“A made-up pseudo-scandal”: GOP ratchets up FBI conspiracy theories as Mueller circles Trump
A torrent of news from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia has streamed out over the past week: Attorney General Jeff Sessions sat for an hours-long interview with Mueller’s team, FBI Director Christopher Wray threatened to quit after Sessions pressured him to purge the FBI of staff President Donald Trump didn’t like, and Mueller’s team is now reportedly ready to interview Trump himself.
As the investigation closes in on the administration, a growing number of Republicans are going on the offensive against the FBI and Mueller’s team. Some are trying to gin up controversy over a memo that Republicans say outlines abuses in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, as well as missing text messages between two FBI agents who Republicans say have an extreme anti-Trump bias.
What began as a campaign from some of the biggest Trump defenders on Capitol Hill — such as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — is snowballing. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) went as far as saying that there is a “secret society” within the FBI holding nefarious off-site meetings.
Trump chimed in too on Tuesday, calling the missing text messages “one of the biggest stories in a long time.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans are saying that the chatter about coordinated conspiracy from the GOP looks increasingly like an effort to discredit an FBI investigation that’s closing in on Trump.
“None of this is coincidental, none of this is accidental,” Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist who’s been an outspoken critic of Trump and the Republicans who have defended Trump’s behavior, said of the accusations GOP politicians are hurling at the FBI.
“This is a very considered strategy on their part,” Wilson said, calling the memo and the texts a “made-up, horseshit pseudo-scandal.”
Other Republicans are trying to squash the conspiracy theories. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the leader of the Senate’s Russia investigation in his role as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he doesn’t think there was anything to the missing text messages.
“I’m not going to read anything into it other than it may be a technical glitch at the bureau,” Burr told CNN on Tuesday. “The fact that they have provided the rest of them certainly doesn’t show an intent to try to withhold anything.”
Despite the assault on Mueller and the FBI’s credibility, the public still approves of the job Mueller is doing, and think his investigation is a “serious matter that should be fully investigated,” according to a CNN poll published Tuesday.
And Wilson said that the GOP’s effort to “diminish and marginalize the FBI” won’t be successful.
“It has a lot of downsize risk, because it’s stupid, it’s false and the old rule of, ‘never go in and gamble against the intelligence community,’ is one that people forget at their peril,” Wilson said. “And what they’re doing is demeaning the work of career folks who aren’t political, and they’re grasping for anything to protect Trump.”