I’ve been mostly trying to ignore the latest attempts by hard-line Republicans to discredit the FBI as a way to save the Trump Presidency, because as much play as it gets on Fox News, Breitbart, and on social media, much of it is driven by Russian bots and conspiracy theorists. We’re ten months away from the midterms, and the Russians and Wikileaks are up to their same tricks: They’re running disinformation campaigns in cahoots with hard-line Republicans in an effort to further destabilize our democracy and generate fear and suspicion of the FBI.
Congressman Devin Nunes from California — who apparently feels very comfortable in his California district — is doing much of Donald Trump’s dirty work here. Nunes, recall, was temporarily removed from the House Intelligence Committee while he was being investigated by the Ethics Committee for disclosing classified information to the Trump White House. The GOP-led Ethics Committee cleared him of those charges while Republican Trey Gowdy was on the House Ethics Committee (filling in for Jason Chaffetz, who mysteriously resigned). After Nunes was cleared, Gowdy also resigned from the House Ethics Committee to focus his energy on the House Intelligence Committee, where he and Nunes are clearly working together to discredit the FBI. But hey! That’s just a coincidence, right?
Nunes and his staff have written a memo that the House Intelligence Committee has seen. Last week, Russian bots and Wikileaks amplified #ReleasetheMemo on Twitter, and while that memo has yet to be released, it probably will at some point. The Republicans on the Intelligence Committee say that it’s deeply damaging to the credibility of the FBI, while Democrats assert that it’s a lot of Republican talking points based on classified intelligence that puts that FBI’s actions in context. However, the public would not see the classified intelligence; they’d only be aware of the FBI’s actions without the context. That’s by design for the GOP.
“The point was they didn’t care what was in the underlying documents,” Senator Adam Schiff told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “They wanted to make a political statement and feed the beast on Fox News.”
We don’t know exactly what’s in the memo, but it’s about FISA warrants that the FBI sought in order to investigate the Trump campaign in 2016. Those warrants were obtained by the FBI because there was enough evidence to suggest collusion. The GOP hardliners are trying to obscure that by suggesting that the FBI had an anti-Trump agenda. That is all the more absurd because 1) the FBI is a conservative leaning organization and it always has been, and 2) if the FBI was trying to swing the election to Hillary Clinton, they did a really lousy fucking job of it, didn’t they?
Trump’s Justice Department, in fact, has warned Nunes and the House Intelligence Committee against releasing the memo:
“We believe it would be extraordinarily reckless for the Committee to disclose such information publicly without giving the Department and the FBI the opportunity to review the memorandum and to advise the HPSCI of the risk of harm to national security and to ongoing investigations that could come from public release,” Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, wrote Wednesday to Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Again, this is all a disinformation campaign. Ultimately, it probably plays better for the GOP not to release the memo. Releasing the memo would give Democrats, the DOJ, and the FBI the opportunity to rebut the allegations. Just having these allegations floating around in the ether, however, is probably far more damaging to the FBI because everyone — and mostly Trump supporters — will assume the worst. It’s ultimately all a ploy to discredit Bob Mueller’s investigation, because the Republicans are clearly terrified of what Bob Mueller has on Trump and others in the Administration.
There is another theory — which went up in smoke yesterday — that’s been floating around for a few days, too. A lot of Republicans — led by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — have been promoting this idea of a “secret society” within the FBI. Johnson claimed that there was a “group” of FBI agents “that was holding secret meetings off-site.” Trey Gowdy weighed in on CNN, adding: “Here are two bureau agents talking about a secret society … right after they were talking about how depressed they were that Donald Trump won.” These Republicans are suggesting that the “secret society” was engaged in an effort to overthrow the President.
Turns out, however, that the entire idea of this “secret society” comes from a lone text between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the two FBI agents who were having an affair. It is one text with a throwaway reference that is clearly meant to be a joke:
“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,” Lisa Page wrote to Peter Strzok.
That’s it. There were no references to a “secret society” in any texts before or after that one.
But of course, we all know that if the FBI was forming a secret society they’d call it a “secret society” and talk about it in text exchanges, right? Just because the Trump campaign is that dumb doesn’t mean that the FBI is.
Anyway, that one text forms the entire basis of another GOP conspiracy theory that traveled far and wide on social media in the last few days. Does it matter at this point if it’s a joke? Not really. The damage is done. The people who want to believe that there is a secret society designed to overthrow Trump will continue believing that, regardless of the facts. This is where we are now.
And what about the 50,000 texts between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok that Donald Trump claims went missing because, as he alleged, they contained damaging information? The FBI says that it was due to a glitch on their phone software, a glitch that Republicans had a hard time believing until Trump’s Department of Justice confirmed yesterday that, in fact, a glitch prevented phones from saving texts for five months.
Does it matter? No. Again, facts are bullshit. The Republicans have changed the past. Wasn’t it Orson Welles who said “Who controls the past controls the future”? (Sorry, X-Files joke). The Republicans are trying to Mandela Effect the nation, and Trump supporters, at least, are readily buying into it.