By Joel Sawyer
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You may be shocked to learn that the FBI, at the direction of President Obama, in 2016 planted a mole in the Trump campaign to investigate the Republican nominee.
Spoiler Alert: Like a lot of things the President tweets, it isn’t even remotely true.
But it does provide a pretty interesting case study into how Trump and his supporters take a nugget of something true, and transform it into a steaming pile of faux outrage. We discussed it in-depth on this week’s episode, which you can listen to here.
It all started with this New York Times story, and before reading it you should pause to savor the delicious irony of all this being set in motion by the President’s favorite example of “fake news.” It’s a long story and worth a read, but here’s the relevant paragraph:
“And at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. That has become a politically contentious point, with Mr. Trump’s allies questioning whether the F.B.I. was spying on the Trump campaign or trying to entrap campaign officials.”
That was enough to launch Trump into one of his infamous Twitter screeds.
Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
Now, the first thing to notice is of course that this isn’t what the “reports” say…at all. Also, notice the classic Trump wiggle words “if true.” Along with “many people have told me,” phrases like this are some of Trump’s favorite methods for saying something outlandish, but it still being squishy enough to take back if he needs to.
The “if true” tack was taken by surrogates Kellyanne Conway and Rudy Giuliani throughout the rest of the week and weekend. Trump himself appeared to become more unglued through the weekend, issuing a tirade of tweets with filled with half-truths and flat-out falsehoods. I’ll spare you reading them again, but you can catch a recap with fact checking here.
It’s an ongoing pattern with Trump – mistate facts, build outrage over the mistatement (TBT to the “Obama wiretaps”), and use that alternate reality to create political cover and distract from other damaging revalations – like last week, when it was revealed that Don Jr. may have also met with a Saudi emissary seeking to help with the election.
Interestingly, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, Asha Rangappa, makes a very compelling case that a counterintelligence investigation like this would have actually been aimed at protecting Trump from Ruskies trying to infiltrate his campaign, not to dig dirt.
But nevermind reading stuff and reality, the President’s spleen isn’t going to vent itself!
After working himself and his supporters into a sufficient froth, Trump went for the money shot:
I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018
And that brings us to Monday, where it’s been announced that Trump will meet with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray, and DNI Dan Coates to make his “demands” in person. Officially! To his credit, Rosenstein has already announced a DOJ Inspector General investigation of the informant kerfuffle, but it won’t stop Trump and his enablers from misrepresenting what actually happened, and milking it for everything it’s worth.
Stay tuned for Hannity!