What is 'Obamagate'? 3 things to know about Trump's latest fixation

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Donald Trump went on a 126-tweet and retweet Mother’s Day storm on Sunday, 10 May, the second-most prolific day on the app during his presidency.

Amid the chaos, the president coined the term “OBAMAGATE,” a repackaging of his belief that his predecessor, Barack Obama, was privy to — or directed — a grand conspiracy among US intelligence officials to kneecap the Trump presidency in its nascence by using the FBI to entrap certain incoming Trump advisers such as erstwhile national security adviser Micahel Flynn.

By the following afternoon, the term was trending on Twitter and had been tweeted about more than 3.5m times.

Here are three things to know about Mr Trump’s Obamagate theory and the effect it’s having in Washington and on the 2020 campaign cycle.

1. The ‘Obamagate’ theory has been around for a while — just not by that name

Even many of Mr Trump’s harshest critics agree he is a marketing wiz, so it’s no wonder he grabbed onto the tidy phrase “Obamagate” as a catch-all for the web of beliefs in right-wing circles that Mr Obama was part of a vast network of conspirators who sought to undermine his 2016 campaign and intentionally beset the first two years of his presidency with a sham Russia investigation.

Here’s why that was fresh on Mr Trump’s mind on Mother’s Day weekend: On the previous Thursday, 7 May, at the direction of Mr Trump’s attorney general William Barr, the Justice Department dropped felony charges it had been pursuing for years against Mr Flynn for lying to law enforcement about meeting in late 2016 with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.

The lie Mr Flynn allegedly told the FBI in the first week of Mr Trump’s presidency — and to which he previously pleaded guilty twice before — was not “material” to the bureau’s contemporaneous investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the DOJ wrote on Thursday.

Recently declassified documents from the Flynn case show Mr Obama knew about Mr Flynn’s phone calls with Mr Kislyak in December 2016 when Mr Obama met on 5 January 2017 with then-FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

There is no evidence, at this point, to suggest Mr Obama directed the FBI to entrap Mr Flynn when agents questioned him on 24 January 2017 about his correspondence with Mr Kislyak.

There is also no public evidence to suggest Mr Obama had any interest in pursuing the Russia interference threads other than to protect US institutions from undue influence by one of its chief foreign adversaries.

Mr Flynn’s saga is only one aspect of Mr Trump’s wider Obamagate theory.

That theory maintains that a corrupt cabal of Never-Trump top US intelligence officials — such as Mr Comey and FBI agent Peter Strzok — colluded with the international intelligence community, Ukraine, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and others to create a pretext to investigate the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia by entrapping former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in a sting operation by providing fake dirt purportedly from Russia on Hillary Clinton.

The FBI later obtained multiple FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrants to wiretap former campaign adviser Carter Page in the belief he had ties to Russia.

The theory also maintains that Mr Comey, the allegedly corrupt FBI director who was supposedly a leader of the conspiracy against Mr Trump, wrote a letter to Congress just weeks before the 2016 election announcing the bureau’s continued probe into Ms Clinton’s email server as a false flag to throw people off the scent of his real intentions to harm Mr Trump.

FiveThirtyEight elections guru Nate Silver and other election handicappers have laid out data that they say shows the Comey letter likely swung the election to Mr Trump.

The grand theory also incorporates the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, and not Russia, that hacked the DNC and Clinton campaign emails that Wikileaks published over the crucial weeks and months leading up to the 2016 election that painted Democratic politics in negative tones and many believe contributed to Mr Trump’s victory.

Does this all sound a little confusing? Well, it is. And to that point...

2. Not even Trump appears to know what exactly Obamagate is

When asked by a Washington Post reporter the day after his “OBAMAGATE” tweet to name and explain the crime Mr Obama committed and say whether the DOJ should prosecute the former president, Mr Trump deflected.

“Obamagate. It’s been going on for a long time. It’s been going on from before I even got elected. … It’s a disgrace that it’s happened,” Mr Trump said, predicting that more information would become public “over the coming weeks.”

The Washington Post reporter asked Mr Trump again to name the crime Mr Obama committed.

“You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours,” the president said.

After the DOJ moved to drop its charges against Mr Flynn on 7 May, Mr Trump accused the Obama-era DOJ and intelligence community of “treason,” a crime punishable by death, and said those who looked into Mr Flynn’s correspondence with Mr Kislyak were “crooked” and “dishonest.”

He has since suggested he wants to see the people involved in the alleged Obamagate affair face legal consequences.

“Hope you had fun investigating me. Now it’s my turn,” reads a meme the Trump campaign posted to its Snapchat account on Monday, with a picture of the president in the background.

3. Republicans in Congress are lining up in support of Mr Trump’s theory

Republicans in Congress have been saying for years that the FBI unfairly targeted Trump campaign and administration officials over the course of its Russia investigation — even though special counsel Robert Mueller found that many of them had indeed met or corresponded with people affiliated with the Russian government during the campaign and transition.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who was his chamber’s Judiciary Committee chairman last Congress, applauded Mr Barr’s decision to let Mr Flynn go and predicted “other shoes to drop.”

“He was entrapped,” Mr Grassley said in an interview with Fox News last week.

“Entrapment is unconstitutional. It’s a violation of your due process. Secondly, this thing would not be exposed if it hadn’t been for Barr taking the bull by the horns and knowing something was wrong and going in and knowing where things were wrong, how to straighten it out. We haven’t heard the end of Bill Barr’s good work because everything that’s going on with the Durham investigation is another example of still other shoes to drop,” Mr Grassley said.

Mr Grassley also suggested that “maybe there should be people prosecuted” over the treatment of Mr Flynn and others.

Republican lawmakers for years have accused the leaders of the FBI’s Russia probe of letting political bias influence their investigation, a position that was not substantiated by a report last year from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Mr Horowitz’s report does, however, highlight a rash of issues with how the agents conducted the probe, including problems with their FISA warrant applications.

Mr Barr, the leader of the DOJ, has tasked US Attorney John Durham with probing the origins of the 2016 Russia probe and whether it was conducted legally.

That probe began as an administrative review but has since become a criminal investigation.

On 13 May, Republican Senate Chairmen Ron Johnson of the Homeland Security Committee and Chuck Grassley of the Finance Committee released a list from the National Security Agency (NSA) that showed Mr Biden, Mr Comey, Mr Brennan and more than a dozen other Obama administration officials had received intelligence reports with information that “unmasked” Mr Flynn’s identity as a person on the other end of wiretapped phone calls made by Mr Kislyak and others who were being surveilled by the NSA.

“The officials listed should confirm whether they reviewed this information, why they asked for it and what they did with it, and answer many other questions that have been raised by recent revelations,” Mr Grassley and Mr Johnson said in a statement on 13 May.

National security experts have said unmasking reports such as the ones Mr Flynn was a subject in are common, numbering in the thousands per year. US intelligence agencies frequently keep tabs on the phone conversations and whereabouts of diplomats from foreign adversaries such as Mr Kislyak, experts have said.

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