The Investigation Game

In Trumpland, it's not the crime, it's the investigation. And the public announcement of it.

So, Greg Sargent had a really incisive piece earlier in the week on the big takeaways from former national security adviser Tim Morrison's opening testimony in the mpeachment inquiry, which he further drilled down in a series of tweets.

As usual, I'm going to be focusing on one thing in particular, which he mentioned here:

At this point it feels a little facile to point out how big a part this exact maneuver from the playbook featured in the 2016 election, but at the same time it's so important that it feels like it would be irresponsible to not circle back around and talk about it.

This was the whole endgame with Comey's letter, the entire point: not what the "investigation" into a Weinergate-adjacent laptop turned up regarding Hillary Clinton's emails (nothing), but that there be an official announcement of an investigation, practically on the eve of a presidential election. House GOP members led by Jason Chaffetz insisted that Jim Comey officially notify them of the re-opened investigation -- an investigation they already knew about in order to make the assistance -- and then Chaffetz splashed an electronic copy of said notification up on Twitter, before the physical letter had been delivered.

Comey defended the announcement with the logic that since he had publicly told Congress the case was closed, he had a duty to tell them that it had been re-opened. But he was prompted to take that step by congressional Republicans who were ready and waiting to use that announcement for propaganda reasons.

Add to this the fact that the go-nowhere investigation was itself prompted by Giuliani allies in the New York FBI office and the whole dynamic described by Sargent sounds very familiar.

We talk a lot about the whataboutism and projection of the Republican Party (of which Donald Trump remains the exaggerated exemplar), and when the try to cast the investigations and hearings about Trump's corruption as PR stunts designed to swing the upcoming election cycle, it's no different. They very likely manufactured the laptop "investigation" in the dying days of the 2016 race and they certainly spun it into last-minute electioneering, and what we're seeing is the groundwork of an attempt to do the same against Joe Biden, the presumptive frontrunner.

I've made no secret on Twitter that I don't think Biden is the candidate Team Trump fears so much as the one they prefer. They have been trying to mark him as Trump's equal because he's the one they're most prepared to fight, just as much as they're prepared to fight him because they assume he'll be the candidate.

Of course, when all it takes is the "whiff of corruption" to get the media to sandbag a Democratic candidate, we shouldn't assume they're not prepared to take down anyone who takes the opposition spot on the ballot in this way.

We can hope the media will be better behaved about this. We can hope the Mild Moderate Middle will be a little savvier about things this time. The thing that works against us, though, is a very frustrating truism: while a whiff can sink a Democrat, a whole reeking garbage scow overbrimming with corruption isn't enough to sink a Republican. 

Part of this is that the GOP hate machine, running full-tilt to shape the narrative for decades, is constantly laying the groundwork for building a favorable narrative in the corporate press. Part of it is that it seems like no one expects any better of the Republicans, while demanding perfection from the Democrats.

It's a frustrating phenomenon for which no simple solution exists, though I think any and all public discussion of it can't help but help things. The more there's a general public awareness of how GOP dirty tricks work, the less they will work.

The thing that really worries me in all this is that our nation's horse race journalists, when they catch wind of stuff like this, they don't tend to treat their reporting as a shocking expose of political and likely criminal malfeasance, but instead report that it's happening from a "Will it work? Let's watch." standpoint.

If our fourth estate goes into 2020 still believing that they are commentators on the sidelines and not players on the field, we're all going to get gamed.

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