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From the fringe to the Hill

When the far-right fringe comes up with odd conspiracy theories, that's a shame. When GOP senators believe them, that's far worse.
Conservative commentator, Dinesh D'Souza exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York, January 24, 2014.
Conservative commentator, Dinesh D'Souza exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York, January 24, 2014.
It's alarmingly common to hear congressional Republicans repeat some deeply odd conspiracy theories. But more often than not, the theories didn't start on Capitol Hill; they just ended up there.

Four Republican senators have sent FBI Director James Comey a letter regarding conservative author and political commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who was indicted for campaign finance fraud last month. In the letter, Sens. Charles Grassley, Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee quote Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz as saying, "I can't help but think that [D'Souza's] politics have something to do with it.... It smacks of selective prosecution." "To dispel this sort of public perception that Mr. D'Souza may have been targeted because of his outspoken criticisms of the President, it is important for the FBI to be transparent regarding the precise origin of this investigation," the senators write.

Last April, I laid out the flight plan, showing the trajectory of these theories: they start with the off-the-wall fringe, then get picked up by more prominent far-right outlets, then Fox News, then congressional Republicans.
Now note the Dinesh D'Souza conspiracy theory. It started with Alex Jones and Drudge. It was then picked up by Limbaugh. And then Fox News. And now four members of the U.S. Senate.
It is one of the more striking differences between how the left and right deal with wild political accusations: for conservatives, strange ideas effortlessly seep into the mainstream.
In this case, D'Souza, a fairly obscure anti-Obama provocateur, was charged with violating federal campaign finance laws, allegedly using straw donors to make illegal third-party donations to a Senate candidate in 2012. D'Souza has denied any wrongdoing.
Looking at this in the larger context, let's make a few things clear. First, there's no evidence to suggest politics had anything to do with the charges against D'Souza. Second, if the Justice Department were going to politicize federal law enforcement, risk a national scandal, invite abuse-of-power allegations, and use federal prosecutors to punish conservative activists, it'd probably go after a bigger fish than Dinesh D'Souza.
Third, when the Bush/Cheney administration actually politicized federal law enforcement during the extraordinary U.S. Attorney purge scandal, and there was overwhelming evidence of a genuine scandal, Senate Republicans couldn't have cared less. Now that an obscure right-wing activist is accused of campaign-finance violations, they're interested?
And finally, there's just the unsettling pattern in which Alex Jones and Drudge come up with some silly idea, and within a few weeks, congressional Republicans -- including the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for goodness sakes -- are demanding answers from the Justice Department.
As we talked about last year, this just doesn't happen on the left. This is not to say there aren't wacky left-wing conspiracy theorists -- there are, and some of them send me strange emails -- but we just don't see Democratic members of Congress embracing ideas from the far-left fringe.
On the right, however, no one seems especially surprised when a story gradually works its way from Alex Jones' show to Chuck Grassley's desk.