WASHINGTON – The script has flipped big time.
Thanks to the media's investigation into the Trump campaign, speculation is growing that it is the Obama administration that could end up investigated for accusations one of its targets called "worse than Watergate."
Democrats are suddenly worried their "Russia hacked the election" narrative may boomerang into a catastrophe of their own making.
Perhaps the first sign came Saturday when, as WND reported, former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau responded cautiously to Obama's denial that his administration had spied on the Trump campaign and wiretapped him.
Favreau warned fellow Democrats in his own tweet: "I'd be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH (White House) ordered it."
Then these developments occurred in rapid succession:
1) Obama's former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday there was "no evidence" at all of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
2) Leftist reporter and severe Trump critic Matt Taibbi warned in Rolling Stone on Wednesday of "big dangers for the press" and a "dangerous gamble" by the Democratic Party for pursuing a story that Clapper said was supported by no evidence.
3) Conservative icon Rush Limbaugh observed Thursday that Trump's tweet had forced Democrats to deny his campaign was under intense investigation by intelligence agencies during the Obama administration.
4) Finally, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review Thursday that now that the big scandal is no longer possible Trump-campaign collusion with Russia, "It is that the Obama Justice Department may have used its legal authorities to investigate the Democrats' top political adversary."
And that would, indeed, be a Watergate-level scandal.
The question has become, as Limbaugh said, "[I]f there's no investigation of Trump, then what have all these stories the past six months been?"
End run around paper's own standards
Taibbi blamed shoddy reporting by the media – but mostly the New York Times.
He scorched the media for "using the techniques of conspiracy theorists to push this Russia story."
The reporter accused the mainstream media of employing, essentially, fake news techniques, particularly by using phrases such as "so far," "to date" and "as yet."
He also noted many of the revelations in stories have been more like speculations, "framed in terms of what they might mean, should other information surface."
Taibbi blasted the Times story about Trump surrogates having "repeated contacts" with Russian intelligence officials because it "not only didn't explain whether the contacts were knowing or unknowing, it also brought up a host of other ‘dots' in the Russia narrative for the reader to connect."
He cited the Times' mention of "the bizarre (and unverified) dossier prepared by (former British intelligence agent) Christopher Steele."
Taibbi recounted how the dossier contained a raft of allegations and unsubstantiated claims that the Russians had embarrassing videos that could be used to blackmail Trump. And even though the FBI spent several months investigating the leads in the dossier, it had confirmed none of its most explosive claims.
The reporter then made his most searing indictment of the Times: "These constructions are an end run around the paper's own reporting standards."
He continued, "The Times by itself could never have run that ‘explosive' Steele dossier, or mentioned the 'embarrassing videos' – because the dossier material can't be confirmed."
Taibbi warned of "big dangers" for the rest of the press if it followed the Times' lead.
"If we engage in Times-style gilding of every lily the leakers throw our way, and in doing so build up a fever of expectations for a bombshell reveal, but there turns out to be no conspiracy – Trump will be pre-inoculated against all criticism for the foreseeable future."
‘You're setting yourselves up for a big fail'
Limbaugh warned the Times had already been caught in its own trap. And it could get worse. Much worse.
He said "the whole Russians-stole-the-election theme is gone."
Limbaugh described Taibbi as an "extreme liberal," whose story was a warning to Democrats, "saying you better be careful here, because you might get what you want, which is an investigation into what you've been doing."
"He's warning them to walk this back and stop reporting on this with all these unnamed sources, that you're setting yourselves up for a big fail."
The talk-radio star pointed out that the mainstream media narrative had been the Obama administration asked and received a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to surveil the Trump campaign and the Trump transition.
So, why would the media now say Trump had no proof of his spying accusation?
"It's very simple: There has not been an investigation of Trump, folks. They have been lying about this. ‘Lying' may be what's happened, but it's not the right way to - They have been hoping," Limbaugh clarified.
"There have been deep-state sources telling the media enough things that the media has hoped, and they've rolled the dice and believed, that there is eventually going to be proof that Trump was being surveilled, and the reason that Trump was being surveilled is because there is evidence of Trump collusion."
But, since it turned out there isn't any evidence, as confirmed by Clapper himself, it had become clear "the Democrats were getting way ahead of themselves, the media getting way ahead of themselves. And Trump's tweet back at them forced them to admit there wasn't any."
And, Limbaugh concluded, the Democrats and the media "had to deny their own investigation, which was easy to do; there isn't an investigation."
Because admitting there was an investigation of the GOP nominee would have been even worse.
‘Uh-oh moment for the media-Democrat complex'
McCarthy took the scenario a step further, positing the evidence (reported by the Times, the BBC, the Guardian, Heatstreet and CIRCA, among others) indicated there was some kind of an investigation.
The question has now become: An investigation of what?
Someone was investigating something. All those leaks came from somewhere.
McCarthy wrote that the Times referenced wiretapping in its Jan. 20 headline because it was needed to indicate the Trump campaign was suspected of wrongdoing.
If the Times could maintain the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign, "the public might be induced to believe there must be something to it if the Bureau was investigating it."
"For four months," he wrote, "the mainstream press was very content to have Americans believe - indeed, they encouraged Americans to believe - that a vigorous national-security investigation of the Trump presidential campaign was ongoing. ‘A counterintelligence investigation,' the New York Times called it."
But when the proof failed to emerge, and even Clapper shot down the story, "the risk the Democrats were running became clear."
And suddenly the downside became clearly enormous.
"If the FBI had been investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded in purported ‘Russian hacking of the election,' that meant the incumbent Obama administration must have been investigating the campaign of the opposition party's presidential candidate."
And, the former federal prosecutor observed, if such an investigation had involved national-security wiretaps under FISA, "that would suggest that the Obama Justice Department had alleged, in court, that Trump associates had acted as ‘agents of a foreign power' - in this case, Russia."
McCarthy then dropped the hammer.
If, as Clapper confirmed, the big scandal isn't hacking, "It is that the Obama Justice Department may have used its legal authorities to investigate the Democrats' top political adversary."
Combined with the same Obama Justice Department "bending over backward to whitewash the extremely serious criminal case against the Democrats' nominee, Hillary Clinton. It would have meant Obama had his thumb on the election scale."
And that would be a Watergate-level scandal.
McCarthy noted that "even if Trump's allegation was false, the tweets demanded attention to the real scandal: Was the Obama administration investigating the Trump campaign?"
And that was the "uh-oh moment for the media-Democrat complex. That was when it dawned on them not only that the election-hacking conspiracy narrative wasn't working, but that the investigation of the Trump campaign could be a much bigger scandal."
That's why, he mused, the media decided that it better adopt a different strategy: "Investigation? What investigation?"
As McCarthy told WND earlier in the week, "Now that they're being called on the scandal of investigating the opposition party's candidate, they are in retreat and claiming that there was no investigation of the campaign."
And now McCarthy wants to know who knew what, and when did they know it.
"Let's see the FISA applications and warrants. If there was no targeting of the Trump campaign, as the media and Democrats now say, let's hear an explanation of why they've pretended otherwise for four months. If the Trump campaign was targeted for an investigation, let's hear why."
‘Probably the biggest scandal in U.S. history'
The Times had identified three named targets of the Trump investigation as Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page.
Manafort had been Trump's campaign manager but was dumped in August, well before the FISA order allowing the wiretap was reportedly issued in October. Page is an investor. Stone is a friend of Trump and Manafort's former political-consulting business partner.
On Thursday, Stone wrote a commentary piece in the Daily Caller, titled "Worse than Watergate," in which he stated: "We are on the cusp of what is probably the biggest scandal in U.S. history. The deep state has sought to undermine President Trump through a series of illegal leaks and secret judicial proceedings as spying has been exposed."
He concluded: "We have established that there are no contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian state. It is now only a matter of to getting to the bottom of who ordered the subversion of the Constitution and the spying on an American presidential candidate in order to derail his election and the Democratic process, precisely what Richard M. Nixon went down for."
Editor's note: The original version of this story included allegations by Limbaugh and McCarthy that the New York Times changed a Jan. 20, headline (above) from "Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides" to "Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates."
McCarthy has since written: "The Times has informed us that the headline of the website version of the report has always been the headline of the website version of the report. It was different from the print version from Day One (i.e., January 19) and it has not been changed."
The Times' online version of the story still reads: "One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House."