Republicans seemed to think they were onto something. Desperate to rehabilitate former foreign agent Michael Flynn and smear the Obama administration, GOP officials apparently believed an email former White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice sent to herself in January 2017 would serve as some kind of smoking gun.
What they didn't anticipate was that the smoking gun would point in the wrong direction. Rice's email was fully declassified this week and it referenced the details of an Oval Office meeting from Jan. 5, 2017, in which then-President Barack Obama and his team discussed, among other things, Flynn and his misconduct. The document pointed to a Democratic president who insisted the matter be handled "by the book," and widely held concerns about Donald Trump's incoming national security advisor and his covert communications -- which he lied about to the FBI -- with the country that had just attacked U.S. elections.
The whole endeavor, in other words, backfired on Republicans. The email that was supposed to make Flynn look good and Team Obama look bad actually did the opposite.
The odd part of this, however, was Republicans' decision to pretend that their embarrassing gambit was a political success. Here, for example, is what Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wrote on Twitter late Tuesday:
"Susan Rice knew exactly what she was doing. That's why she wrote herself emails in a desperate attempt to cover her tracks."
Even for the far-right Tennessean, this was a weird argument. Rice was "covering her tracks" with a document that pointed to zero wrongdoing? What tracks? The email that shows responsible officials behaving appropriately is actually evidence of nefariousness?
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who really ought to know better, gave this a try, too.
"Wow. Ongoing spying from an outgoing POTUS on the incoming POTUS -- directed by Obama himself -- is unprecedented in the 243 years of our nation's history."
Ah, yes, U.S. intelligence agencies learned of communications between a foreign agent working in the United States and a Russian official following the Kremlin's attack on our elections -- and Ted Cruz thinks this is a "wow" moment that makes Barack Obama look bad. It's the kind of absurdity that makes one wonder if a confused right-wing troll seized control of the Texas senator's Twitter account.
Even White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany weighed in from official account.
"When's the last time you've sent an email to remind yourself that everything should be done 'BY THE BOOK' 'BY THE BOOK' 'BY THE BOOK'? Just ask Susan Rice!"
Except, as the actual email shows, Rice didn't send the document to remind anyone to follow proper protocols and procedures; she sent the email to prove that Obama and his aides did follow proper protocols and procedures. That's the point: the Democratic administration was aware of a top member of Team Trump engaging in suspect behavior with an adversary, but they nevertheless took care to play by the rules and treat the relevant players fairly.
Kayleigh McEnany wants the public to find this suspicious because ... well, just because.
Common sense suggests that when partisans launch a gambit that backfires, they should move on to the next stunt. Republicans prefer to pretend that Susan Rice's email somehow helps their cause, reality be damned.