President Donald Trump has long been obsessed with the idea that the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election is really nothing more than a political scheme to rob him of the credit he so rightly deserves for winning that race. Over the last 24 hours, however, that obsession has been tuned up a notch, with Trump unleashing a series of bitter tweets attacking even his own top advisers and agencies for their alleged complicity in this narrative.
The Trump tweets, taken together, sound less like the views of the President of the United States and more like the sort of paranoid, conspiracy theories of InfoWars founder Alex Jones.
It began late Saturday night with this tweet:
"General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!"
Trump is referring there to comments made by H.R. McMaster, his own national security adviser, on Saturday that the evidence of Russia's attempted interference in the election is now "really incontrovertible" following special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russians for their roles in a widespread operation to aid Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016. (You can read the full charging papers here.)
Stop and just read the tweet from Trump again -- especially the last line: "Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!" Weird capitalization aside, that sentence functions as a sort of conservative fever swamp conspiracy theory laundry list of supposed Clinton transgressions for which, in Trump's mind, she has not been adequately punished.
He is equating the ongoing Russia investigations with the supposed nefariousness of Clinton's speeches to Goldman Sachs in the runup to her presidential candidacy (dumb, but not illegal), the secret funding of an anti-Trump dossier put together by a former British spy named Christopher Steele and a deal to sell a uranium company to the Russians during Clinton's time as Secretary of State.
If you hate Hillary and believe she and her husband are unindicted criminals, that comparison makes perfect sense to you. For the rest of us living in the fact-based world, it's important to remember that Mueller's investigation has already produced the following:
- The indictment of 13 Russian nationals for their role in a sweeping strategy to influence our elections
- A guilty plea by former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about the extent and nature of his contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
- A guilty plea by former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadapoulos for lying to the FBI about the extent and nature of his contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
- Charges of a litany of financial crimes against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. They have both previously pleaded not guilty, but CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Sara Murray reported Friday that Gates is finalizing a plea deal.
Those are all facts. And there is nothing even approaching those sort of facts for any of the conspiracies Trump is weaving about Clinton. (Of course not, you say! The "deep state" is protecting her and is out to get Trump! It's at this point that I would advise you to stop reading this and maybe just go out and get some fresh air.)
Why would Trump stoop so low as to elevate either unproven or disproven conspiracy theories to the level of a federal investigation into a foreign power actively meddling in our election?
Insecurity -- plain and simple. He made that plain in another one of his stranger-than-fiction tweets over the last 24 hours.
"Now that Adam Schiff is starting to blame President Obama for Russian meddling in the election, he is probably doing so as yet another excuse that the Democrats, lead by their fearless leader, Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election," Trump tweeted Sunday morning. "But wasn't I a great candidate?"
The reference here is to the finding in Mueller's indictment of the 13 Russians that their operation to influence US elections actually began in 2014 --when Barack Obama was still president. (Of course, that same indictment makes plain that Russia made the calculation in early 2016 to try to elect Trump because he would be better for their interests.)
The real key to that Trump tweet, however, is in its last sentence: "But wasn't I a great candidate?"
It's not the first time Trump has used similar language when talking about the role Russian interference played in the election. Last month, when asked about Russia's attempted meddling in the 2016 campaign, Trump said this:
"The fact is - you people won't say this, but I'll say it: I was a much better candidate than her," he said. "You always say she was a bad candidate. You never say I was a good candidate. I was one of the greatest candidates. Nobody else would have beaten the Clinton machine, as crooked as it was. But I was a great candidate. Someday you're going to say that."
In his mind, any -- and I mean any -- acknowledgment that Russia sought to influence the election to help him and hurt Clinton is tantamount to taking away the credit that he so richly deserves for having won a race that no one said he could win.
I truly believe that Trump has convinced himself that all of the sturm und drang about Russia -- the special counsel investigation as well as the congressional investigations -- are solely driven by a desire among entrenched Washington powers (Democrats and Republicans) to not admit how he was right about the 2016 election and how wrong they were.
That belief has blinded Trump entirely to the fact that Russia sees what it did in 2016 as a massive success and, according to his own intelligence community, will absolutely be back to try to meddle again in 2018 and 2020. We are talking about a serious threat to the integrity of our elections from a foreign power that the president of the United States is unable to grasp because he is totally obsessed with a wrong-headed idea that someone, somewhere is trying to take what is rightfully his away from him.
"If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams," Trump tweeted Sunday morning. "They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!"
Oh, Russia may well be laughing their asses off. But not for the reason Trump thinks.