As far as the country’s most prominent conservatives are concerned, the 22-month-long special counsel investigation can be neatly summed up in the four-page letter Attorney General Bill Barr put out Sunday afternoon. Never mind that we still have no idea what Robert Mueller found, and likely won’t for weeks.
The dispatch from President Trump’s handpicked attorney general, who has already established that he doesn’t believe the president can obstruct justice, is the only proof they need that the entire Russia probe was the witch hunt Trump claimed it was.
Everyone from congressional leaders to Fox News’ marquee anchors to Donald Trump Jr. is taking gleeful victory laps. Getting out ahead of Mueller’s actual report, which the special counsel explicitly said “does not exonerate” Trump on the obstruction question, is, of course, a self-serving way of shaping the media narrative. Conservatives are pointedly ignoring information that doesn’t support their case. (See: the criminal charges brought against a host of Trump associates and Mueller’s affirmation that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win.)
For example, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is looking at 7.5 years behind bars. Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen is set to start a three year prison term in May. And investigations into the Trump inaugural committee, Trump Organization, and various influence peddling allegations, among other things, continue apace. But never mind that! The Barr letter is the one source conservatives need.
In their view, anyone still interested in getting a full account of what Mueller uncovered is an obsessed liberal out to get Trump. Yet some of these same voices are now calling for the media to face a “reckoning” for their Russia coverage and, astoundingly, for a new special counsel to investigate “the other side of the story.”
Below are some of the most egregious bad faith reactions to the Barr letter, from those who have never shied away from an anti-Democratic conspiracy theory.
The conspiracy-stoking conservative media pounces
President Trump’s nightly phone date is out for blood. In a series of apoplectic tweets fired off just after the Barr letter came out, Hannity called the investigation an attempt to “take down a duly elected President of the people” and swore “every deep state official,” “fake news media liar member” and “liar in Congress” would be held accountable.
“If we do not get this right, if we do not hold these people accountable, I promise you, with all the love I can muster for this country and our future for our kids and grandkids, we will lose the greatest country God has ever given man,” Hannity then said during a 25-minute monologue opening his Monday show.
The career media figure — who appeared on stage at a Trump rally during the 2016 campaign and is an unofficial adviser to the administration — declared that the media’s coverage of the investigation proved they were hopelessly compromised.
“Journalism, I told you in 2007, it’s dead, it’s buried, and it’s not something I said lightly,” Hannity said. “They have earned their horrible reputations.”
It’s difficult to pick which of the other Fox pundits delivered the most absurd spin on the Barr letter — honorable mention to Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham — but Tucker Carlson earned extra points for bringing Don Jr. on to dish.
During Carlson’s Monday show, he falsely referred to Barr’s letter as “Mueller’s summary.” He also likened the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to the Bush administration falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Those who focused on the Russia probe will “keep getting rich from failure — another TV contract, another committee chairmanship, another fat grant from a Soros-funded foundation,” Carlson said. “And as they prosper, they will continue to lecture you from Twitter about your imaginary moral failings. ‘Shut up, racist. Obey.’”
Fox News was far from the only conservative media organ to direct their outrage at their fellow journalists.
In a piece titled, “The Media Have Done Irreparable Damage To the Country,” senior editor David Harsanyi wrote that “after being accused of sedition for two years, conservatives have every right to be ‘sore winners’ and pouncers.”
The site also published a piece running through the “61 Hacks Who Peddled Russian Collusion And Should Never Be Trusted Again” in the wake of the Barr letter.
This from the same outlet that has published op-eds hinting that former DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder was part of a broader Democratic conspiracy, and covered Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server in excruciating detail.
The Wall Street Journal
The staunchly conservative editorial board of the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper took Barr’s letter as the final world on the “collusion illusion.”
“Well, so much for the claim that Donald Trump or his campaign conspired with Russians to steal the American Presidency,” the board wrote. “That conspiracy theory, which has distorted American politics for more than two years, expired in an instant Sunday when Attorney General William Barr delivered Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘principal conclusions’ to Congress.”
“With Mr. Mueller’s conclusions, we now know that someone may have conned the FBI into one of the great dirty tricks in American political history,” the op-ed continued.
The Daily Caller
An opinion piece published in the Daily Caller bolstered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s new line: any influence Russia may have had in the 2016 election is actually Barack Obama’s fault.
As Obama administration officials have explained, they spent the final months of the 2016 election frantically investigating the source of hacks on top Democratic entities while trying not to reveal any information that could jeopardize the presidential campaign. Even when they became confident that Russia was behind the influence effort, they held their tongues out of fear of that it would appear that they were trying to assist Clinton.
According to the piece by national security consultant Alex Plitsas, the Obama administration’s “abject failure to protect the nation from Russian attacks, which can only be described as dereliction of duty, resulted in social and political discord on a scale that has not been seen in this country for a long time.”
The denizens of Trumpworld go into spin overdrive
“Thanks, Obama,” was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s position on the matter in a speech he delivered on the Senate floor, where he said that “it is deeply disturbing that the Obama administration was apparently insufficiently prepared to anticipate and counter these Russian threats.”
“It was hardly a secret prior to November 2016 that Putin’s Russia was not and is not our friend,” he added. “And yet, for years, the previous administration ignored, excused and failed to confront Putin’s malign activities, both at home and abroad.”
And yet, in October 2016 — as the Russian interference campaign was at its peak — McConnell comported himself completely differently. He refused to sign off on a bipartisan statement about the Russian interference, which would have stated that it was occurring to the general public. He reportedly told Obama that if the White House released a statement on the matter, he would consider it an example of executive interference in an ongoing election.
Giuliani likely won a pennant for bad faith, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he “disagreed with my client” after Trump said he believed that Mueller acted honorably.
“Maybe I was in the trenches more,” Giuliani said, before accusing the special counsel of trying to “suborn perjury” with its treatment of Paul Manafort.
“He was treated in away that’s very very dangerous because a prosecutor comes very close to suborning perjury when you do that,” Giuliani said, speaking of Manafort’s time in solitary confinement and post-guilty plea sessions with the special counsel.
“Most terrorists aren’t in solitary,” he added.
Trump’s eldest son Don Jr. took the route of declaring vindication when none has really been delivered, putting out a statement criticizing “Collusion Truthers” for not apologizing to him.
“It’s my hope that honest journalists within the media, have the courage to hold these now fully debunked truthers accountable and treat them with the scorn and ridicule that they so deserve (sic),” the statement reads.
Don Jr. was a focus of the Mueller investigation in part for his role in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which he attended believing he was to be offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
The president’s daughter also claimed vindication before there was any to be had, citing Abraham Lincoln in a tweet.
“Truth is generally the best vindication against slander,” she wrote.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders led the charge with a “Mueller madness” bracket tweet:
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 26, 2019
“These are people that tried to overthrow the President of the United States,” she later said, referring to the role of “Democrats and the media” in their coverage of the Mueller investigation.
“They claimed to have actual evidence. They said it was true and they lied. They didn’t just lie on TV, they lied to the American people. And they tried to take something away from the 63 million Americans that voted for this president,” she said. “And I hope that they will stand up and say how wrong they were throughout this process.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) continues his role as Trump attack dog, saying in a statement that “Democrats in Congress who have stated that they found ‘ample evidence’ of collusion, that there was ‘direct evidence’ of collusion, and that there is a ‘cloud of treason’ surrounding the White House were wrong. These statements were lies. The people who spread these lies owe President Trump and the American people an apology.”
Gaetz, apart from being no stranger to bonkers claims himself, ignores that huge questions remain unanswered by the Mueller investigation, while also apparently preempting the need to see the special counsel’s report.
Newt Gingrich (of Clinton impeachment fame) took a break from hanging out at the Vatican and pushing for EMP protection to demand that the Washington Post and New York Times have their Pulitzer Prizes rescinded.
“Should the New York Times and Washington Post give back the Pulitzer Prizes they won for exaggerated and hysterical reporting on President Trump and Russia?” he wrote on Facebook.
Lindsey Graham immediately pivoted into the fever swamp, saying he’d “like to find somebody like a Mr. Mueller” to investigate the vast left wing conspiracy that supposedly launched the probe into Trump.
“When it comes to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA warrant, the Clinton campaign, the counterintelligence investigation, it’s pretty much been swept under the rug. … Those days are over,” Graham said at a press conference.
White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, like Lindsey, tried to shift the narrative to opening a wide-ranging meta-investigation of the Mueller probe itself.
“Let’s see how this all started,” she told Fox News on Tuesday. “Did we have people, in fact, at the top levels of the DOJ and FBI trying to sit on the scales of justice, to try to prevent Donald Trump from being elected president? And after he was elected president, trying to prevent him from taking office?”
“I’ll tell you, those people at the DOJ and the FBI at the time, they have besmirched the good reputations and integrity of the 25,000 to 35,000 men and women who work in that department and do their jobs honorably,” she added.
Conway later called the Mueller investigation “the gold standard,” suggesting that it was a gold standard of a witch hunt that simultaneously besmirched the honor of thousands of FBI agents.
Steve Bannon approached the issue with his signature brand of hyperbole and schizophrenic-guy-on-the-subway racism, telling the AP that the Mueller probe had set back efforts to link the Judeo-Christian West against China.
“Eventually we’ve got to unite the Judeo-Christian West and Russia is part of that, and now that’s going to take many, many, many decades,” he said. Bannon separately told Yahoo News that Trump would use the probe to “bludgeon” Democrats.
“When I saw no new indictments — I thought, Oh my God! They didn’t indict anybody regarding the Flynn investigation, they didn’t indict Don, Jr.! Maybe [Mueller] could have details about obstruction of justice that are not indictable, but are meaningful. But right now, it looks like they have nothing,” Bannon said.