U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while meeting with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. 
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

GOP lawmaker claims the Russia probe is ‘essentially birtherism’


I’ve heard some creative Republican attempts to dismiss the Trump-Russia scandal, but TPM highlighted one yesterday that managed to surprise me.

Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA) on Monday compared special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election to the right-wing conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

“Imagine that there were a partly political-funded investigation into President Obama’s place of birth, right? Because this Russia investigation is essentially birtherism,” Garrett said during an interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

“Imagine if political money, $9 million from the Clinton campaign and the DNC to Fusion GPS, were levied to do an investigation against President Obama as to his origin of birth,” he added. “That would be ridiculous and un-American, and this is too.”

Asked about the contacts between Russians and members of Team Trump during the Russians’ attack on the United States, the Virginia Republican said, “You don’t get to pick the people with whom you interact.”

I’ve seen the clip, and I can assure you, Garrett wasn’t kidding. This was his sincere attempt at trying to explain his belief that the entire scandal is “much ado about nothing.”

Let’s unpack this one, because even by 2018 standards, this pushback against the controversy was amazing.

1. Garrett believes a “political-funded investigation” into Obama’s birth would be “ridiculous and un-American.” It’s worth noting that according to Donald Trump, the current president personally launched a political-funded investigation into Obama’s birth. In fact, Trump repeatedly claimed he’d dispatched a team of investigators to Hawaii to unearth information about Obama’s birth records, and his researchers found important information. (Trump, we now know, was brazenly lying.)

2. Whether the congressman understands this or not, the difference between the Russia investigation and the Birther conspiracy theory is that there’s actual evidence of wrongdoing in the former, not the latter. We know this to be true, not only because the president and his team repeatedly lied about their interactions with Russians, but also because there have been multiple criminal charges filed against people close to Trump, including his former campaign chairman and former White House national security adviser.

3. “Imagine if political money, $9 million from the Clinton campaign and the DNC to Fusion GPS, were levied to do an investigation against President Obama as to his origin of birth,” Garrett asked us to consider. OK, I’m imagining it. And now I’m done imagining it – because the $9 million investigation, if it existed, would show that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. An investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal, however, is uncovering ample evidence of wrongdoing.

4. As for the idea that people don’t get to choose whom they interact with, it’s worth pausing to appreciate just how very wrong this is. Russians didn’t just show up at Trump Tower in 2016, promising dirt on the Democratic presidential candidate, and accidentally work their way into a conference room. They were invited. Top officials in Trump World made a choice. They wanted to cooperate with Russians as part of a scheme to win an election.

If Garrett wanted to make the case that we don’t always pick whom we ride in an elevator with, that’s true. It’s often pretty random. But we definitely get to pick whom we have high-level meetings with.

As the Russia scandal moves forward, Republicans might want to take some time to overhaul their talking points. The ones they’ve come up with so far aren’t working.