On Wednesday morning, the president had some very exciting "executive time." Fox News broke a huge story that supposedly implicated Barack Obama in the Clinton email scandal. Sure, most of America sees the Clinton email scandal as having as much relevance to current politics as Teapot Dome. But to Donald Trump and the right-wing media, it's an addiction they just can't kick.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security, led by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., released a report on Wednesday featuring more of those juicy texts between FBI lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The report pointed to one text in particular from Sept. 2, 2016, in which Page (an FBI lawyer) tells Strzok (an agent) that “potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” Johnson implied this was evidence that President Obama had personally interfered in the Clinton email probe, thus supporting Trump's assertion during the campaign that the whole thing had been "rigged."
Fox went crazy, putting the "breaking news" on a loop and calling it a bombshell over and over again. On "Fox & Friends," House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, decoded the text for viewers, saying it meant that Obama “wants to know what they’re doing to stop Trump.”
Trump himself excitedly helped get the word out to his tens of millions of Twitter followers:
NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2018
Soon, all of right-wing media was screaming with the news that President Obama had his fingers in the Clinton email investigation. The Drudge Report, The Washington Times, Breitbart and Infowars all pounded away at the alleged bombshell.
Rush Limbaugh spelled it out clearly for those who weren't getting it:
We now have more evidence via the text messages from Strzok and Lisa Page that this is all about Obama. That everything here is about protecting Obama, not just Hillary, in order to protect Obama. And I’m talking about the corruption that was the Obama presidency and specifically the corruption of the intelligence agencies and the FBI, well, the entire DOJ.
And I think one of the primary reasons they all wanted Hillary to win was to make sure we never knew any of what we now do know. That was the primary goal of having Hillary Clinton win, was to be able to continue to mask and cover up and hide what Obama and his administration had been doing.
This was huge. Not only was Hillary Clinton the one who was actually selling out the nation to the Russians, as House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had claimed just two days earlier, Obama was in on the cover-up. Of course.
The conspiracy has widened to include the FBI, the Department of Justice, the State Department, the Clinton campaign and now Obama himself.
The only problem is that it isn't true. Judd Legum at ThinkProgress noted that the text was sent months after the Clinton investigation was closed and long before it was reopened in late October. CNN and The Wall Street Journal later reported that sources confirmed the text in question was related to the investigation into Russian interference. In fact, that text came only a few days before Obama's scheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin, when he famously told Putin to "cut it out."
So why did every Republican immediately assume that one-line text obviously pertained to the email probe? According to CNN, despite the breathless announcement in Sen. Johnson's report, he was basically just guessing:
In a footnote in his report, Johnson even seemed to concede that the idea the text message referred to the Clinton email investigation was only speculation. The report said the Justice Department said it redacted "text messages that were personal in nature or relating to other investigations." Because this message was not redacted, Johnson's report said, it could be presumed that the Justice Department "believes it may relate to the FBI's investigation of classified information on Secretary Clinton's private server."
Somebody needs to take Johnson off the conspiracy beat. He's the same senator who was all over TV a couple of weeks ago declaring that the texts revealed a "secret society" within the FBI that was meeting off-site to cook up its plot against Donald Trump. That one turned out to be a private joke between Strzok and Page.
Fox News continued to push this story, of course, even after it had been debunked by The Wall Street Journal, which is also published by Rupert Murdoch, their mutual owners. Sean Hannity led with it on Wednesday night:
Hannity still led with story suggesting that Obama might have been involved in the Clinton email investigation, but at least noted texts may not have been about Clinton investigation at all.— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) February 8, 2018
Doesn't note the Clinton investigation was closed at the time. https://t.co/huz5OwrEkA pic.twitter.com/ngEyJ67PYN
They're not even pretending to be a news organization anymore. The consensus as of Wednesday evening was that Johnson had officially become the looniest Trump loyalist in either house of Congress. Then Devin Nunes said, "Hold my beer." In an interview with right-wing activist Hugh Hewitt, Nunes said that he has weighed bringing Chief Justice John Roberts up to Capitol Hill to testify about his involvement in assigning judges to the FISA court and his understanding of the proper procedures. Nunes said:
This is something that we have, like I said, we have thought a lot about this. And the answer is, we don’t know the correct way to proceed because of the separation of powers issue. If, somehow, this case ends up at the Supreme Court, somehow, some way, by sending a letter to Roberts, do you conflict the Court?
You cannot make this stuff up. Indeed there is a constitutional "separation of powers issue" here, since the court is a co-equal branch of government that does not answer to Nunes and his cabal of House Republicans operating on behalf of their leader in the White House. Nunes admitted that he isn't sure how his little scenario might work out:
I’m aware of members of Congress going to the Supreme Court and having coffee with the judges, just to shoot the bull. I’m aware of, you know, dinners where congressmen have been with Supreme Court justices. But I’m not aware of any time where a judge has, for lack of a better term, testified before the Congress.
Apparently a basic understanding of the Constitution, or even a grasp of simple logic, is no longer a requirement for powerful members of Congress. Sen. Johnson is throwing around conspiracy theories based on his willful misreading of innocuous text messages roughly once a week. Nunes thinks that because he chairs the House Intelligence Committee he has unlimited power to pursue anyone and everyone he chooses. Apparently, Justice Roberts may be next on that list. I think about how weird and unlikely all that is, and then I reflect that Donald Trump is president of the United States. This is the new normal.