The GOP’s FBI Conspiracy Theory Just Got Even Dumber

Devin Nunes. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Congressional Republicans have uncovered a scandal that’s “worse the Watergate,” a threat to “rule of law” in the United States, and “very, very sad for democracy.

It also happens to be an unhinged conspiracy theory that boasts less internal coherence than Alex Jones’s reflections on the government’s responsibility for the growing prevalence of hermaphroditic, homosexual frogs.

The story goes like this: The entire investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is a baseless sham orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and her deep-state allies. The Clinton campaign paid ex–MI6 agent Christopher Steele to assemble a dossier of spurious (and salacious) allegations against Donald Trump, and then funneled his fabricated findings to a “secret society” of Democratic operatives embedded within the FBI. That secret society then used those findings to secure a warrant to wiretap Trump campaign adviser Carter Page — not because they actually believed that there was any credible evidence that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russian agents, but solely as a means of aiding Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. When that ambition failed, the FBI pivoted to a new objective — if they couldn’t preempt the Trump presidency, then they would to destroy it. From this toxic soil, Robert Mueller’s inquisition did bloom. And airtight evidence for these claims can be found in a single memo that they don’t want you to see.

There have long been several small problems with this narrative:

• In the days preceding the 2016 election, the FBI leaked word to the New York Times that there was “no clear link between Trump and Russia,” and publicly announced the reopening of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server — on the basis of new evidence that turned out to be neither “new” nor “evidence.” This seems like an odd way for a “secret society” dedicated to the election of Hillary Clinton to approach its mission.

• The “they” who is refusing to let the public see the incriminating memo is congressional Republicans and the Trump administration. The memo in question was written by House Intelligence chair Devin Nunes, and he and his colleagues are free to declassify whenever they please. Meanwhile, Trump’s Justice Department has implored Congress to keep the memo under wraps.

• Everyone already knows that the Mueller investigation is not baseless. Donald Trump Jr. has publicly confessed to accepting an ostensible offer of opposition research from the Russian government. Donald Trump has already admitted, on national television, that he fired James Comey because he disapproved of the FBI director’s handling of an investigation into his campaign. He subsequently argued — in many, many interviews — that the job of the attorney general is to protect the president from legal scrutiny. These statements may not prove criminal wrongdoing (although, many legal experts believe Trump’s do), but they certainly provide a solid foundation for investigating the president for obstruction of justice, and his campaign for involvement in cybercrimes.

Oh, and the Mueller investigation has, of course, already produced multiple criminal indictments and confessions from Trump campaign members, including one from George Papadopoulos, who admitted that he sought thousands of stolen Clinton emails from a woman he believed to be Vladimir Putin’s niece.

Of course, this last point is the entire reason why the “Release the Memo” movement exists: Whatever its legal conclusions, the Mueller investigation has already produced information that is profoundly politically damaging — or, at least, would be for any president who didn’t enter office already loathed by nearly 60 percent of the country. And so, the GOP is compelled to obfuscate this reality by engineering an equal and opposite scandal.

Anyhow, as flimsy and incoherent as the Republican story was at its inception, it has somehow managed to become exponentially more so over the past 24 hours.

Before Wednesday, it was already clear that the allegation of a “secret society” within the FBI rested on a comically weak foundation. The claim derived from the contents of a single text message sent by senior FBI official Lisa Page to her colleague Peter Strzok. Strzok is one of the central “villains” of the GOP’s tale. The agent had participated in both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the special counsel’s probe into the Trump campaign, but was removed from latter last summer, after an internal investigation discovered that he’d expressed a low opinion of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign in text messages with Page. (Why this was supposed to be scandalous is unclear — a hefty chunk of Paul Ryan’s caucus publicly expressed the same opinion at some point in 2016. If Donald Trump is a terrible human being who is manifestly unqualified to be president, it is not “biased” to describe him as such.)

Over the weekend, the FBI provided congressional investigators with a tranche of other text messages between Strzok and Page. In one of those texts, sent on the day after the 2016 election, Page had reportedly typed the phrase “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society,” and lawmakers demanded more information about this damning piece of evidence — as well as another, equally incriminating discovery: There was a five-month gap in the text messages between Strzok and Page that the FBI had provided them.

None of these Republicans ever explained why members of a secret, subversive cabal would discuss said cabal on government-issued phones. Nevertheless, Senator Ron Johnson informed Fox News that his colleagues had uncovered a “secret society,” with the aid of “an informant talking about a group holding secret meetings offsite.”

Then, on Wednesday night, ABC News published the illicit text message 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.”

Asked Thursday whether Page may have used the phrase “secret society” in jest, Johnson conceded, “It’s a real possibility.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post revealed that the missing texts between Page and Strzok weren’t the product of a deep-state plot, but rather a “technical glitch” that had deleted “text messages sent from thousands of cell phones.” And then, on Thursday, the Justice Department inspector general announced that his office had “succeeded in using forensic tools to recover text messages from FBI devices, including text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page that were sent or received between December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017.”

So: Lisa Page told a joke, and the Justice Department briefly lost track of thousands of text messages — but were able to recover the ones that interest Republicans — and it is happy to share them with congressional Republicans. Worse than Watergate, I tell ya!

Another alleged evildoer in the “alt-collusion” saga is FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe’s ostensible crime is that he did not recuse himself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, even though his wife ran for the Virginia State Senate as a Democrat in 2015 — and, during that campaign, accepted political donations from then–Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a friend of the Clinton family. Why Republicans believe that McCabe’s wife’s political activities rendered him unfit to investigate Hillary Clinton is unclear. Clarence Thomas’s wife is a conservative activist, but the GOP has not, to my knowledge, called on him to recuse himself from any cases that implicate her causes.

Regardless, the important thing to know about Andrew McCabe was that he was a die-hard Hillary Clinton supporter, who sabotaged an investigation into her terrible crimes.

And then, on Wednesday, CNN revealed that McCabe was such a dedicated Clintonista that he did not vote in the 2016 general election — despite living in the swing state of Virginia — but did cast a ballot in that state’s Republican primary.

Now: Try to come up with a theory that reconciles all publicly available facts with the GOP’s theory that the Mueller investigation is an anti-Trump conspiracy.

Does it make more — or less — sense than this?

The GOP’s FBI Conspiracy Theory Just Got Even Dumber