As we discussed last week, the Mueller investigation has made conservatives so paranoid that trifles like the Strzok-Page texts have them convinced the FBI — which for decades has done the right’s bidding by menacing and sometimes murdering leftists like Jean Seberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam war protesters, the Black Panthers, et alia — had somehow turned into the Hillary Clinton Fan Club.
But last week, the right went full-tilt black-helicopter crazy over the Nunes memo, a formerly classified four-pager released by congressional Republicans and Trump. The memo repeats, under official color, old right-wing charges that the famous Steele dossier was the only relevant evidence presented to the FISA court to support a wiretap on Trump campaign advisor and admitted Kremlin contact Carter Page, and that the court wouldn’t have approved the tap if it had known the Clinton campaign had given Steele money.
Thus, the thinking goes, though the FISA court approves nearly all the warrant requests it receives, since this one was nudged into approval by deceit, the process was corrupted and Mueller should be fired. (There is a Democratic minority report that, Democratic ranking member Adam Schiff suggests, would refute these points, but the Republicans, big shock, have refused to allow its release.)
Trump claimed the memo “totally vindicates” him (though his on-camera yammerings indicate that he has no idea what it actually says); Republican congressmen pulled long faces about this alleged abuse of FISA; and Breitbart hadda Breitbart (“HOW THE NEW YORK TIMES SPINS THE MEMO TO DIVIDE AMERICA,” “STEVE KING’S MEMO WARNING: ‘WATCH CLOSELY FOR BARACK OBAMA’S FINGERPRINTS,’ ” etc.).
Right-wing shock troops demanded everyone be arrested, especially Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was targeted by an attack ad from — now here’s a blast from the past! — the Tea Party Patriots.
(One of Rosenstein’s lonely defenders on the right was City Journal racial obsessive Heather Mac Donald, who protested that the DAG’s loss would be “dispiriting to anyone who supports the police against the lies of the Black Lives Matter movement.… Rosenstein has unapologetically and forcefully rejected the Black Lives Matter narrative.” Comrades, don’t throw out the racist baby with the Lock-Her-Up bathwater!)
“I don’t think there is any more doubt that the candidacy of Donald Trump terrified top officials of the Obama DOJ and the FBI, James Comey especially,” wrote Victor Davis Hanson at National Review. “Those details seal the sordid legacy of former FBI Director James Comey,” agreed Michael Goodwin at the New York Post. Yes, they’re talking about the same James Comey whose oddly timed pre-election letter sank Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That’s gratitude for you!
“Gorka says FISA memo is 100 TIMES WORSE than what caused the American REVOLUTION!!” raved the Right Scoop. “It is now the most consequential — no question — political scandal in American history,” intoned Fox talking head Dan Bongino.
MAGA Twitter trolls refocused their view of American history through the Nunes lens (“The terror attacks of San Bernardino & Orlando night club might’ve been prevented if the counter intelligence unit of FBI paid more attention to the terrorists instead of busy spying on the candidate Trump”) and howled for blood (“Traitor Rosenstein should start packing for a long vacation at Gitmo or a very short one dangling from the end of a rope. #DrainTheSwamp #MAGA”).
A few conservatives dismissed the memo — not just the usual resisters like David Frum and Jennifer Rubin, but also garden variety wing nuts like the Cato Institute (“The FISA Follies: The Nunes Memo Edition”), whom your cynical correspondent suspects are just covering their asses for the day Trump flees to Moscow with a Cessna full of gold bullion.
But — as we saw last week and, really, every week since the Trumpification of the conservative movement — the most popular position among the brethren was a straddle: on the one hand trying not to associate themselves too closely with the deranged post-Nunes position, while on the other appeasing the mouth-breathers by finding some way to deflect some of this madness onto Democrats.
Some used the old MSM Lies shtick. “Mainstream Media Outlets Banish Contents Of Republican Memo From Front Page Coverage,” claimed Rachel Stoltzfoos at the Federalist — which will seem strange to anyone who has taken ten seconds to put “Read the Nunes memo” into Google and found the full text of the memo at the New York Times, the Huffington Post, CNN, the Washington Post, and — well, every “Mainstream Media Outlet” you can think of. Maybe Stoltzfoos meant they didn’t run the memo on the front page, like Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles.”
A popular assertion was that the memo was not proof of malfeasance but that the real crime was Democrats complaining about using classified information as a political tool too strenuously, and while being Democrats.
“Having read the memo twice, I’m still looking for the info that led to the hysteria from Democrats about the memo endangering national security,” harrumphed the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes.
“There’s a lot of talk about how much the Memo was oversold by Republicans,” tweeted National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. “There is not nearly enough scorn being heaped on Dems for their hyped claims that this would do irreparable and catastrophic harm to America as we know it.”
When Andrew Sullivan went into a long rant about the “tribal” behavior of conservatives over the memo, longtime readers who knew what to expect pulled up a chair, made themselves comfortable, and waited for the inevitable bothsiderism: “Meanwhile, the Democrats’ tribalism has also deepened,” Sullivan wrote in paragraph twelve (I know, I thought he’d get to it sooner, too — lost $5 on that bet!). Among Sullivan’s proof points was that Dems “picked an iconic tribal name to present their response to the SOTU, Joe Kennedy, and his speech had the failed theme that Hillary Clinton tried out last year: ‘stronger together.’ ” Yeah, that’s pretty much the same as sabotaging the FBI because you’re afraid they’ll arrest Donald Trump.
National Review editor Rich Lowry — whose journey from mastermind of the “Against Trump” issue to reliable Trump cheerleader would make a wonderful tragic opera — had this takeaway from the memo: “I’m a layman, but I find it difficult to see what in the Nunes memo could possibly endanger our national security. Here is Eric Holder in a good example of the over-wrought warnings of the catastrophic effects of the memo…” Later Lowry wrote: “James Comey might have the most self-righteous account on all of Twitter.… It’s difficult to see how Comey thinks any of this helps his reputation,” he went on, “but I guess he, like everyone else, needs to play to his base.” Haw, game recognize game!
While these guys were talking about how overboard Democrats went, Republican Paul Gosar, a sitting U.S. congressman, declared, “This full-throated adoption of this illegal misconduct and abuse of FISA by James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates, and Rod Rosenstein is not just criminal but constitutes treason.” Apparently columnists aren’t the only conservatives sucking up to the trolls!
And the effect of these slurs, unlike tax cuts for the rich, actually trickles down. A new poll shows only 38 percent of Republicans approving of the FBI — which, you gotta admit, would have seemed counterintuitive from America’s Party of Authoritarianism, once upon a time. But these days extremism in the defense of Trump is no vice: Now that they’re dissing the FBI and throwing around classified documents like banana peels to keep Mueller off Trump’s tail, what institution won’t they wreck for him? Maybe that’s why top Republicans won’t condemn even Trump’s most egregious behavior — they’re afraid if they make him mad he’ll do to the party what he’s done to the FBI. Though some of us would argue he’s done that already.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 5, 2018