It wasn’t easy to reach this apex of idiocy. It took tireless mendacity and an unflinching commitment to a dumb conspiracy theory, no matter how absurd it was to anyone with a triple-digit IQ.
I speak, of course, about the Republican counteroffensive to Robert Mueller’s intensifying investigation into the Trump-Russia affair. Mueller, we learned last week, has already interviewed Attorney General Jeff Session and more than 20 members of the White House staff; he’s also requested an interview with Trump himself, which some Trump allies think is a “perjury trap,” because, well, Trump lies all the time. We also learned that, contrary to numerous White House denials, Trump indeed tried to fire Mueller in June, but was stopped by his White House counsel, who threatened to quit. This, of course, came a month after Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, who investigating possible collusion before Mueller took over.
Trump is not exactly acting like an innocent party. Which makes the effort of Trump’s allies – both in Congress and in the media – to inoculate him from any possible charges all the more suspect. There’ve been a few recent developments on this front, each dumber than the last.
The first is a four-page classified memo drawn up by Rep. Devin Nunes, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, who pledged to step aside from the Russia investigation (but actually didn’t) after he revealed classified information about the investigation to the media. This memo, which Nunes has declined to share with the Department of Justice or even Senate Republicans, purports to show that the Obama administration abused its surveillance power during the Trump transition – support for the spirit, if not the letter, of Trump’s claim that Obama bugged Trump Tower. The DOJ has warned that the release of this memo would be “extraordinarily reckless,” and Democrats familiar with its contents say it’s an intentional distortion of the actual evidence. But that hasn’t stopped Nunes and other far-right folks – including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida – from going on Fox News and claiming this as evidence of a deep-state conspiracy.
So yeah, release the damn memo. Release all the supporting documentation, too – including any FISA warrants. And let’s see how the cards play out. My hunch is this sort of bungled half-truth is much more advantageous to the Trump cause than the entire truth.
Second, there were the missing text messages – five months of messages from thousands of FBI phones that had been lost. They were recovered within a few days, no big deal, but they prompted a slew of desk-pounding from the deep-state crew. See, among those missing messages were messages from an FBI agent who worked the Hillary Clinton investigation and the Trump investigation, and the FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair. Other text messages revealed that they thought Trump was an idiot – FBI agents, I should note, are free to express political opinions – which Trump’s allies on the Hill and Fox News took as prima facie evidence that the fix was in and a conspiracy to ratfuck the president was afoot. At perhaps the height of absurdity, this prompted Fox Business host Lou Dobbs to wonder why the U.S. marshals weren’t arresting FBI brass.
Actually, that wasn’t the height of absurdity. No, that came when Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin – echoed by Gaetz – went on TV and said that, based on “an informant” and one of these supposedly illicit text messages, there was a “secret society” of FBI agents who were plotting a coup. This, of course, prompted a day of outrage and demands that Mueller’s investigation close up shop.
But then, as always happens, the air went out of the balloon. ABC News obtained the memo in question, and it said, in full: “Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.”
Which brings us to our man Gaetz, the freshman congressman from the Alabama end of the Florida Panhandle, who’s doing his level best to build a national profile for himself by going on television and acting the damned fool. He is, in CNN’s Chris Cillizza’s words, “one of the most outspoken proponents of the idea that there is some sort of ‘Deep State’ conspiracy within the government – and the FBI, in particular – aimed at undermining President Donald Trump.”
Gaetz was the first Republican to sponsor a resolution demanding that Mueller step down over the demonstrably bogus Uranium One “scandal,” which took place when Mueller was head of the FBI. He demanded that Sessions step down if he was unwilling to appoint a special counsel to look into Uranium One and other supposed Hillary Clinton crimes. And now he’s on Fox News every chance he gets, ominously warning the channel’s army of gullible viewers about the deep state.
And on one of those visits to Trump’s propaganda network, Gaetz made this observation about the then-missing FBI texts: “It would be the greatest coincidence since the Immaculate Conception that it just happened to be the case that right after Obama sics the intelligence community on Trump, the text messages go dark, and they only reappear the day that Robert Mueller is hired to investigate the president. Come on, the American people won't believe that's a coincidence, and I don’t believe it, either.”
Which led to this hilarious exchange with CNN’s Chris Cuomo:
Cuomo: What do you mean by the Immaculate Conception?
Gaetz: Look, I was making a point that this is an absurd coincidence.
Cuomo: By what? What do you think happened with the Immaculate Conception?
Gaetz: The immaculate conception, it’s obviously a religious doctrine that deals with the Christian faith.
Cuomo: I know. Where is the analogy? That’s what I don’t understand. What do you think happened with the Immaculate Conception?
Gaetz: Look, did you really bring me on to discuss my religious views, Chris? I’m a Christian and I believe the Immaculate Conception was how Jesus was born.
Gaetz can be dismissed as an idiot, sure. But there’s a larger point to this: It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Republicans to defend Trump and attack the FBI’s investigation without utterly beclowning themselves.
Except that’s not how it’s playing on Fox, and not how it’s playing to Trump’s base. The strategy is simple: Sow seeds of doubt, and then, if Mueller says the president or his associates have done something felonious, just blame it on the deep state and move along.