Though Donald Trump now claims that President Barack Obama placed an FBI “spy” inside his 2016 presidential campaign, Obama supposedly remained in the dark about the FBI’s Russia collusion investigation not only after the election that November but until he was out of office, according to a new book by one of Obama’s top aides, former Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Earlier this week, Trump took his claim further alleging in a Twitter posting that the FBI placed multiple “spies… all over my campaign, even from an early date.”
But according to Rhodes’ new book, The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House — due to be published next week — neither Obama himself nor his aides were aware that the FBI was running an investigation into Trump’s campaign at all.
The FBI investigation did not come to light until after Obama had left office when he learned about it from public media reports, Rhodes writes in the book, according to The New York Times, which obtained an advance copy and summarized some of Rhodes’ key revelations on Thursday.
Obama was aware that the United States intelligence community had found Russian election meddling before the election, but the president did not want to talk about the subject publicly because he feared Trump would “just say it’s rigged,” the book says.
“I talk about it every time I’m asked,” Obama told his aides, who frequently pressed him to make Russian meddling a public issue. “What else are we going to do? We’ve warned folks. If I speak out more, he’ll just say it’s rigged.”
During the 2016 campaign, as he consistently trailed in the polls, Trump repeatedly asserted that the election was being “rigged” against him, claiming that 1.8 million deceased Americans were registered to vote and that more than 2 million people are registered to vote in multiple states and would vote more than once on election day.
Nonetheless, Obama did intend to place the Russian meddling in front of the public, attempting to issue a public statement by intelligence agency chiefs detailing the Russian attempts to sway and disrupt the election. But Obama believed such a statement would be effective only if it were issued on a bipartisan basis, and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell allegedly refused to sign on.
According to Rhodes, however, Obama appeared unsurprised at McConnell’s refusal, which Rhodes himself describes as “staggeringly partisan and unpatriotic.” Earlier in 2016, Obama had nominated Judge Merrick Garland, an ideological moderate, for an open seat on the Supreme Court, but in an unprecedented move, McConnell refused to grant Garland a hearing before the Senate.
“What else did you expect from McConnell?” Obama said after the Kentucky Republican’s refusal to sign on to the Russian interference statement. “He won’t even give us a hearing on Merrick Garland.”
The Rhodes book also contains behind-the-scenes accounts of Obama’s stunned response after Trump won an electoral college victory in the 2016 presidential election, causing the normally confident president to question his own achievements in office.
“Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,” Obama said privately to his close aides after the vote. “Maybe we pushed too far. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”
Rhodes also reveals that Obama held a low opinion of Trump personally, referring to him as a “cartoon.” According to Rhodes, Obama also recounted how at his White House meeting with Trump soon after the election, Trump had little interest in discussing policy issues. Instead, Trump preferred to boast about the size of the crowds at his campaign rallies — complimenting Obama on his crowds, but ridiculing Hillary Clinton for what Trump said was her inability to draw large crowds.