Why worry about Russia’s efforts to undermine our democratic system or possible obstruction of justice by the President when there’s a “secret society” within the FBI, a deep state attempting a coup and a Satanist plot to sell your children?
As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation circles closer to President Trump’s inner orbit, officials in the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem set on muddying the waters in Washington.
Speculation about unsupported suspicions of corruption and charges of bias at the FBI has spread through the beltway — not by crackpots in tin foil hats, but by lawmakers and the President himself.
Calling the agency’s integrity into question is a direct response to Mueller’s investigation closing in on the Oval Office, Dr. Bart Rossi, a political psychologist, told the Daily News.
“I think that Donald Trump has some people in his corner that are trying to come up with a way to minimize the whole Russia investigation, they’re trying to come up with a way to discredit the probe,” Rossi said.
Recent reports have revealed that Mueller’s investigation into connections between Trump’s campaign and Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election has reached deep into the President’s inner circle and that he attempted to get the special prosecutor fired last year.
Another report detailed how Trump instructed his aides to purposely discredit top FBI officials who were likely to testify against him.
“They’re planting suspicions,” Rossi said. “I think it’s a way to marginalize and minimize the work of the FBI.”
Top Trump administration officials have already faced questioning from the special counsel’s team and investigators are looking to sit down with the President soon.
In public, Trump has maintained a rosy outlook, dismissing the probe as a “witch hunt” and saying he’s “looking forward” to talking to Mueller.
But Trump’s pattern of behavior — repeatedly attempting to undercut the investigation and misleading the public — has only strengthened the case for obstruction of justice, according to legal experts.
The possible case for obstruction has been building since last May, when Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey and days later admitted that the “Russia thing” was part of the reason.
Trump’s trouble with the truth has persisted since he took office. He has cast doubt on intelligence agencies that have concluded the Kremlin was behind the 2016 election meddling and repeatedly derided the FBI, tweeting late last year that the agency’s reputation was “in tatters.”
House Republicans escalated their attacks over the past week, running with a string of nefarious narratives about a cabal of anti-Trump officials in charge of the agency.
GOPers became incensed over text messages between a counterintelligence agent and an FBI lawyer who were having an affair during the election. Agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page exchanged missives knocking candidates and made derisive remarks about Trump.
Strzok, a lead investigator on the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, was booted from Mueller’s team when the messages were discovered.
In one exchange, the pair appear to jokingly mention a “secret society,” which sent conspiracy-minded members of Congress into a tizzy.
“What this is all about is further evidence of corruption, more than bias,” Sen. Ron Johnson(R-Wis.) told Fox News on Tuesday.
“Corruption of the highest levels of the FBI. The secret society — we have an informant talking about a group that was holding secret meetings off-site.”
Two days later, Johnson walked back his insinuations.
“It’s a real possibility” the text was written in jest, he admitted to CNN.
Concurrently, it was revealed that months’ worth of exchanges between Page and Strzok were missing due to a cell phone glitch.
Again, the GOP cried cover-up.
President Trump called it “one of the biggest stories in a long time.”
But DOJ Inspector general Michael Horowitz later confirmed to Congress that the texts were recovered.
House Republicans also took to the airwaves to crow about a secret memo they claim contains evidence of anti-Trump bias in the FBI’s upper ranks.
The exact contents are shrouded in mystery, but the memo’s author, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has hinted that it contains proof the FBI engaged in “shocking” surveillance abuses.
The document has inspired a Twitter hashtag, #releasethememo.
The White House has signaled Trump would support releasing the information, despite Department of Justice officials warning lawmakers making the collection of notes would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
Democrats have rejected the memo as “misleading.”
“Sadly, Republicans in Congress have been co-opted into participating and amplifying these attacks,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler said Friday.
“They have thrown themselves into a series of sham investigations focused on Hillary Clinton and conspiracy theories about career investigators in order to distract attention.”
Republican lawmakers are examining the handling of the Clinton investigation by the FBI and have questioned how much federal investigators relied on a dossier containing claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in launching the Mueller probe.
But some in the Grand Old Party have called for cooler heads to prevail.
“When the public begins to question the integrity of the department and the FBI and conclude in the absence of other information that somehow politics is taken over rather than the law, that’s a very serious matter and we need to get that cleared up,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said.
Political science professor Costas Panagopoulos of Northeastern University said lawmakers are playing a dangerous game by joining Trump’s attacks against the FBI.
“It could enable some short-term gain for certain players in the system, but it comes at the long-term cost of eroding public trust in governmental institutions,” he said.
“This kind of discourse is a function of the highly-polarized atmosphere in Washington,” he told The News. “And it has consequences in that it heightens the tension between the parties and exacerbates gridlock and conflict rather than cooperation.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for legislation to protect Mueller from being fired by Trump.
But regardless of how the Russia probe wraps up, the disinformation campaign has done its damage, according to some experts.
Fervent supporters who view the President as the ultimate Washington outsider are more than convinced that there is a “deep state” plot to take Trump down.
“They want to support him no matter what. People do have suspicions about government generally, but I think it’s way beyond that now,” Rossi said.
Online, Trump fanatics have embraced a cryptic conspiracy that’s infinitely darker than what the GOP is pitching. Called “The Storm,” the mega-theory combines everything from fantasies about a coming coup attempt by entrenched bureaucrats and other officials to the imminent arrests of former President Obama and Hillary Clinton for their role in a Satanist-led pedophilia ring.
Clues, dubbed “crumbs,” are posted on an internet message board by a user under the name “QAnon” who supposes that Trump is not really Mueller’s target, but high-level Democrats who are plotting the President’s downfall and running a global sex trafficking operation.
The online speculation game has found its way into the alt-right echo chamber of radio host Alex Jones, who has said the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.
“This is a technique, creating a structure where everything is suspicious and fraught with fraud when it’s not,” Rossi said. “There will be more of it, more partisan smearing, and it will get more severe.”