When the fake is real and real is “fake”

Opinion

In one universe — the universe of facts and reality — Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is painstakingly compiling evidence President Donald Trump repeatedly obstructed the criminal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In an alternative universe — one inhabited by conspiracies, right-wing media and Trump die-hards — a “secret society” in the FBI and its allies in the mythical “deep state” are abusing the Mueller investigation to overturn Trump’s election.

In the universe of fact, the New York Times reported last week that Trump ordered Mueller’s firing last June, only backing off after his White House counsel threatened to quit.

In Trump’s universe, though, the multi-sourced reports in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal on the planned firing are “fake news,” as the president put it to a chorus of boos at Davos.

Stranger and stranger

Republicans, who spent careers extolling the FBI, now are criticizing it as part of the deep-state conspiracy against Trump.  The Republican congressman supposed to be investigating the Russian interference in the election instead blames G-men and women for using the Russian investigation against the president.

It doesn’t take a political science Ph.D. to realize these are orchestrated efforts to distract the American people from Mueller’s Russia probe and to protect the president from any fallout from a Mueller report on Trump’s obstruction of justice.

And the GOP efforts gets curiouser and curiouser.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told Fox News last week about an FBI “secret society.”  He told Bret Baier, “That secret society — we have an informant that’s talking about a group that were holding secret meetings offsite.  There is so much smoke here, there’s so much suspicion.”

Johnson got the notion of a secret society from cyber pillow-talk between two top FBI officials having an affair, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.  On the day after the election Page messaged Strzok,  Are you even going to give out your calendars?  Seems kind of depressing.  Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.

The comment was apparently in jest.  The calendars referred to contained cheesecake shots of Vladimir Putin in various shirtless poses.  Strzok was going to pass them out to agents working with him on the investigation of Putin’s interference in the election.  When the Strzok-Page texts, which also criticized Trump, were uncovered last summer by the inspector general in the Justice Department, Mueller immediately and properly removed Strzok from the Russia investigation.

Johnson, one day after making his inflammatory charge, acknowledged Page’s comment may have been in jest and backpedaled from the “secret society” charge.

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who was supposed to lead the investigation of the Russian interference, has stepped up his adopted role as Trump’s defender-in-chief.  His staff prepared a four-page memo accusing the FBI of abuse in obtaining a secret warrant to wiretap Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.  House Republicans have voted to ask Trump to release the memo, and he told a member of Congress after the State of the Union speech he would “100 percent.”

But Trump’s own appointees at the Justice Department — Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray — went to the White House this week to strongly urge the president not to release the memo because of the classified information it contains.

What is astonishing is that so many Republicans have eagerly joined into the obvious diversion, that House Speaker Paul Ryan has supported release of the Nunes memo and that so many Trump supporters follow along like sheep.

Evidence of obstruction mounts

Yet in Mueller’s world of facts and evidence, the proof mounts.  Here is what has been established so far:

Donald Trump Jr. and George Papadopoulos a former Trump campaign adviser, met with Russian agents during the campaign, eager to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.  Western intelligence found evidence Russian hackers turned over Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails to WikiLeaks, which published them weeks before the election.

When Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with the Russians was revealed a year later in the summer of 2017, Trump dictated a misleading explanation for the meeting that neglected to mention the Russian promise of dirt on Clinton.

On Dec. 29, 2016, incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn asked Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to “refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed” punishing Russia for election interference, according to the charging document that accompanied Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to the FBI.

Flynn’s lie to the FBI about that communication opened himself to prosecution.  But Trump, after demanding loyalty from FBI Director James Comey, asked Comey privately, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”  Comey wrote down the quote right after leaving the meeting with Trump.

Trump asked top intelligence officials to intercede ask Comey to back off the Flynn investigation, a tactic reminiscent of the Nixon White House during Watergate.

When Comey didn’t drop the Flynn investigation, Trump fired Comey, admitting to NBC and to Russians in the Oval Office that the reason was the Russian investigation.

After Trump’s firing of Comey resulted in the appointment of Mueller, Trump raged at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not protecting him and ordered Mueller fired, backing off only after White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II threatened to quit.

The Comey firing and attempt to fire Mueller resembled a Saturday Night Massacre in slow motion.

Thus, strong evidence shows that the Trump campaign was eager to receive dirt on Clinton from the Russians and that President Trump led a concerted campaign to obstruct the criminal investigation of Russian interference in the election.

During Watergate, the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department concluded a sitting president couldn’t be indicted.  Mueller probably will follow that guidance. But there is every reason to expect Mueller to issue a report within a few months laying out the evidence that could trigger an impeachment process.

The evidence for impeachment would appear to be strong, but that’s only in the universe of facts and reality that Mueller, the mainstream press and most American’s inhabit.

Meanwhile, in the parallel universe of the president, Trump continues to operate as if he strangely is under Putin’s sway, refusing to impose sanctions on Russian officials involved in the election interference.  In a final note of absurdity, Russian officials claimed this week that it is actually the U.S. that is interfering in Russia’s current presidential election campaign.