After the Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr filed a motion to drop charges against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, right-wing media voices are stepping up a new campaign: to incriminate former President Barack Obama, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and others for supposedly launching the Flynn investigation — and the wider Trump-Russia investigation in the first place.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators aboutmultiple phone calls he had in late December 2016 with Russia’s then-Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak during the transition period between the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s inauguration. During the call, Flynn had discussed the possible lifting of sanctions that Obama had just placed on Russia. (Flynn was fired by the White House when it was revealed that he also lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the conversation.)
The newest angle on the case from right-wing media hinges upon Yates’ recollection that Obama had “learned information about Flynn,” as he discussed in a White House meeting on January 5, 2017. Flynn’s pivotal interview with the FBI later occurred on January 24, 2017. (This element also ties into the search by both the Justice Department and right-wing media to find the government sources who leaked the details of Flynn’sphone calls to the media.)
Right-wing voices have claimed that Flynn was “set up” by the FBI agents who interviewed him, exposing him to perjury charges. Obama’s possible knowledge of the wiretapped calls, and his telling Yates that something was going on with Flynn, become a new hook for conservatives to accuse investigators of pursuing an illegitimate investigation against Trump and his aides. But the fact remains that he was interviewed as part of a legitimate inquiry, and he was caught telling lies to multiple people.
And with the Barr Justice Department now moving to throw out Flynn’s guilty plea, the hunt is on against Obama, Yates, and other officials — including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
On May 7, the same day that Barr’s DOJ filed to drop the case against Flynn, Tom Fitton, head of the right-wing legal organization Judicial Watch, appeared on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight and pointed the finger at Yates as well as Obama: “Now, Yates was obviously involved too, because she was pushing the Logan Act fraud on the White House as well to get Flynn fired. No clean hands here, Lou. No clean hands.”
Fox News anchor Ed Henry appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss how Yates found out that Obama was aware of the Flynn probe. “Remember, she was at the Obama Justice Department at the end,” Henry said, “and she is having a hard time processing this from Barack Obama. Why did he know that information about Flynn?”
Sean Hannity also called Thursday on his radio show for Barr to “investigate Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Department of Justice.” Later on his Fox News show, he interviewed Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell. “Who would have told Barack Obama? And I'd like to know what he knew and when he knew it,” Hannity said. “I want to know what Biden knew and when he knew it.”
On the Friday morning edition of Fox & Friends, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman further said that “Sally Yates may be key to” proving that Obama had directed the Flynn investigation. He also said that the Obama administration's “questionable sanctions” against Russia had been a “Trojan horse,” apparently setting up Flynn in order to go after Trump and stop his policies.
“It’s so true,” co-host Brian Kilmeade responded. “By the way, if you want to continue your policies, Hillary Clinton had to win the election. When she didn’t, they had to come up with a Plan B. This looks like their Plan B.”
And on the May 8 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy McCarthy — a staunch defender of presidential prerogatives for Trump — claimed new documents show that “the top officials of the Obama Justice Department and the Obama intelligence community were here pushing against what the FBI wanted to do in terms of handling the Flynn case.” Bartiromo responded by asking if “this goes all the way up to the Obama administration in terms of the coup to take Donald Trump down?”
Trump himself appeared later on in the Friday episode of Fox & Friends for a phone interview, during which co-host Steve Doocy asked about Yates’ recollections of the meeting with Obama: “Have you thought about calling him up and finding out what he knew or calling Joe Biden up and asking him what he knew?”
“No I'd rather have it come out in papers,” Trump said — also seeming to allude to details of the wider Trump-Russia investigation, both before and after the election itself. “Why would I call them up? They tried to take down the president of the United States — a sitting, duly-elected president of the United States — before I even won, and this was going on — this was the fake dossier that was totally fake.”
Trump also later added: “If this were a Republican, and if this were — 25 people would be in jail for 50 years already. They’d be in jail for 50 years, and it would’ve happened two years ago.”
However, in the recent impeachment saga over Trump’s pressuring of Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son, Fox News and other right-wing media voices actually defended the idea that a president could personally order investigations of his opponents. In fact, it was Trump’s own impeachment attorney Alan Dershowitz who argued to the Senate that the president could pressure another party into investigating a political opponent, because that president’s election (or by implication, the defeating of the opponent) would be “in the public interest.”
But even by this right-wing media argument, this comparison would be incorrect. The Justice Department’s own inspector general report on the Trump-Russia investigation busted a number of right-wing media conspiracy theories, affirming for example that the entire probe resulting in Flynn’s charges had a legitimate beginning: The FBI received a tip that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos said that “the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to [Hillary] Clinton (and President Obama).”
By contrast, Trump actually attempted to launch baseless investigations of his political rival — the same thing right-wing media are now twisting the Flynn saga to accuse Obama of doing.