As the country waits for more information from the Mueller report, Attorney General Bill Barr’s letter is allowing Trumpworld to claim frothy-mouthed vindication, as the Justice Department plods through the report to redact and remove confidential information.
Sparse on detail but heavy on conclusions, the Barr letter has given Republicans ample opportunity to spin their own theories about the start of the Mueller investigation. And in the interim before the release of the Mueller report — which will provide some clarity on what the investigation found — conspiracy theories about the “real” start of the Mueller investigation are starting to flourish.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is pinning the blame for the investigation on former CIA director John Brennan, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is sticking to the more traditional tack of accusations about illegal FISA warrants and meetings on the tarmac with Loretta Lynch. Others are promoting a theory that Ukraine colluded with the Clinton campaign to attack Trump, spawning the Mueller probe.
Paul in particular is using the lack of knowledge about the underlying report, as well as attempts to delay its release, to push his own counter-narrative about the investigation. On Thursday, he moved to block a Senate resolution that called for the Mueller report to be made public.
“We will agree to see the Mueller report as long as the other side will agree to show us the communications that took place in deciding to promote this fake allegation against the President and whether there was misuse of their office,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “We based this investigation on a lie, we should investigate who the liars were.”
He went so far as to question whether former President Obama was involved, telling his senate colleagues, “We need to know was there malfeasance, was there misuse of power, did President Obama’s administration get involved in an election to infiltrate the Trump campaign to trap them?” before going on to declare: “What we need to discover and we do not yet know: Was President Obama involved?”
Paul may have been channelling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), his fellow Kentucky delegate. McConnell stonewalled a bipartisan statement before the 2016 election condemning the Russian meddling, and then turned around in a floor speech after Barr’s letter was released to blame the Obama Administration for being unprepared for Russia’s attacks.
Graham came out in support of releasing the Mueller report (after conferring with Trump), but also raised a separate conspiracy about an all-out deep state attack on the President.
“The cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed by this report,” he said before declaring that supposed illegal spying on the Trump campaign demanded a separate special prosecutor to investigate.
“I’d like to find somebody, like a Mr. Mueller, that can look into what happened with the FISA warrants, the counterintelligence investigation. Am I right to be concerned?” Graham said. “It seems pretty bad on its face — but there are some people that are never going to accept the Mueller report, but by any reasonable standard, Mueller thoroughly investigated the Trump campaign. You cannot say that about the other side of the story.”
Another line of spin sees the old saw of collusion between Ukraine and the DNC being the “real” conspiracy of the 2016 election. That narrative has emerged in a series of recent op-eds in The Hill, which claim that, in an effort to boost Hillary Clinton, the country’s law enforcers leaked the documents showing payments from Ukraine that forced Paul Manafort to resign from the Trump campaign in August 2016.
Sean Hannity immediately invited the writer from The Hill to come on his show and discuss the theory, earning a tweet from Trump himself.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2019
White House advisor Kellyanne Conway may have summed up the central irony of the counternarratives the best: Trumpists are claiming to have been exonerated by a witch hunt.
“The Mueller investigation is the gold standard,” Conway said.
And now the focus has moved to investigate “the other side.”