How do you know when the seriousness of the Russia scandal has intensified? When Donald Trump's allies discover it's time to move the goal posts again.
Take, for example, National Review's Andrew McCarthy arguing on Fox News last week that there's nothing necessarily wrong with the president's political operation possibly having turned to a foreign adversary to help win an American election.
"Look, I don't think that it's bad if campaigns are turning to foreign governments for dirt. It's not collusion, it's not something that's impeachable, it's icky. But that's what this is."
A day later, The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway wrote, "I don't have a problem [with] getting dirt on election opponents from foreigners." She added that relying on the Steele dossier is effectively the same thing.
Fox News' Tucker Carlson quickly endorsed the line, telling his viewers, "Nobody is claiming that any information changed hands, though, even if it did, so what?" [Update: Rudy Giuliani went even further this morning. See below.]
This may have been inevitable, but that doesn't make the new talking point any less pitiful.
First, if receiving campaign assistance from foreign adversaries is perfectly kosher, why has Trump invested so much time and energy lying about it? If the underlying accusation is effectively meaningless, why didn't the president adopt this line months ago?
Second, those who constantly feel the need to move the goalposts are nearly always the folks losing an argument. The original line from Trump World and its allies was that Russia didn't attack our elections. The evolution soon followed: OK, maybe Russia did attack, but the Trump campaign wasn't in communication with our adversaries during their attack. OK, maybe they were in communication, but their talks had nothing to do with the campaign. OK, maybe Team Trump did talk to our adversaries about the campaign during their attack, but is that really so bad?
As for the comparison between the Steele dossier and the Russian attack, this is so embarrassingly weak, I'm a little surprised the right would take the line seriously. There's a qualitative difference between a research firm relying on sources to put together an oppo report and a foreign government using military intelligence officers to illegally steal materials and weaponize them in the hopes of putting an ally in power.
Those who see these two activities as identical simply are either deeply confused or they aren't arguing in good faith.
Update: Though the line from Trump World for months has been that there was "no collusion," as the Washington Post reported, Rudy Giuliani adopted a very different posture this morning. “I don't even know if that's a crime — colluding with Russians,” Giuliani said on CNN. “Hacking is the crime. The president didn't hack. He didn't pay for the hacking.”
He added on Fox: “I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime.”
Second Update: We can add former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to the list: he said on ABC News' "This Week" yesterday, "Collusion is not a crime."