Trump shows how ‘just asking questions’ supports conspiracy theories


To date, Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign has consisted of a poorly rated launch event in November, a relentless flurry of hyperactive posts on the social media platform he owns, and the sporadic release of videos meant to work. as positions.

In a video, for example, the former president delimited a sparse set of proposals purportedly centered around the First Amendment but really meant to highlight how he feels social media companies like Twitter have been unfair to him in the 2020 presidential election. probably haven’t heard of this proposal because, hours earlier, Trump had stepped on it when announcing the launch of his NFT collection.

It really is a useful parallel to his “political” videos: poorly put together content meant to be impressive but really created to try and extract value from his still broad base of support. With NFTs, he wanted money. With politicians, he wants continued loyalty.

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On Wednesday, Trump presented the latest consumable item in his political video collection, an appeal to the newly created House Select Committee to answer specific questions about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. abstract, the video seems instantly redundant, given that the select committee is entirely based on as broad a search as possible with the aim of suggesting that something nefarious happened to Trump and, by extension, the political right. But in detail, Trump’s bulleted list of queries shows something else: how he — and so many — are using the pretense of “just asking questions” to support unsubstantiated or debunked conspiracy theories.

The video, share by aide Liz Harrington, offers several questions that Trump hopes the committee will answer. Although several of them have already been answered and although they are all based entirely on insinuations rather than specific concerns.

He begins by raising an old claim: why members of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigative team wiped their phones after the Justice Department inspector general began probing the opening of the investigation on Russia?

This idea is rooted in a document obtained by a right-wing organization providing an update on efforts to obtain information from cellphones used by investigators. It lists a number of people (names usually redacted), the devices they’ve used, and the results of efforts to get information from the devices. This is not a list of deleted devices, please note; instead, it’s a list of dozens of phones searched once the Inspector General’s investigation began and an articulation of the information that was recovered from them – often a lot.

In other words, this claim is based on picking cherries a number of times devices have been reset, such as when users forget their passwords or after phones have been taken out of service – and suggest that this effort was to thwart a probe that, in some cases, did not yet exist.

Andrew Weissman, one of the Mueller team members, points out that the inspector general had other means to obtain the same data. It was already public knowledge: A controversy – stoked by Trump – in which it was alleged that the messages of two FBI employees had been deleted died down after the government managed to recover the messages. Moreover, there is nothing in the Inspector General’s final report itself to indicate that he was hampered in any way by a lack of messaging and no suggestion that he believed there was an effort to obstruct the investigation in this way.

But now step back. Is there evidence that there was something hidden in the first place, something that required a device wipe? There’s no. There is a meaning among Trump and his allies that the Mueller team was doing no good and that the “wiping” was only used as evidence of that meaning. Trump’s question serves the same desired result: to insinuate wrongdoing that he and his supporters already assume must have occurred, despite the lack of evidence for it.

“Can you imagine what we would have found with [former FBI officials Lisa] page and [Peter] Strozk and all the others? Trump says after asking the question, helpfully cutting the chase. Only imagine how bad these people were! And once you’ve figured that out, there’s really no need to answer the question in the first place.

(Trump is also advantaged, of course, by the time it took him to ask his “question” and the time it took me to unravel it.)

Next, he connects the Mueller investigation to the ever-hated press.

“Who on the Mueller team was responsible for leaking secret information and fake news to dishonest reporters,” Trump asks, “many of whom are to perpetrate the Russian hoax?”

In fact, the Mueller probe was remarkably discreet. There was a constant barrage of reports about the Trump campaign team’s ties to Russia, but these generally responded to either indictments obtained by Mueller or an independent reporting feature. Again, however, Trump doesn’t care. He wants people to think that the Russia investigation was illegitimate, which it was not, and that the press was complicit in intentionally spreading false statements, which it was not.

Trump then asks why FBI and CIA officials purchased “liability insurance” the day the dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele became public. This claim is based on a text exchange between two people that was brought to light by lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn. This, too, is classic Trump: find something new or obscure that hasn’t been separated 1,000 times and elevate it as significant not because it is, but because it is. has not yet been shown that it is not. Did this purchase of insurance actually take place? What a difference! What matters is that Trump can talk about it.

Concrete example, his next question.

“How many bogus journalists have been paid or compensated by US government agencies directly or indirectly,” Trump asked, “for their role in spreading national disinformation like the FBI did with Twitter?”

It’s not a very pointed question, not that that’s the point. It takes some of the misinformation that has recently emerged on the right — that the FBI paid Twitter to censor people — and suggests that the government paid the media to spread misinformation. But the FBI didn’t pay Twitter to censor people. He followed federal law that requires the government to reimburse tech companies for providing information pursuant to subpoenas. It’s like I bought you something on Etsy and sent you a check for $100 with a thank you letter – and then someone took that letter and tried to argue that it showed that I was paying you to post rude comments on Facebook.

It has been debunked, many times, conclusively. Trump doesn’t care. His allies don’t care. His supporters don’t care. It sounds bad. Can you imagine what the FBI tried to cover up with Twitter and Facebook and all that?

Trump asks a generic question about the government trying to overthrow the 2020 election, which is just vague, run-of-the-mill Trumpism. But then we come to his final meaty “question”.

“What was the role of federal agents and informants in pushing the crowd towards the Capitol on January 6?” He asked. “And who is Ray Epps?

The central cause of the Capitol riot, of course, is the guy asking that question, the guy who constantly misled his supporters about the 2020 election, who encouraged them to come to Washington that day, who annoyed when they knew they had weapons and who then directed them to the Capitol. But Trump isn’t thrilled to face all of this, so he has no qualms about asking the conveniently unanswered question of the FBI’s potential involvement.

The FBI, of course, doesn’t say when they have agents somewhere because if they started doing that, you could understand FBI infiltration through a process of elimination. “Do you have agents infiltrating Organization X?” “No.” “How about Organization Y?” “Uh, no comment?”

But it’s the mention “Ray Epps” that is the real revelation. Epps, a guy filmed encouraging people to enter the Capitol the night before, became a central part of the half-baked conspiracy theory that the riot was somehow started by federal agents. Its presence — and lack of guilt — has been extensively discussed and demonstrated, but Trump et al. do not worry. “Who is Ray Epps” is to the Capitol Riot what “jet fuel can’t melt beams of steel” was to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: a shorthand nod to skepticism. Or, really, a marker that the speaker, presumably like those he is talking to, rejects the evidence debunking the “question” raised. It’s less about believing that specific thing and more about a broad willingness to disbelieve everything that has to be in disbelief to keep the central idea in play.

What Trump is doing is not producing helpful, thoughtful questions to a congressional committee that plans to act in good faith. It’s just trying to carve out some of the territory the committee was supposed to be planting: a formal rejection of the obvious reality of the Russia Inquiry and January 6. The committee exists to benefit from the longstanding skepticism of the official (accurate) understanding of these events and damn if Trump won’t benefit either.

And that’s how “just ask questions” works.


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