the national interest

Trump’s New Russia Scandal Theory: The FBI Set Him Up. There’s One Small Flaw.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There has been no more barometrically reliable insight into the Trump administration’s defense strategy on Russia than Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. Her weekly missives, essentially transcribed straight from the fevered mind of Devin Nunes, bring the readers up to date on every twist and turn in the developing conspiracy theories about the nefarious Deep State plot to frame the innocent president.

Strassel’s latest missive brings into view the latest working theory. It holds that James Comey planted a spy in the Trump campaign, in order to set in motion an investigation that would be used to smear Trump as a Russian tool, and thereby to hand the election to Hillary Clinton. This is the theory Trump is referring to when he rages about a plot that is “worse than Watergate.”

Put aside for a moment whether it is actually scandalous for the FBI to use an informant to uncover evidence of criminal conduct. The argument is that the clear purpose of this maneuver was to influence the 2016 election. Strassel writes that when Comey notified the National Security Council in spring 2016 that it was conducting a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, it “officially notified senior political operators on Team Obama that the bureau had eyes on Donald Trump and Russia. Imagine what might be done in these partisan times with such explosive information.”

Here’s where the sinister plot was going:

And what do you know? Sometime in April, the law firm Perkins Coie (on behalf the Clinton campaign) hired Fusion GPS, and Fusion turned its attention to Trump-Russia connections. The job of any good swamp operator is to gin up a fatal October surprise for the opposition candidate. And what could be more devastating than to paint a picture of Trump-Russia collusion that would provoke a full-fledged FBI investigation?

This sounds like a genius plan: Plant a spy to launch an investigation, and then spring the “fatal October surprise.”

Except there’s one tiny flaw in this theory: They never sprang the October surprise. The FBI kept a tight lid on the investigation — so tight, in fact, they floated a misleading story in the New York Times conveying the false impression that they saw no ties to Russia. Clinton did help finance Christopher Steele’s investigation, but also did not publish his reporting. And the Obama administration also kept a tight lid on the disturbing details that emerged. The farthest Obama went was to ask leaders of both parties to join in a bipartisan statement warning Russia not to interfere with the election — and when Mitch McConnell refused, they did nothing. When voting took place in November 2016, as far as the public was concerned, Clinton had been under FBI investigation and Trump had not.

This alleged secret plan to smear Trump only works if you actually let people know about it. It’s kind of like the Doomsday Machine in Dr. Strangelove.

The details of the FBI investigation and Steele’s report did begin to leak out in January 2017. But there’s a reason the trick is called “October surprise” and not “January After the Election surprise.”

New Trump Theory: FBI Set Him Up. There’s One Small Flaw.