President Trump. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)
Columnist

Survivors on the Union side of the bloody battle of Shiloh reported witnessing a striking phenomenon moments before thousands of Rebels came charging through the Tennessee woods at dawn. Fauna in great abundance — rabbits and deer and squirrels and birds — made a startled dash through the Yankee camps. Thus the soldiers knew something alarming was headed their way, even before they knew what it was.

That story came to mind as I noticed a ruckus in the conservative media where President Trump finds reliable support. As a regular reader and occasional watcher of right-leaning outlets (left-leaning ones, too), I have been fascinated by the profound split Trump has caused among conservative commentators. So-called Never Trumpers don’t like him because they think he is the opposite of conservative: a radical intent on upending order and smashing tradition, twin pillars of their political philosophy. Among grass-roots partisans, though, the Never Trumpers appear to be losing sway to pro-Trump voices, if the robust ratings at Fox News are any indication.

At any rate, Trump’s media defenders were buzzing about the possibility that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) might turn up proof that the FBI dispatched a confidential informant to seduce Trump campaign officials into playing footsie with the Russians. From his post as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee , Nunes has been instrumental in creating the widespread view on the right that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation is deeply illegitimate, and that America has more to fear from the Justice Department than it does from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Maybe Nunes is on the right track, though his record is spotty. He’s the guy who said former national security adviser Michael Flynn “should be thanked” for making undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador. (Flynn resigned and has been indicted.) And the Senate Intelligence Committee , in a rare show of bipartisanship, has endorsed findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — essentially the opposite of the highly partisan conclusion reached by the Nunes-led panel on the same question.

Urging him to keep at it, Kimberly A. Strassel of the Wall Street Journal wrote that Nunes might sort out “who was pulling the strings” that appear to tie former Trump advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to Russia, “and what was the goal? . . . Entrapment?”

She was echoing Nunes himself, who during an earlier interview with Fox News used the term “setup” rather than Strassel’s fancier word. But the idea was the same, and by week’s end it was everywhere. The influential Townhall website went with “spying.” The website for radio bigfoot Rush Limbaugh referred to “an infuriating story of entrapment.”

Of course, there’s nothing surprising about pundits under the influence of the president attacking U.S. intelligence agencies while minimizing the threat from Russia. As a candidate and in office, Trump has denounced and ridiculed the FBI and CIA, while putting more stock in Putin’s protestations of innocence than he placed in the work of American analysts.

But what struck me like the Shiloh field suddenly teeming with startled wildlife was this language of setups and entrapment because, where I come from, only guilty people trot out the I-was-stung defense. Indeed, the most infamous use of this jargon in Washington — the late Marion Barry’s “Bitch set me up!” — followed the mayor’s dismayed realization that his crack-smoking had been caught on hidden camera.

How many times have we heard from the president and his defenders that the Mueller investigation is “a witch hunt,” that “there’s nothing there” and it’s time to shut it down? As the inquiry enters its second year, Trump’s forces now appear to be falling back to a new trench. Whatever Team Trump did wrong, the FBI tricked them into doing it.

As I’ve said before, I intend to wait until Mueller presents his findings before I draw conclusions about what has gone on. So far, what I know with confidence centers on a few key points:

Russia hacked the election, which is a problem whether or not the outcome was affected. Candidate Trump was more connected to Putin’s circle during the campaign than he acknowledged. If his son Donald Trump Jr. didn’t collude with Russia, he certainly wanted to. And Donald Trump’s desire to shut down “this Russia thing” led to his ham- ­handed firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, which in turn gave us the Mueller probe. No deep-state conspiracy, just Trump’s own blundering, according to sometime adviser and confidant Stephen K. Bannon.

It has been said many times: For a man protesting his innocence, Trump sure does act guilty. And that, more than anything, creates the air of mystery shrouding this topic. But at least we now know what he’s likely to say if and when we learn what he is hiding.

Feds set me up.

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