, as you said, publicly acknowledged, widely reported information linking Russia and Donald Trump…”  

Earnest: “Yes, that are not in dispute.”

Brennan: “Right.”

Then, on January 11, Earnest addressed the “dossier” that had been published by Buzzfeed the day before. When questioned about the veracity of Buzzfeed’s article, Earnest replied that “the administration deeply respects and will protect the right of independent news organizations to make their own editorial decisions.” Then Earnest said this:

But there’s another element of this that I think warrants mentioning here, which is, obviously, the president-elect and his team are suggesting that the accusations that are being made are totally unfounded, that there’s no basis for them. This president has been in a situation in which he has been criticized in an utterly false, baseless way. And I’m, of course, referring to the president’s birthplace. There were a wide variety of the president’s critics who were suggesting and propagating conspiracy theories that somehow the president wasn’t born in the United States, but that he was the object of some grand conspiracy.

Of course, everyone living on Planet Earth knows who Earnest is referring to: The man who would be sworn in as the president of the United States nine days later.

Earnest, who was well aware of all the undisclosed conflicts of interest within the Obama Administration, had the nerve to accuse the incoming administration that day of “not being transparent.” Newsflash for Josh Earnest: This is what non-transparency looks like. A presidential spokesman who is working with a top presidential advisor whose husband just went to work for the firm that produced the very dossier he is now using to condemn an incoming president. Even more shady, it is likely that this dossier was partially funded by the Obama’s  PAC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

These are only a few examples of how Earnest used (and abused) his authority as the White House spokesman to undermine President Trump and his administration right up until Inauguration Day, and push a flimsy Trump-Russia conspiracy tale to a willing media and suspicious public. Earnest is now an NBC News analyst; perhaps it’s time for him to again answer some questions.

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