House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) recently helped bury Donald Trump’s “Spygate” fairy tale, explaining that the FBI did not use a “spy” to infiltrate the future president’s political operation in 2016. Trump’s allies were less than pleased by the congressman’s candor, but Gowdy had reality on his side.
Yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made things slightly worse for the White House, telling reporters that Gowdy’s assessment was correct. For his trouble, the Wisconsin Republican is also facing the ire of the president’s loyalists, who apparently expect GOP officials to toe Trump’s line, even if it’s wrong.
The pushback doesn’t seem to be having much of a deterring effect. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Politico yesterday, “What is the point of saying that there was a spy in the campaign when there was none? … It’s like, ‘Lets create this thing to tweet about knowing that it’s not true.’ … Maybe it’s just to create more chaos but it doesn’t really help the case.”
Confronted with comments like these, common sense suggests the president should shift his focus elsewhere. And yet, Donald Trump can’t help but be Donald Trump:
“Wow, Strzok-Page, the incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers, have texts referring to a counter-intelligence operation into the Trump Campaign dating way back to December, 2015. SPYGATE is in full force! Is the Mainstream Media interested yet? Big stuff!”
No, actually, it’s not big stuff. In fact, it’s an unsettling example of the president lacking the critical thinking skills necessary to tell the difference between worthwhile information and nonsense.
[A] CNN review of the text messages between Strzok and Page show no evidence to back up Trump’s claims that the Trump-Russia investigation started in December 2015. And it appears that Trump was relying on a Fox Business host who suggested there were new, unredacted text messages. But those texts had actually been sitting on a Senate committee website for four months.
Trump tweeted roughly an hour after Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs claimed on air that “the FBI May have initiated a number of spies into the Trump campaign as early as December of 2015.”
That report came after the far-right website Gateway Pundit seized on a Twitter user and a Reddit forum posting the texts on Monday to claim the FBI was running spies into the Trump campaign in December 2015.
What’s interesting to me about this isn’t just Trump’s interest in another foolish conspiracy theory, which is, alas, a regular occurrence. Rather, this is an interesting case study in the lens through which this president sees the world.
ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum did some digging and found that the bogus line seemed to originate with a Reddit thread for fringe conspiracy theories and an anonymous Twitter user. From there, the story was picked up by a right-wing blog with an unfortunate history of peddling nonsense.
Then Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs picked it up, at which point Trump accepted the story and promoted it to the world.
But it wasn’t, and isn’t, true. Someone saw the FBI officials’ texts about “oconus lures,” which as Vox noted refers to intelligence operations aimed at arresting someone outside the continental United States, but the texts didn’t mention Trump and apparently had nothing to do with him.
Why should anyone care? Because the sitting president of the United States doesn’t just believe ridiculous stories with fringe origins, he also seems to prefer absurd conspiracy theories to reliable information.
An American president has access to some of the world’s most valuable intelligence. Trump can receive detailed briefings from experts, on any subject, at any time.
But he doesn’t want to hear from qualified experts; he prefers foolishness that reinforces his faulty assumptions. A president who makes decisions based on faulty information invariably fails, and that should concern all of us.