During an interview last week with PJ Media‘s Nick Ballasy, Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama, strenuously denied that the Obama White House had anything to do with the improper surveillance of the Trump campaign.
Echoing a familiar Obama refrain, Rhodes, in fact, insisted that he “literally” read about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump for the first time in the newspaper (“the frickin’ Washington Post” to be exact).
The interview took place at Georgetown University on Thursday, where Rhodes was appearing to discuss his book, The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House.
When asked if he believes the Justice Department will find anything to implicate the Obama White House in its review of the origins of the Russia investigation, Rhodes answered: “No, no, I cannot be clear enough about this. We didn’t even know there was an FBI investigation of Trump. I didn’t. President Obama didn’t, like, we actually abided by the firewalls between—if there were any investigations that took place, those decisions were made in the Justice Department, in the FBI, not in the White House. They will find nothing that suggests there was any political or White House involvement in any of that. Literally, I learned about the FBI investigation of Trump as a private citizen in the frickin’ Washington Post.”
Laughing nervously, he added: “You have to understand, we actually abided by the longstanding practice of the White House not getting involved in that kind of stuff.”
Rhodes told Ballasy that he did not see the unverified dossier that former British spy Christopher Steele put together on Trump and Russia until January of 2017.
“We had nothing to do with that, nothing. I saw it—I heard about it at the very end when, you know, in January of 2017, like, we weren’t involved in commissioning the dossier like that’s crazy, you know. We learned about it when it was in the report that was appended to the report that went to Congress at the end of the administration,” Rhodes said. “I have been investigated by these committees and I’m telling you they didn’t find it. No, we had nothing to do with the dossier. I mean, like literally, nothing to do with this dossier.”
According to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, then-president Obama was behind the decision to create the 2017 U.S. intelligence Assessment of Russian Interference in the 2016 Election at the end of his administration.
“If it weren’t for President Obama, we might not have done the intelligence community assessment that we did that set off a whole sequence of events which are still unfolding today, notably, special counsel Mueller’s investigation,” Clapper told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in July. “President Obama is responsible for that, and it was he who tasked us to do that intelligence community assess in the first place. I think that’s an important point when it comes to critiquing President Obama.”
Rhodes called the GOP’s interest in getting to the bottom of who started the Russia investigation, a “witch hunt.”
“I’m not an investigator. I didn’t—I mean, I haven’t even read this whole dossier. You guys are focused on this. Like, have fun, have your witch-hunt. Like, we did not initiate this. Like we did not—you know this to be true!—so I don’t know why you’re asking me these questions,” Rhodes stammered.
When Ballasy explained that the topic was something the president was talking about, Rhodes shot back: “the president lies relentlessly every day, so I don’t think you need to chase down every lie he tells.”
Rhodes then reflexively launched into liberal cant about Mueller being a Republican appointed by a Republican president who put together an exhaustive report showing that Trump campaign officials repeatedly had contacts with Russians (actually Western informants) in order to cheat, and then the president repeatedly obstructed justice in order to cover it up.
“If that doesn’t concern you as an American. If you are somehow OK with people thinking that they should benefit from or potentially help a foreign adversary intervene in our democracy, and if you’re so wedded to your own partisan agenda that you’re going to engage in stupid, pointless what-aboutism that says that somehow the fact the FBI decided to investigate this is equal to the underlying crimes and unethical and unpatriotic efforts of working with Russia to intervene in our democracy—if you can draw an equivalency, I feel sorry for you if you can draw that equivalency!” Rhodes intoned.
He added: “To what end is this? We’re going to attack law enforcement for—I mean, we know from the Mueller report that the initiation of the investigations came from, not the dossier, but from the contacts that George Papadopoulos had in London, right? So the whole origin of this stupid conspiracy theory has been disproven by exhaustive work. So, to me, the whole thing is a waste of time,” Rhodes said.
He repeated that the only reason he knew anything about the Trump-Russia investigation was that he reads the newspaper.
By “conspiracy theory,” Rhodes possibly meant the widespread impression that the White House was running a campaign of spying and illegal leaks during the 2016 election. The reason a lot of folks have that impression is that fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok sent a text to former FBI lawyer Lisa Page that literally said: “The White House is running this.”
Text messages between FBI lovebirds Strzok and Page also raised concerns about “pressure” from the White House, the “Agency BS game,” Justice Department leaks, and the need for an FBI “insurance policy,” The Hill‘s John Solomon reported in June 2018. More:
Over several days, they exchanged texts that appear to express fears of political meddling or leaking by the Obama White House, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the CIA.
“This is MUCH more tasty for one of those DOJ aholes to leak,” Strzok wrote as the two FBI colleagues — then having an affair, the bureau later told Congress — debated how long they could delay a CIA-FBI meeting so as to “not play into the agency’s BS game.”
They voiced alarm when an FBI colleague — “Liz” — suggested the Obama White House was about to hijack the investigation. “Went well, best we could have expected,” Strzok texted Page after an Aug. 5, 2016, meeting. “Other than Liz quote ‘the White House is running this.’ ” Page then texted to assure Strzok of a paper trail showing the FBI in charge: “We got emails that say otherwise.”
In a text sent a few days after the “White House is running this” text, Strzok again mentioned White House involvement: “Hey talked to him, will let him fill you in. internal joint cyber cd intel piece for D, scenesetter for McDonough brief, Trainor [head of FBI cyber division] directed all cyber info be pulled. I’d let Bill and Jim hammer it out first, though it would be best for D to have it before the Wed WH session”:
In the texts, “D” refers to former FBI Director James Comey, and “McDonough” referred to Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, GOP investigators told Fox News. McDonough’s name, though, was redacted and only turned up when viewed by GOP investigators.
The FBI did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on whether McDonough was briefed on the Russia investigation or which investigation the White House was “running.”
Key passages from the House Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference in the election indicate that the Obama administration played a much larger role at the start of the Trump-Russia investigation, than most people realize, as National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy reported in May 2018:
It turns out that in “late spring” 2016, the FBI’s then-director James Comey briefed the principals of the National Security Council on “the Page information.” As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York observes in a perceptive column today, NSC principals are an administration’s highest-ranking national-security officials. In Obama’s National Security Council, the president was the chairman, and among the regular attendees were the vice-president (Joe Biden), the national-security adviser (Susan Rice), and the director of national intelligence (James Clapper). The heads of such departments and agencies as the Justice Department (Attorney General Loretta Lynch) and the CIA (Director John Brennan) could also be invited to attend NSC meetings if matters of concern to them were to be discussed.
We do not know which NSC principals attended the Comey briefing about Carter Page. But how curious that the House Intelligence Committee interviewed so many Obama-administration officials who were on, or who were knowledgeable about, the NSC, and yet none of them provided a date for this meeting more precise than “late spring” 2016.
The other meeting outlined on page 54 of the House report is one that Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, had with Attorney General Lynch. It probably occurred before the “late spring” Obama NSC meeting, and it was also “about Page.”
The Obama White House became interested in Page soon after the Trump campaign announced its foreign-policy advisory team on March 21, 2016—well before George Papadopoulos discussed Josef Mifsud’s rumors about Hillary Clinton’s emails in London with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in May of 2016.
We may not know which members of Obama’s NSC attended Comey’s briefing about Carter Page, but it would be hard to believe his deputy national security adviser would have been totally out of the loop.
No wonder he was squirming and dissembling so much in that interview.