"[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!" Page texted Strzok.
"No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it," Strzok responded.
Fast forward a couple of years and here we are in October, 2018, just about two years after Trump's electoral triumph, and for reasons best known to themselves Ben Rhodes and Jen Psaki have decided to reveal to NYMag that the Russia Hoax was a key part of the Obama Administration's--and presumably the Clinton campaign's--contingency plan to, well, steal an election: Obama Had a Secret Plan in Case Trump Rejected 2016 Election Results. We're all adults--right?--so there's no need to quibble over the meaning of words like "results." Here's what Rhodes and Psaki are saying:
The Obama White House plan, according to interviews with Rhodes and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result. In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favor Trump, and not Clinton. Some Republicans were already aware of Russian interference from intelligence briefings given to leaders from both parties during the chaotic months before the election. “We wanted to handle the Russia information in a way that was as bipartisan as possible,” Rhodes said.
The existence of the postelection plan has not been previously reported. A July 2017 op-ed by Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, refers to Obama directing his staff to “prepare possible responses” to claims of Russian interference in the election.
Psaki said the plan was one of a larger set of “red-teaming” conversations to address how the White House should respond to postelection scenarios that did not have any historical precedent. “There was recognition that we had a Democratic president who was quite popular but also divisive for a portion of the population,” she said. “For them, just having him say the election was legitimate was not going to be enough. We didn’t spend a lot of time theorizing about the worst thing that could happen — this isn’t a science-fiction movie. It was more about the country being incredibly divided and Trump’s supporters being angry. Would there be protesting? I don’t want to say violence, because we didn’t talk about that as I recall.”
A lot of internet blog commenters have been belly aching about Trump putting a hold on his declassification order in the runup to the midterm elections, but this seems just as good--real red meat for the GOP base. Why Rhodes and Psaki thought it was a good idea to feed the GOP base like this is anyone's guess. I realize NYMag doesn't cater to that base, but Fox alertly picked this story up. But back to 2016 ...
Of course, the Obama and Clinton camps never foresaw--or so they claim--Trump winning the election. They feared a squeaker, a cliff hanger. Or, two years on, that's their story. So let's try a thought experiment of sorts. By dispensing with some of the coded language or doublespeak we come up with this more succinct version of what Rhodes and Psaki are saying:
The Obama plan called for prominent NeverTrump Republicans to try and forestall a Trump victory or--God forbid!--a Trump inauguration by throwing the election to Clinton based on claims--and, no, I swear I'm not plagiarizing The Onion--that Russia had interfered on behalf of Trump. This Russia Hoax narrative had already been floated among some NeverTrump Republicans, and they liked this "bipartisan" approach--they would provide the cover needed for a coup. Planning had already gotten so far that Obama had directed his staff to develop an action plan for the event of a Hillary loss--the rejection of continued Progressive rule would be "historically unprecededented" (in their minds) and thus invalid.
As we know so well, in the event, Trump spoiled it all by posting an electoral landslide. The plotters had failed, in Strzok's words, to "stop it." Or had they? After all, an election is one thing, but the inauguration of a new president doesn't take place for something like two and a half months afterwards. Time enough to throw a whole smorgasbord of crackpot theories at Trump, and see whether any of it would stick! But the key to it all, right from the start, was the Russia Hoax:
Less than 24 hours after Hillary’s concession speech, Podesta and Campaign Manager Robby Mook convened a staff meeting at Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters to formalize this attack. The effort was described by authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes in a book that explains “what happened” more insightfully than Mrs. Clinton’s memoir.
“For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public,” they wrote. “Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”
Russia hacking, yes, but soon enough the whole "dossier" was part of the mix. The Russia-hacked-my-emails story just made people's heads hurt--much better to go front and center with undocumented sleaze. Traditional but still effective. Or not. The plan quickly began to lose traction, both in the halls of government and the legislative branch as well as with the public.
What's interesting are the deep roots of the Russia Hoax. The basic idea can be documented as an action plan as far back as early Spring of 2016, with the efforts to frame hapless Trump foreign policy "advisers" as Russian agents. There are still many questions about those early events. Were Page and Papadopoulos unwittingly inserted into the Trump campaign by Democrat operatives? And how about Paul Manafort coming on board? A John Podesta protege to run the convention, to become campaign manager? Had Glenn Simpson--the world class Paul Manafort expert and now Hillary opposition researcher--died and gone to heaven? And that weird Trump Tower meeting--how did that really go down?
The Russia Hoax was already in place, for use when needed, capable of adaptation to fits the circumstances. From campaign talking points to soft coup contingency plan was but a short step. Or paradigm shift, as we like to say.