One must keep in mind that President Trump’s conspiracy theories are not even well-devised conspiracies. They hardly pass the straight-face test. (If the FBI wanted Hillary Clinton to win, why was the FBI’s Russian interference investigation kept secret and Clinton’s email investigation shouted from the rooftops?)
Moreover, after the tiniest bit of investigative work, the Trump conspiracies fall apart. The unmasking conspiracy, the wiretapping conspiracy, the “dossier started the Russia investigation,” the “FBI lied to the FISA court” scandal and the “implanted spy” theory enticed Sean Hannity and the rest of the Trump cult (not to mention some “respectable” conservative pundits), but they quickly were disproved. Trump is usually forced to retreat with excuses such as “I was only asking questions.” Of course, the fanciful allegations are always made up; they are figments of Trump’s imagination, part of a deliberate scheme to disrupt an investigation.
The danger for Trump invariably comes when the investigation he demands comes back debunking his outrageous claim. In the unmasking, the wiretapping, the dossier and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act non-scandals, as soon as anyone bothered to get the facts, it become evident even to Trump enablers that the story was a hoax. When the Democrats released their memo about the warrant application to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes’s cut-and-paste memo was thoroughly discredited. Trump’s conspiracy theories only work before someone examines them. (It would behoove the media to stop treating these allegations as plausible and to remind readers/viewers that each and every one of these has disintegrated upon contact with reality.)
The same is true of the implanted-spy nonsense. Trump blew it by demanding a briefing for his congressional cronies. Republicans were forced to let Democrats in and, of course, they all learned there was no there, there. After the meeting Democrats confirmed that there was no support for the spy-in-the-campaign theory. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Republicans have gotten all the help they needed, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was satisfied with both the special prosecutor’s and the inspector general’s investigations. The silence from Trump’s GOP House cohorts was deafening.
In short, Trump trampled on the bright line that has be drawn to prevent the White House from politicizing and corrupting ongoing enforcement and investigative actions. But the press, Democrats and lawyers saw him do it and raised a rumpus. In the end, he wound up defusing his own made-up scandal. Nunes and company will have a much harder time sustaining this conspiracy theory. Look for them to find a new one soon.
Even worse for Trump, Rudolph W. Giuliani essentially confessed that this was a scheme to get information for Trump’s defense. If they didn’t get what they wanted about a secret source in a case involving Trump, there would be no interview! Call it attempted obstruction with a drop of extortion. In asking the participants at the meeting in essence to leak confidential information, Trump through his lawyer is encouraging impermissible leaking and once more trying to disrupt an investigation into his possible wrongdoing. (By the way, Mueller can send a subpoena to force Trump’s testimony when and if he sees fit.)
I don’t mean to suggest that we should take Trump’s stunt lightly. To the contrary, it was among the most serious attacks on the rule of law in an administration that has made attacks on law enforcement into a cottage industry. When this is all done, Trump is gone and reform legislation is contemplated (as was the case after Watergate), putting into statute restrictions on White House interference in ongoing investigations will be a top priority (just as interference with Internal Revenue Service audits became illegal after Watergate).
Trump’s ham-handed attack on the FBI and the special prosecutor did not “work” in any sense of the word. Republicans got no ammunition because there was never any basis for claiming a spy was implanted in the campaign; to the contrary, they came away from the briefings empty-handed. Meanwhile, Trump’s attorney Emmet T. Flood got blasted for showing up at the briefings, losing any semblance of professionalism. (Was he there to intimidate? To try to gain access to classified material? There was no justification for his appearance.) Finally, Giuliani again spilled the beans by letting on this was not a legitimate oversight action but rather a misuse of executive power to give Trump an upper hand in the investigation into his own possible wrongdoing.
Trump’s hardcore base will never leave him, but Trump’s not gaining adherents with these shenanigans. He is however reminding critics and legions of voters why the preservation of legal norms requires them to be vigilant and to boot out the GOP majorities. Trump needs to be restrained, by the courts and by the Congress if our democracy is going to remain (relatively) unscathed.