Anyone with even the barest memory of the national careers of Bill and Hillary Clinton got used to a particular series of events that was repeated over and over during their time in public life. We revisit it today not out of historical curiosity but because it’s going to happen all over again with whoever the Democratic presidential nominee is. It went like this:

  1. Republicans made explosive charges about corrupt acts on the Clintons’ part.
  2. Though facts were thin, the news media not only gave the accusations front-page coverage; they also assigned teams of reporters to investigate, ensuring a steady stream of stories full of dark suggestions about how “questions are being raised.”
  3. With whatever institutional power was available to them at the time, Republicans mounted official investigations characterized by dramatic claims of criminal wrongdoing and extended shouting from right-wing members of Congress.
  4. Despite all the official and journalistic probing, no serious wrongdoing was uncovered, and eventually the story faded away.
  5. At some point long after the political damage was done, an official report would make clear that the charges were bogus all along.

When Hillary Clinton was running for president in 2016, Republicans became convinced not only that the fact that she used a private email server for government business was the greatest crime the world had seen since the Cambodian genocide, but also that the Clinton Foundation — which spent millions on “suspicious” activities such as disaster relief and distributing AIDS drugs — was the source of a deep and profound corruption.

Despite the fact that all their fantastical claims were thoroughly debunked at the time, they were so eager to see Clinton strung up on some charge or another that in 2017, a year after the campaign had ended, congressional Republicans convinced the Trump administration to launch an official probe of various conspiracy theories and fantastical claims with regard to the foundation.

Now that probe is finally complete. The Post reports:

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.
John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, was tapped in November 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into concerns raised by President Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI had not fully pursued cases of possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation and during Clinton’s time as secretary of state, when the U.S. government decided not to block the sale of a company called Uranium One.

To anyone who knew the details of that story this is not remotely surprising, since the accusations of corruption were so preposterous to begin with. Among them was that the Uranium One sale, which was approved by nine separate government agencies in a process Clinton did not participate in, was actually engineered by her to reward someone who had made donations to the Clinton Foundation. This, despite the fact that the donor had sold his company to Uranium One and unloaded his stake in it years before and so had no financial interest in the deal.

This particular slate of bogus charges had its roots in a 2015 book called “Clinton Cash,” written by a close associate of Stephen K. Bannon named Peter Schweizer. Schweizer’s book was extensively and credulously promoted by some of the most important news outlets in the United States, setting the stage for a presidential campaign in which the spectacular corruption of Trump was treated like a footnote while every bogus charge against Clinton was given screaming news alerts and endless column inches.

And now Republicans will try to do it again. Schweizer will soon release a book charging Democratic presidential candidates with as-yet-unknown kinds of corruption, no doubt using the same technique of assembling tangentially related facts into a narrative corkboard festooned with red threads linked together in a nefarious web of insinuation.

Did you know that Elizabeth Warren’s sister-in-law’s nephew goes to the same auto mechanic as a man who once defaulted on a Small Business Administration loan? There’s obviously something fishy going on — just ask Sean Hannity and Jim Jordan; they’ll tell you how big this scandal is going to be. The investigations must begin forthwith.

This is all against the backdrop of the most corrupt presidency in our lifetimes and probably in American history, led by a man who has made clear over and over that 1) he has no ethics or morals and will do whatever he thinks he can get away with, and 2) he will always accuse his opponents of the very thing of which he is guilty.

So the question is not whether Republicans will once again try to claim that the Democratic nominee is guilty of boundless corruption. They will, no matter who that nominee is. They’ll come up with some ridiculous set of charges, they’ll devote endless hours to them on Fox News and conservative talk radio, and in all likelihood the Justice Department will very publicly begin its own investigation to give the whole thing an official imprimatur. If Volodymyr Zelensky won’t do it, William Barr will.

The question is whether the news media will once again be so eager to help Republicans pull off this scam. Will they push Trump’s actual corruption to the back burner while they give credulous and voluminous coverage to every accusation against the Democrat no matter how preposterous it is, just as they did four years ago? The outcome of the 2020 election could hinge on the answer.