Starkly different tales of two presidential transitions have played out in Washington.
In 2016, Democrats, Obama administration officials and liberal media moved quickly to target President-elect Trump. Over 73 days, there were calls for impeachment, a resistance movement, attempts to infiltrate the Electoral College, false opposition research and FBI surveillance, a Washington Times examination shows.
Four years later, liberal Democrats and media are urging Republicans to rally around presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden and his “unity” message.
The pugnacious real estate mogul from New York City in 2016 shocked Hillary Clinton, who seemed to be the heir apparent to the Barack Obama legacy. Pundits had said Mr. Trump had little or no chance of reaching 270 electoral votes.
What transpired after the Nov. 8, 2016, election was at times open rebellion by Democrats.
John Dowd, a defense lawyer who represented Mr. Trump in the Russia probe, told The Washington Times that Democrats “trashed” the president’s efforts to form his first administration.
“It does not lie in the mouths of Democrats and their media cousins to insist on regular order and transition before the certification of the election results when they trashed, demonized, undermined and obstructed the lawful efforts of President Trump and his colleagues to form an administration to serve the American people in 2017,” Mr. Dowd said. “No president has been treated so poorly and unlawfully by the opposition, the deep state and the fake media.”
During the transition and afterward, Democrats repeatedly accused Mr. Trump and his campaign of conspiring with the Kremlin to hack Democratic computers and release internal emails. They relied greatly on their paid-for dossier from the Kremlin, which has been shown to be false.
Newly declassified intelligence papers show that Mrs. Clinton made a decision in late July to pin the Russian interference on Mr. Trump. Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded in March 2019 that he could not establish such a conspiracy took place.
As he was about to assume the presidency, Mr. Trump likely did not know the full picture of what was swirling behind the scenes. Today, more is known. Attorney General William P. Barr and the director of national intelligence have released dozens of once-secret documents telling the anti-Trump narrative, particularly at FBI headquarters.
With Russia as a backdrop, here is what the left did in the fall of 2016 and early winter of 2017:
• Boycotted the Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration. Fifty-three Democratic members of Congress refused to attend, accusing Mr. Trump of conspiring with Russia to tip the election. Mr. Mueller found no such evidence after nearly a three-year FBI investigation.
• Organized a “resistance” movement. Inside the Democratic-heavy federal bureaucracy, there was talk of leaking to press and stopping new policies. Clinton activists held a postelection strategy session in Miami to fund anti-Trump campaigns.
The resistance cry even reached inside the FBI. A bureau lawyer investigating the Trump campaign text-messaged colleagues, “viva le resistance.”
Project Veritas, the undercover activist group, captured federal employees on hidden camera talking about stopping Mr. Trump.
“What you are about to see is the hidden face of the resistance inside the executive branch of our government,” Veritas director James O’Keefe said before showing a State Department official chatting with undercover operatives. The official said he would routinely “f— s—- up.”
Mr. Barr became so alarmed at the spread of “the resistance” that he singled it out in a November 2019 speech on the courts and the Constitution.
“Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they called ‘The Resistance,’ and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver available to sabotage the functioning of his Administration,” the attorney general said. “Now, ‘resistance’ is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power. It obviously connotes that the government is not legitimate. This is a very dangerous — indeed incendiary — notion to import into the politics of a democratic republic.”
• Challenged electors. They make up the Electoral College as the designated state representatives who are the final official vote to elect the next U.S. president.
Left-wing activists attempted to intervene to stop Trump-pledged electors from doing their constitutional duty. They deployed emails, phone calls and social media videos by celebrities.
One group, calling itself the “Hamilton Electors” — after Alexander Hamilton, the creator of the Electoral College — tried to persuade Trump electors to let Democrats vote in their place on the promise that they would vote for a moderate Republican.
A few days before the electors met on Dec. 16, 2016, actor Jason Alexander of the NBC sitcom “Seinfeld” released a homemade video saying: “We are asking you to consider the possibility of voting for any other eligible candidate whom you feel has the character, the intelligence and experience to be the president of these United States.”
• Called for impeachment. Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, led the call for impeachment before Mr. Trump took office. She cited how Mr. Trump characterized Mrs. Clinton’s health during the campaign as a possible criminal charge.
In December 2016, Vanity Fair magazine reported, “Democrats are paving the way to impeach Donald Trump.”
On Inauguration Day, a Washington Post headline declared, “The campaign to impeach President Trump has begun.”
The Democrats finally succeeded in late 2019, as House Democrats voted to impeach over a phone call Mr. Trump conducted with the Ukrainian president.
Meanwhile, a major Trump-focused meeting occurred at the White House on Jan. 5, 2017, as then-FBI Director James B. Comey met with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and others about the Russia probe. Newly declassified FBI notes showed that Mr. Comey briefed the false Democratic Party opposition research dossier by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
Mr. Biden, the notes show, brought up the 1799 Logan Act. Unknown to Mr. Trump or Michael Flynn, the FBI had targeted the future national security adviser for criminal charges.
The FBI was weighing whether to seek Logan Act charges because Flynn spoke during the transition to the Russian ambassador. The act, rarely enforced over three centuries, precludes private citizens from working against U.S. foreign policy.
• Despite losing the election, the Clinton campaign’s opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, continued its anti-Trump operation during the transition. Fusion co-founder Glenn R. Simpson met with Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr and provided him with conspiracy claims to funnel to the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” Russia investigation unit.
• That December, Mr. Simpson orchestrated the transfer of Mr. Steele’s dossier to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, whose associate spread the false claims inside the Obama administration.
• On Jan. 4, 2017, the day before the White House-Comey briefing, the FBI cleared Flynn of any improper Russia contacts. The entire basis for opening a case the previous August was gone. But higher-ups stopped the case from closing because they learned that Flynn had spoken with the Russian ambassador in December.
“Yeah, our utter incompetence actually helped us,” lead agent Peter Strzok messaged to FBI lawyer Lisa Page. In August, Mr. Strzok had texted Ms. Page about how he planned to “stop” the Trump presidency.
The memo closing the Flynn case revealed that agents had placed him under physical surveillance, although it is not clear whether that happened during the campaign or transition.
Three days after Mr. Trump took office, FBI officials conducted a brainstorming session on Flynn, wondering whether they could get him to lie or prompt his firing. Flynn ended up pleading guilty the following December to lying to agents about the phone call. The Justice Department has moved to drop the case on grounds that the FBI entrapped him and withheld favorable evidence, such as agents’ doubts that he deliberately misled them.
• During this time, a large number of Obama political appointees asked the National Security Agency to “unmask” Flynn’s name in intelligence reports. The unmasking was not illegal, the Justice Department concluded, but Republicans found it excessive with only a few days left in Mr. Obama’s term.
• In an internal debate that carried into the transition, Mr. Comey insisted to the CIA that the Steele dossier and its unverified claims against Mr. Trump be included in the intelligence community’s official report on Russian election interference. The CIA refused, calling Mr. Steele’s work “internet rumor.”
Mr. Comey’s aides protested vehemently. As a compromise, the CIA made a special dossier appendix hidden from the public by classification when the report was released in January. The appendix included some of the most stunning and false allegations against Mr. Trump.
• On Jan. 6, 2017, Mr. Comey visited President-elect Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and briefed him on the dossier, including salacious material about Moscow prostitutes. Mr. Comey never told Mr. Trump that the information came from Democratic partisans.
Mr. Comey left Trump Tower and proceeded to the FBI field office to brief the Crossfire Hurricane team. In other words, Mr. Comey’s mission was the ongoing criminal investigation.
Documents show the Comey session jarred Mr. Trump because he had no idea about the source for something he says never happened. He later telephoned Mr. Comey, who again did not disclose that the claims were partisan.
• The Obama administration on Jan. 12, 2017, obtained a second wiretap warrant, this one for campaign volunteer Carter Page. The surveillance began in October and produced no evidence that Mr. Page conspired with the Russians, as the dossier asserted. The warrant was based largely on the false dossier and would not have been requested without it, a Justice Department inspector general report concluded.
On Inauguration Day, at the top of the newspaper’s front page, The New York Times greeted the new president with this headline: “Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates.”
Since the U.S. routinely intercepts communications by Russians and other foreign targets, it was difficult to tell from the story the exact connection to Trump world.
The story said: “It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November.”
A month later, The New York Times published another intercept story — this one false: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.”
This story rattled the new White House, which believed no one in the campaign was a conspirator.
Mr. Comey said at a subsequent Senate hearing that the U.S. acquired no such intercepts and that he personally warned senior members of Congress that The New York Times report was wrong.