President Donald Trump has recently been promoting a far-right conspiracy theory known as “Obamagate,” which claims that in 2016 and 2017, former President Barack Obama and his allies in the Democratic Party committed illegal or unethical acts to harm Trump and his allies — including Michael Flynn.
Legal expert Ryan Goodman, who teaches at the New York University School of Law, addresses the “Obamagate” theory in an article for Just Security and explains why it is a “disinformation campaign.”
“President Donald Trump insists, against all evidence, that there is something called ‘Obamagate’: some crime, or perhaps series of crimes, that the preceding administration committed against him — or against his adviser Michael Flynn, or maybe against even more of the Trump team,” Goodman explains. “Yet the president fails to say what the crime(s) might be. Instead, he seizes on the language, alludes to improprieties, and — increasingly — wields it all to tar his rival for the presidency, Joe Biden.”
Goodman notes that while there “may well be a lurking truth to a serious allegation against former government officials in how they handled the counterintelligence file involving Michael Flynn…. there is no evidence that those actions implicate President Barack Obama or Vice President Biden personally, or discredit the legitimacy of the investigations of Russia’s 2016 election interference, the investigation of Trump campaign associates’ support for the Kremlin’s effort, officials’ requests to ‘unmask’ a U.S. person appearing in intelligence reports who turned out to be Flynn, the FBI’s decision to interview Flynn, or the Justice Department’s charging Flynn for lying to the FBI.”
Since Goodman wrote the piece, Attorney General Bill Barr publicly affirmed that he doesn't see any indication that Obama or Biden did anything illegal.
But Goodman goes on to explain that there is a “Phase One” and a “Phase Two” when it comes to promoting the “Obamagate” theory.
Phase One is where Trump and his allies are now: “Make grossly unfounded claims of misconduct by former and current U.S. officials, such as a Deep State conspiracy to undercut the Trump 2016 campaign and the Trump presidency,’ anticipating a reaction among experts and partisans to challenge those claims.”
And the blueprint for Phase Two, Goodman writes, will be to “reveal true official misconduct that has some, even if limited, connection to the original conspiracy theory, with experts and partisans failing to adequately anticipate or recognize the true misconduct — and some even quick to dismiss it.”
Barr, Goodman anticipates, will be an ally to Trump as he promotes “Obamagate.” And he's key to any implementation of Phase 2.
Goodman warned that critics of Trump and Barr's tactics need to avoid being blindsided and discredited if they assert now that there's no chance any wrongdoing occurred under Obama's watch:
... there has been a rush by many to say that no crime has been credibly alleged, and that no serious wrongdoing by former administration officials has been identified. That’s an oversight, and fails to grapple with a potential outcome: the prospect of well-founded criminal indictments against one or more former officials who leaked the content of the classified intercept of the Dec. 29, 2016 phone call between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Flynn’s identity in that communication.
But he adds:
...there is no evidence that those actions implicate President Barack Obama or Vice President Biden personally, or discredit the legitimacy of the investigations of Russia’s 2016 election interference, the investigation of Trump campaign associates’ support for the Kremlin’s effort, officials’ requests to “unmask” a U.S. person appearing in intelligence reports who turned out to be Flynn, the FBI’s decision to interview Flynn, or the Justice Department’s charging Flynn for lying to the FBI.
“In the final analysis,” Goodman concludes, “‘Obamagate' should be best understood as the scandal in which a president manufactured false accusations against former government officials, including his political rival, using the full power of the Justice Department and Kremlin-style information warfare tactics to orchestrate it.”