Former President Barack Obama, who presided over historic abuses of government surveillance powers, is once again attacking one of the principal targets. Four years after the Obama Justice Department misled a federal court into approving a surveillance warrant against a Trump campaign associate, Mr. Obama is comparing President Donald Trump to a murderous dictator.
The president doesn’t like to lose and– never admits loss. I’m more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials who clearly know better are going along with this, are humoring him in this fashion. It is one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally… I think that there has been this sense over the last several years that literally anything goes and is justified in order to get power. And that’s not unique to the United States. There are strong men and dictators around the world who think that, “I can do anything to stay in power. I can kill people. I can throw them in jail. I can run phony elections. I can suppress journalists.” But that’s not who we’re supposed to be.
Whatever one thinks of Mr. Trump’s claims—or Mr. Obama’s over-the-top comparison to dictators—Mr. Pelley has chosen one of America’s least credible advocates for presidential restraint.
Bradford Betz of Fox News reasonably notes:
…Obama’s time in office was by no means the paragon of a presidency bound by the rules of a liberal democratic republic. Court documents released in early 2013 showed that the Obama administration secretly monitored Fox News’ James Rosen – whom the FBI dubbed a “criminal co-conspirator,” despite never being charged with a crime…
Though Trump has been forceful in his denunciation of the press, the Obama administration arguably went further, evoking the Espionage Act to prosecute more people under the law for leaking sensitive information than all previous administrations combined.
As part of an investigation into the disclosure of information about a botched Al Qaeda terrorist plot, the Obama administration, without notice, obtained the records of 20 Associated Press office phone lines and reports’ home and cell phones.
Early in Mr. Obama’s second term the AP reported:
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for the Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
Speaking of massive and unprecedented intrusions and attempts to delegitimize a presidential administration, it was four years ago this month that the Obama FBI fired Christopher Steele as a confidential source for cause, learned new reasons to doubt his reports, and also learned that he was working on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign—yet still continued to promote his bogus claims of Russian collusion.
Scott Pelley: In your book, you ask, quote, “Whether I was too tempered in speaking the truth, too cautious in word or deed.” Many Americans, Mr. President, believe you were too cautious, too tempered.
Barack Obama: Yeah… a legitimate and understandable criticism. At the end of the day, I consistently tried to treat my political opposition in the ways I’d want to be treated, To not overreact when, for example, somebody yells, “You lie,” in the middle of me giving a joint congressional address.
Barack Obama: I understand why there were times where my supporters wanted me to be more pugilistic, to, you know, pop folks in the head and duke it out a little bit more.
Scott Pelley: Was it a mistake that you didn’t?
Barack Obama: Every president brings a certain temperament to office. I think part of the reason I got elected was because I sent a message that fundamentally I believe the American people are good and decent, and that politics doesn’t have to be some cage match in– in which everybody is– is going at each other’s throats and that we can agree without being disagreeable.
What a guy.
As for Mr. Pelley, readers may recall him as the author of a bizarre commentary in 2017 when he was preparing to vacate the CBS News nightly anchor chair. After a gunman shot at Republicans practicing for a congressional baseball game, Mr. Pelley said it was “time to ask” whether the attack was “to some degree, self-inflicted.”
Now Mr. Pelley is making another odd claim:
Mr. Obama is speaking after four years of virtual silence on Donald Trump. He followed a traditional commandment largely observed since Adams succeeded Washington –thou shall not criticize your successor.
Of course America would have been better off if Mr. Obama had followed the time-honored commandment to avoid surveilling your successor’s campaign. But even on its face the Pelley claim is questionable. Mr. Obama publicly criticized his successor within 10 days of Mr. Trump’s inauguration. More recently, Mr. Obama lambasted Mr. Trump at the virtual Democratic convention in August, and at various stops along the autumn campaign trail. Mr. Pelley’s own network reported last month on a speech in which “Mr. Obama delivered a sweeping condemnation of Trump”.
The Obama administration represented a break with tradition in terms of federal law enforcement’s relationship with politics and the press. But even Americans who don’t participate in Republican campaigns or work in media may be concerned about their free speech rights when they ponder Mr. Obama’s latest ideas for improving public discourse. The former President told Mr. Pelley:
I do think that a new president can set a new tone. That’s not going to solve all the gridlock in Washington. I think we’re going to have to work with the media and with the tech companies to find ways to inform the public better about the issues and to bolster the standards that ensure we can separate truth from fiction.
Curious how the media jumped all over Trump for his mean words and conveniently forgot about being spied on by Trump’s predecessor.