The president has blamed his predecessor for many of his administration’s woes — from the botched raid in Yemen to the Flynn scandal.
By Josh Dawsey
May 9, 2017
For President Donald Trump's administration, the buck often stops with former President Barack Obama.
Michael Flynn's appointment to a high-level post inside the Trump White House was opposed by a number of senior high-ranking officials, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the head of the transition team. Obama huddled privately with Trump and warned him about Flynn’s erratic ways. And after Trump moved ahead with the hire, Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his meetings with the Russian ambassador.
But asked about Flynn's issues Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer blamed Obama's administration for not revoking Flynn's security clearance. “That was something adjudicated by the Obama administration in April of 2016. They took no steps to suspend that, so that's not really a question for us. It's a question for them at that time,” he said.
"It's laughable and comical the lengths they're going to to distance themselves from any of the Flynn business," said John Weaver, a Republican strategist who advised John Kasich's presidential bid.
The White House’s knee-jerk reaction of blaming Obama hasn’t been contained to the Flynn scandal. It has blamed him for widespread protests, wiretapped phones, poor economic numbers, outsourced jobs, gangs proliferating across the United States and problems in the Middle East — among other issues.
"I inherited a mess," Trump said, explaining some of his early woes.
Since time immemorial, presidents have blasted their predecessors — Obama, for example, repeatedly blamed George W. Bush for prolonged Middle East entanglements and the economic collapse.
And to Trump advisers and allies, the tactic is a no-brainer. Trump's supporters largely disliked Obama and voted for Trump, in many ways, because he was so vociferous in his attacks on the former president.
Keeping the feud alive — which Obama’s high-profile aides also appear happy to do — only stokes Trump’s base further.
"Using Obama as a focal point probably works because he's so polarizing with Republicans," said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. "He's just reminding them how much they disliked Obama and that he's better than the other guy."
Yet some of the claims simply are not true or are without context, Zelizer notes, something that stands in stark contrast with his predecessors. "These are wilder, continual attacks," he said. "The difference is in scale and scope."
The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.
Trump most notably blamed Obama for tapping his phones during the "very sacred election process," calling him a "bad (or sick) guy!" Evidence has not backed up that claim, though there is evidence that shows some Trump associates were monitored during the transition as they spoke with foreign officials.
After a botched raid in Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL, Trump said, "this was a mission that was started before I got here." Trump, however, made the final decision to forge ahead with the raid.
Facing massive protests across the country and leaks within the federal government that were critical of his administration, Trump blamed Obama "or his people" for inciting the protests and leaking the material.
"I think President Obama is behind it because his people are certainly behind it," Trump said.
While some former Obama aides have certainly encouraged resistance to Trump, and Obama officials have sometimes been quoted anonymously in stories, there is no proof Obama organized any protests or leaked any material.
Trump blamed the Obama administration for Rexnord, an Indiana company, for moving 300 jobs to Mexico in October. While the decision was certainly made during Obama's presidency, it is unclear why Obama is to blame. Trump allies say Trump has created better job conditions in the United States since becoming president, and often cite consumer confidence studies that show Americans believe the economy is improving.
The president also laid blame for gang activity on Obama.
“The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!” the president wrote on Twitter at about 5:40 a.m. on April 18.
MS-13, which was created in Los Angeles, has been around for several decades. Even before Obama took office in 2009, the FBI said the gang was active in more than 40 states. But a spate of high-profile incidents, including murders, have dominated the news lately — and law enforcement authorities say the gang has grown.
When Trump recently announced he'd sent 59 missiles into a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack there, he immediately cast the blame on his predecessor. "These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution," he said.
While Obama was criticized — even by his own aides — for not taking more aggressive action in Syria, he is hardly to blame for a Middle East dictator deciding to gas his own people.
Spicer even invoked Obama when defending the administration's ill-fated travel ban executive order, which has been put on hold by a number of courts. "These seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as needing further travel scrutiny," Spicer said in January. Obama, however, never called for a ban on Muslims or tried to ban travel from the countries.
The White House didn't respond to specific questions about why Obama's administration, which renewed a security clearance for Flynn, was responsible for Trump hiring him as the chief national security adviser. In the briefing, Spicer said the clearance shouldn't have been approved if Obama had so many concerns.
Weaver was unsparing in his criticism. "The Spicer briefing was about as comical as the Pentagon briefings during the Vietnam War," he said.
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