John Brennan says he didn’t leak the dossier that connected Donald Trump to Russia. As the outgoing CIA director told the Wall Street Journal, “First of all, this is not intelligence community information.” Brennan noted, the Journal reported, “that the dossier had been circulating “many months” and that he first heard about it from inquiring reporters last fall.”
The Obama-appointed intelligence chief appears to be employing one of the standard techniques of the White House he worked for—when faced with a specific question, deny it specifically in order to evade charges of mendacity if you’re caught out. Oh, but you asked me if I stole change from the soda machine before lunch. What I may have done after lunch is a different question…
Brennan was replying to a specific charge leveled by the incoming president in a couple of tweets following Brennan’s appearance on Fox News Sunday where Brennan argued that Trump doesn’t understand how dangerous Russia is.
“Outgoing CIA Chief, John Brennan, blasts Pres-Elect Trump on Russia threat. Does not fully understand.” Oh really, couldn’t do much worse … just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?”
No, obviously Brennan didn’t “leak” the dossier because as he says it had been circulating for months. It never saw the light of day because news outlets were incapable of verifying many of its claims. So how did a report once universally deemed dubious get out into the open?
The Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward pointed at the answer, without spelling it out. “It never should have been presented as part of an intelligence briefing,” Woodward said on Fox News Sunday. There are “other channels” for giving the incoming president a heads’ up on something like that, said Woodward—like “have the White House counsel give it to Trump’s incoming White House counsel.”
In other words, it was the briefing that made the dossier newsworthy, at least to some media outlets. If the intelligence community briefed Trump and the sitting president on the dossier then the fact of the dossier, its existence and the substance of it, were ok to publish, regardless of whether the claims made in it were verifiable or, as Woodward said, garbage. What was leaked was not the dossier, but that the president-elect was briefed. What makes the leak appear to be part of an information campaign waged against the president-elect is that the dossier, as Brennan admitted, had been circulating for a long time.
The whole episode looks an awful lot like the handiwork of the Obama administration’s echo chamber. Typically managed by deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, the echo chamber orchestrates campaigns to advance Obama policy, or politics, by using some assets that know the score and others who are played for suckers. Did the FBI, which reportedly briefed Trump, know they were being used? Did CNN, which led with the story before BuzzFeed published the entire dossier, know what role they were tapped to play? Or were they sucker-punched by the echo chamber?
We may never know. What we do know is that the dossier is part of the outgoing administration’s ongoing political warfare to jam up the incoming White House and preserve Obama’s legacy. How do we know this? Because of the essential subject matter—Russia, which the White House is using as a battering ram.
Sunday wasn’t the first time Brennan went after Trump on Russia. Two weeks after the election, Brennan told the BBC that tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, as Trump has promised, would be “the height of folly” and “disastrous.” It’s hardly standard operating procedure for a senior intelligence official to criticize publicly the policies of an incoming president, but Brennan is an Obama loyalist keen to preserve what the administration sees as the president’s crowning achievement.
But what was most telling about the interview was Brennan’s warning regarding Russia. “I think President Trump and the new administration need to be wary of Russian promises,” said Brennan.
Now, it’s certainly wise to be wary of the words as well as the deeds of a state that 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney rightly identified as a geopolitical rival. And it’s reasonable to be concerned about some aspects of the incoming administration’s remarks about and perhaps relationships with Russia. However, Brennan’s remarks need to be read in the context of the actual Russia policy of the White House he serves. Obama did not merely stand aside as Russia invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, brought down a civilian airliner, sheltered Edward Snowden, and escalated in Syria where it now borders America’s key Middle East ally Israel as well as NATO member Turkey—Obama aligned American interests in the Middle East with Russia’s.
For an administration that sees Russian intelligence operations against DNC servers as a threat to U.S. national security, it’s odd that it would offer to share intelligence with Moscow over Syria. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford thought the proposal unwise and the Pentagon finally shot it down, but this effort was only the most public aspect of Obama’s relationship with Putin.
The administration says that Russia’s escalation in Syria in the autumn of 2015 took America by surprise, and the White House made the U.S. intelligence community the fall guy — hey, they never saw it coming, so how did we know Putin was doubling down in Syria? Clearly that’s nonsense. Moscow had been sending men and materiel through the Bosporus, a waterway controlled by NATO member Turkey, for months. The Obama team knew exactly what was happening—and they wanted it to happen, for there was no other way to preserve Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative, the Iran Deal and regional realignment with the Islamic Republic.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the shift it signaled in Obama’s Middle East policy would have been meaningless had the Iranians lost their war in Syria. Tehran would’ve forfeited not only an ally in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, but also its supply line to Hezbollah, an institution in which the Islamic revolution has invested many billions of dollars over the course of nearly four decades.
Losing in Syria would’ve knocked Iran down to size, no longer the “successful regional power” that Obama has hopefully described. And yet the Iranians were on the verge of losing, when IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani went to Moscow to petition Vladimir Putin for help. Putin rescued not only Assad and Iran, but also Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. It was the second time the Russian president saved Obama’s Iran deal and realignment—the first was when he offered Obama a deal over Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal so he wouldn’t have to enforce the red line.
Obama, as I wrote here, owes Putin, “which is why he let the Russians get away with nearly everything it chose to do the last seven years.” The administration could not care less about Russia or the threat it poses to American interests and global stability—or else Obama wouldn’t have offered to share intelligence with a regime that bombs schools and hospitals and has sent millions of Syrians into exile in the Middle East and Europe, where it’s destabilized a chief American ally.
No, what matters most to Obama is political warfare against his domestic enemies, and “Russia” has proven a very useful instrument in a campaign where the outgoing White House has enlisted many allies. After all, the press knows well the Obama administration’s record in Syria as well as its dealings with Russia, and yet it gives Obama a pass on partnering with Putin while Trump is portrayed as a companion of the Rosenbergs. The press also knows how the dossier became public, for dozens of organizations had seen it circulating for months, and yet none of them have challenged Brennan’s account.
Thankfully, after Friday Obama will no longer have American intelligence chiefs to do his bidding. But he’ll still have plenty of allies, whom he can organize right here on the ground in Washington for a campaign of political warfare that shows no signs of ending with his exit from the White House.