Conservatives are entering dangerous territory on the Russia investigation. Speaking as a conservative Trump critic who has also been critical of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton and Trump investigations, I worry they are now veering into “pizza-gate” territory.
In raising questions about the intelligence community, on Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh floated the idea that “the intel on the War in Iraq was another disinformation campaign to damage” President George W. Bush.
“Just what if, the quote-unquote intelligence community misrepresented on purpose the degree to which the Hussein had WMDs,” Limbaugh contemplated out loud. “Because I tell you it was a very, very embarrassing moment for the Bush administration.”
Likewise, Hannity—no surprise—is also all over this story. But the danger is that this is spreading.
Also on Tuesday, Senator Ron Johnson—the Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman!—appeared on Fox News’ Special Report, warning of a “secret society.” He was talking about the missing text messages (which now looks to have been the product of a glitch—not a nefarious cover-up) sent between counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
What we are witnessing here is formerly mainstream conservative voices veering into Alex Jones territory to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump.
And Wednesday evening, the Beast reported that the Nunes memo, so far unreleased and not even seen by the FBI itself, will name Robert Mueller, Andrew McCabe, and James Comey as among the bad actors who’ve conspired against Trump. There is little doubt that this will only serve to provide even more conspiracy fodder.
Now, I want to stress that,although most of the concerns about the FBI come with hidden agendas, it is not mutually exclusive to (a) seriously investigate possible collusion and obstruction of justice, and (b) also point out that there are numerous examples of conflicts of interest that at least create the appearance of impropriety in the FBI (a practice that, by the way, is bipartisan).
Back in December, CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan delivered a scorching critique of the bureau’s top staff. Callan cited the anti-Trump texts sent by FBI investigator Peter Strzok to his mistress, adding: “I think it’s legitimate to look at the bias of the investigators.” Likewise, James A. Gagliano, a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent, declared bluntly: “Changes need to be made at FBI headquarters.”
None of this, of course, negates the serious questions about Donald Trump and his team. Someone who cares about his country should want to hold a president accountable if he’s guilty. (Like Jonah Goldberg, I honestly don’t know if he is, or not). Likewise, someone who loves his country should want to at least check into whether the FBI is abusing its power. (Like David Graham, history teaches me that “The FBI in particular has a demonstrated pattern of targeting those it has deemed politically dangerous, a practice entrenched by its creator and longtime leader, J. Edgar Hoover.”)
Having said that: I fear conservatives are being led into a place that is not healthy skepticism, but something much more pernicious. If you start down the path of deep state cabals and secret societies without being darn sure you’re right, you end up causing irreparable damage to your own credibility, as well as to the institutions you’re “just asking questions” about.
Yes, conservatives can and should feel free to raise legitimate questions about the investigation. But be aware of the temptation that you are facing. What is more, be aware that there is an incentive to push otherwise mainstream conservatives into the fever swamps in order to nullify anything the Mueller investigation might turn up.
The stakes are high: At the end of all of this, we could end up with a nation who believes the “deep state” overturns the will of the people, and/or a conservative movement that is completely and utterly discredited for a generation.
There’s one more point I want to make. Donald Trump is a master at changing minds and pushing boundaries that were once unthinkable. In some cases, the erosion of these norms (for example, moving our embassy to Jerusalem) may work out fine. The establishment believed there would be an uproar, but the premises were wrong. Well, what if Donald Trump is slowly laying the groundwork to fire Robert Mueller?
The idea was once unthinkable. But Trump has been laying the predicate, via his Twitter feed. Rush and Hannity have been doing the same thing via radio and TV. But the real test may be if elected Republican politicians—the people we once assumed wouldn’t stand for this act—begin drinking the Kool-Aid.
It’s within the realm of possibility that something truly sinister will be uncovered at the FBI, and if that happens, we will have to confront it. But let’s not get over our skis. Skepticism is fine. Paranoia is not. When we cross this line, we enter into dangerous territory. Republicans, I fear, are talking themselves into a place where Trump actually might be able to do the unthinkable.