“It’s clear now that there was collusion, after all, in the 2016 campaign,” Hawley notedbefore flipping the script: “and the collusion was between Hillary Clinton and some tech executives who actually spied on Donald Trump, who actually accessed his mail servers. And worse than that, who sued, according to the special counsel, tried to infiltrate this spy from the executive office of the president of the United States.
Naturally, he concluded that someone should “go to jail for this.”
Except, of course, that the “this” he refers to did not happen. As quickly as Fox News and Hawley and the gang arrived at this wildly misleading distillation, I’m tired of having to explain that it’s wrong. The line between the Clinton campaign and research examining a limited set of Internet domain name data is not clearly drawn by Durham or elsewhere. There was no alleged access to mail servers. And while Durham is careful to point out that 1) the research assessing possible connections to Russia included (legally acquired) data from the executive office and 2) this led to a February 2017 meeting on the research, he doesn’t not allege that the data included in this research was collected from the Trump White House.
In fact, attorneys for the research team itself told The New York Times that, to their knowledge, they only considered executive office data from 2016, before Trump was president. Even just looking at Durham’s timeline, it’s clear that even if it had included post-2016 data, it couldn’t have included much. The meeting in question took place on February 9, 2017, less than three weeks into Trump’s presidency.
But, precisely because he allows people like Hawley to make outlandish claims about Clinton and how Trump has been so oppressed by his opponents, Hawley’s narrative is the default on the right.
It is important to continue to emphasize how inaccurate and baseless this is for several reasons. The first is that it is generally better to spend your time promulgating accurate information rather than inaccurate information. Another is that establishing a false claim as widely accepted is the rhetorical equivalent of dividing by zero: base a claim on something false and you can expand it in any direction you wish. .
Bringing us, inexorably, to the former President of the United States.
Thursday night, Trump published a statement through its side business, the deep-pocketed political action committee that has been sucking up contributions for more than a year now. It took the fake story line above and moved it forward precisely as you would expect. It read, in part:
“Much of the now uncovered spy campaign of Democrats breaking into the White House and my apartment in New York, took place after the 2016 election as another way to undermine the upcoming 2020 election. oval office continued for a long time and further served to undermine and discredit the 2020 election and massive ballot harvesting, ghost voters and so many other things that made the election a sham.
So, again, there was no “breaking into the White House” or his apartment in Trump Tower, despite his very boomer efforts to confuse what happened to him with the burglary that sparked the Watergate. There has been no demonstrated “espionage in the Oval Office” and, as far as reported, no review of data lawfully collected from the Executive Office after 2016. It is likely that the data at issue – domain request log files collected to track possible infiltration attempts – were still being collected after Trump’s presidency, as its collection was related to normal cybersecurity activity. It is possible that the data then continued to be shared with external research organizations. But it’s unclear whether or not it was used for any reason other than normal tracking of potential threats. It is also not clear that the research conducted on the 2016 data was necessarily outside the scope of this same result.
What is very clear is that none of this has anything to do with the 2020 election. Trump’s scheme here is so clumsy and clumsy that it seems to kick him as he’s down to point it out, but he’s just trying to expand “I was spied on” to “as part of a massive effort to steal the election from me.” This last point interests him much more than anything else; he’ll resist the reality of his 2020 defeat to his last breath, given what that says about his longtime insistences on his popularity and invincibility.
This Durham story, molded and shaped in a way that was sure to have caught his favor in 2019 – Clinton bad! Trump treated unfairly! — simply no longer meets his most pressing needs. It still cares about those perceptions, of course, but any contrived narrative that doesn’t singularly focus on proving that he stole is not a story that interests him at the moment.
And why not? Why not take a bogus claim about the Durham filing and claim it goes even further? What are Fox News and Hawley going to do, step in and say no, we’re just pretending that this continued until the start of your administration? Trump gets away with it anyway because it’s easier and less politically risky to agree with him than to disagree. (Hence the Houston Chronicle’s determination that only 13 of 143 Republican House candidates in Texas were willing to say President Biden was legitimately elected.) So who’s going to appear on Sean Hannity’s show and say , in fact, Trump is wrong. Certainly not Sean Hannity.
The problem with surrendering any anchor to reality is that you are floating in dangerous, involuntary waters. Then, apparently, you just do your best not to get yelled at.