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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The making of Spyghazi

by digby

GQ unraveled how the latest stupid BizarroWorld "scandal" unfolded:

The plot goes like this: During the summer of 2016, on the clandestine orders of then-President Obama, the FBI and CIA hatched an ambitious plan to topple the Trump campaign from the inside. In a scandal of unprecedented scope, Democratic politicians commandeered American counterintelligence resources to spy on their primary political opponent and boost Hillary Clinton's chances at winning the election. The Russia investigation that has dominated headlines for nearly two years is, in fact, a desperate smokescreen conjured up by terrified Deep State actors to conceal evidence of their own wrongdoing, and to frame the president for heinous crimes he didn't commit.

On May 8, the Washington Post reported on the White House's decision to back the Justice Department's withholding of information from House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, on the grounds that disclosure would expose the identity of "a U.S. citizen who has provided information to the FBI and CIA." The authors added, though, that the individual had been a source of information used by the special counsel's office—and that it was unclear whether Trump knew this "key fact" when his administration chose to side with law enforcement.

It didn't take long for him to find out. Almost immediately, the right-wing media ecosystem began laundering and repackaging this news item, weaving its constituent elements together with Trumpian talking points until a full-blown conspiracy theory worthy of the president's tweets emerged on the other side. This metamorphosis is what would happen if a word cloud sourced from a Trump rally were used in a giant game of telephone—but one in which the gibberish end result were then broadcast as news to hundreds of millions of recipients.

How did this happen?

May 10

Two days after the initial report, citing to "the Washington Post's unnamed law-enforcement leakers," the Wall Street Journal publishes an analysis by conservative commentator Kim Strassel. "[W]e might take this to mean that the FBI secretly had a person on the payroll who used his or her non-FBI credentials to interact in some capacity with the Trump campaign." Such a development, she writes, "would amount to spying, and it is hugely disconcerting." Strassel continues (all emphasis mine):
[W]hen precisely was this human source operating? Because if it was prior to that infamous Papadopoulos tip, then the FBI isn’t being straight. It would mean the bureau was spying on the Trump campaign prior to that moment. And that in turn would mean that the FBI had been spurred to act on the basis of something other than a junior campaign aide’s loose lips.
This is at once cautious and bold, introducing the salacious vocabulary of espionage to a detail about an intelligence source—but only, she clarifies, if the allegations are true. Strassel does not offer a reason for entertaining her hypothetical, other than her characterization of the players' accounts of the investigation as "suspiciously vague." She is, in the classic style of well-compensated public intellectuals filling up column inches, just asking questions.

That night, other journalists are happy to offer answers. On Sean Hannity's Fox News show, conservative journalist Sara Carter, citing Strassel, tells listeners of “concern that the FBI actually had a spy within the Trump campaign.” Hannity is dumbfounded: “What? What?” he splutters. "Yes," says Carter. Blogs like Gateway Pundit kick off the breathless hyperbole category. "Now we know why the Deep State has been working so hard to take down President Trump and the republic," said the post, linking to and block-quoting Strassel. "OBAMA DEEP STATE HAD A SPY INSIDE THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN!"

May 11

The baton is passed to Fox News, which syndicates Strassel's article and changes the headline from “About that FBI ‘Source’” to “Did the FBI place a mole inside the 2016 Trump campaign?” On Fox & Friends, the president's morning program of choice, Peter Hegseth weighs in, hesitantly at first. "Did the FBI have a spy in the Trump campaign? Just asking the question. There’s an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about it." Ainsley Earhart quotes at length from the column before positing that it means the FBI and DOJ had someone "paid to go and spy on President Trump."

On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh picks up the thread, encouraging the conflation of the FBI and President Obama. Strassel's article mentions Obama only once, and only in passing. But this is Rush Limbaugh, not a major newspaper; he can say things like this without fear of repercussions.

When I say “the FBI,” I mean the Obama administration. They infiltrated the Trump campaign with a spy, and while they had that spy implanted, they were unmasking and leaking and obtaining FISA spying warrants and conducting criminal investigations of Trump advisers. This is a big deal...For our purposes, folks, the important thing is that the Obama administration infiltrated the Trump campaign with a spy.

The buzz grows louder online. "Did the FBI have a spy in the Trump campaign?" asksAndrew McCarthy, praising Strassel's column as "essential reporting," in a National Review article that published early the next morning. Right-wing blog ZeroHedgemakes an affirmative statement—“WSJ: The FBI Hid A Mole In The Trump Campaign”—out of his question. Also citing Strassel, Tucker Carlson refers to a "government spy" and a "mole" sent by "the Obama administration." His guest, NRATV personality Dan Bongino, reveals that he believes there to have been more than one spy, referring to "reporting." He does not elaborate on-air.

May 14

The week begins with lawmakers joining the fray. On Fox & Friends, GOP congressman Ron DeSantis calls for a follow-up investigation into the matter. "I know that we’re actively trying to get the underlying documents that would tell us: Did they spy on the Trump campaign or not?” he asks, implicitly treating the premises of that query as if they were beyond dispute. To Lou Dobbs on Fox Business Network, Matt Gaetz expresses unease with "reports" he'd heard "about potential human intelligence being collected on a rival presidential campaign."

These men are egged on by, among others, Rush Limbaugh, who asserts he knows the identity of the spy that the FBI "put in the Trump campaign," and Hannity, whose radio guest David Limbaugh—Rush's younger brother—opines that "an official policy inserting a confidential source into a presidential campaign" would be "unprecedented" and "worse than Watergate." Like DeSantis, he includes a soft qualifier, though: "If it happened! We have to get to the bottom of it."

May 15

Nunes appears on the Fox & Friends set, hinting that the campaign might have been "set up" by the FBI. “I believe they never should have opened a counterintelligence investigation into a political party,” he explains. And although he at first avoids using the word "spy," his hosts are happy to put it in his mouth. Steve Doocey suggests that Nunes' narrative implies that Trump was "framed," while Earhart adds that "it makes it sound like there was a spy."

There's more at the link, leading to this crazy bullshit from the president himself: