As with Republicans who came before, they are guilty of “something”; the only question is when we will find it….
Pressing in on many of Donald Trump’s critics finally is the unreality of a Putin Trump conspiracy to put him in the White House, so now the switch has been to accuse him, after the election, of violating the Logan Act in demanding concessions from (not granting concessions to) Russia on behalf of an ally, Israel.
If that doesn’t work, he can be accused of obstruction of justice—the crime of interfering in the investigation of noncrimes. His financial history is also ripe. And his sexual history. The Al Franken episode is a Rubicon. Mr. Franken’s offenses may be real but have so raised the stakes that politicians must now live in fear of even the false allegation.
So apparently closes a chapter in which to doubt the Putin-Trump conspiracy theory was a sign of mental illness, which opened its own can of worms. “Splitting” is a mental symptom, all right, especially in borderline personality disorder. Splitting is also a method of columnists. Example: All true things about Donald Trump are bad, all bad things about Donald Trump are true.
Trump is guilty of something. It’s Robert Mueller’s job to figure out what, even if today’s theory of the crime is the obverse of yesterday’s.
Splitting columns write themselves, and tend toward lists, as if piling up claims is a substitute for examining them. So Christopher Steele is said to be a “credible” ex-spy, though unasked is what exactly he was in a position to be credible about: only that he faithfully relayed claims made by his source’s sources to his sources, and a little bit about how this game of telephone was set in motion—i.e., money was dished out.
Once upon a time, no reputable paper would print a sensational claim from a source who won’t vouch for its truth, who got it from a source he won’t identify, who got it from a source he can’t or won’t identify, and all were paid.
Citing Mr. Steele’s credibility is not even a competent appeal to authority, since his credibility derives from a profession that specializes partly in disinformation.
We could go on. Nothing in George Papadopoulos’s charge sheet for lying to the FBI suggests the words “emails of Clinton” referred to Democratic National Committee emails. Yet this allowed the press to assume the Trump campaign was in touch with Russian intelligence about a then as-yet-unpublicized real crime.
You’d be surprised at the papers that didn’t quote the words “emails of Clinton” so as not to lend evidence against their own assumption that these were DNC emails. An honorable exception was the Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky, who wrote: “But at that time, it was well known that Clinton had deleted tens of thousands of emails she deemed personal from her private server. Those messages were of great interest to Republicans. . . . It was unclear to what emails the professor was referring or if he truly had access to any messages damaging to Clinton.”
Let us go now from the psychological motive to the sociological motive—i.e. from self-deceiving to others-deceiving:
If a particular perception of an event somehow appears to have become the social norm, people seeking to build or protect their reputations will begin endorsing it through their words and deeds, regardless of their actual thoughts.
So-called reputational cascades, as described here in a 1999 paper by Timur Kuran and Cass Sunstein, are particularly powerful. Sean Hannity, if confronted with proof of Trump collusion, for the sake of commercial survival would have to recant. But a negative can’t be proved, so anti-Trump conspiratorialists will never have to recant, at least not until they have something equally damning to lay against Mr. Trump.
Just maybe, though, an intertwined story can start to be noticed. “He was the top counterintelligence agent and an asset to the bureau and America.” Variations on this quote appeared in several news stories about Peter Strzok, the high-ranking FBI official removed from the Mueller task force due to anti-Trump text messages with his paramour.
But here’s the real question: Why was the FBI’s No. 2 counterintelligence official so hip-deep in the Hillary Clinton email investigation? Mr. Strzok, it turns out, conducted the key interviews. He scripted the exact words used to chastise Mrs. Clinton without implying criminal liability.
Think back to now-forgotten reports in the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN that an intelligence intercept, later understood to be a Russian plant, played a pivotal role in FBI Chief James Comey’s decision to intervene publicly in the Clinton email matter.
More than ever, it seems probable that his intervention was contrived as a counterintelligence exercise from the start, not a criminal inquiry to find out if Mrs. Clinton had committed a crime. Mrs. Clinton would win. Russia’s plan to discredit her victory must be foiled. So began a cascade of incompetent or worse FBI meddling in U.S. domestic politics, which will turn out to be the story of the decade once the Trump collusion story has given up the ghost.
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.