By any fair measure, yesterday's classified briefing shouldn't have happened. Donald Trump instructed federal law enforcement officials to hand over sensitive information to a group of lawmakers about a human source who assisted with an ongoing counter-intelligence investigation. The president made this demand for brazenly political reasons, threatening to undermine not only the rule of law, but also a probe in which Trump is a subject.
The fact one of the president's defense attorneys turned up, unannounced, at the congressional briefing added insult to injury.
But while this stunt is indefensible on its face, it did serve a practical purpose: Trump's "Spygate" conspiracy theory appears to have ended with a whimper.
Congressional Democrats say that a classified briefing held Thursday for top leaders about the FBI's investigation into President Trump's 2016 campaign did not offer evidence that supports the allegation that an intelligence agency placed a spy in the campaign."Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intel agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign," said a statement Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., read to reporters on behalf of himself, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
Republican officials who attended the same briefing have been far more circumspect, but it's worth emphasizing that none of them has suggested in any forum that the revelations were in any way useful to the White House.
This week, Trump and his allies aggressively peddled a nonsensical tale in which the Justice Department and the FBI "infiltrated" his 2016 campaign, "implanting" a "spy" in his operation. Yesterday's briefing was intended to advance the conspiracy theory, divulging information about an FBI informant.
But just as the notorious "Nunes memo" ended up backfiring, undermining Trump World's own arguments, the secret information divulged yesterday brought into focus another inconvenient truth for the president: there was no spy. Trump's assertions on the matter have been ridiculous from the outset.
If this campaign to deceive the public were in any way unique, it might be less offensive. But consider the other conspiracy theories related to the Russia investigation that Trump has peddled:
* Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. (He didn't.)
* There were improper unmaskings. (There weren't.)
* The FISA warrants related to Carter Page were improper. (They weren't).
* It was Democrats who actually colluded with Russia. (They didn't.)
* Conspiring FBI officials may be guilty of "treason." (They aren't.)
* "Uranium One" is a real scandal. (It isn't.)
* Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) had improper communications with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. (He didn't.)
* Every member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is a rabid Democratic partisan. (Mueller is a Republican.)
* Law enforcement officials "infiltrated" the Trump campaign, "implanting" a "spy" in the Republican operation. (They didn't.)
Each of these false claims were presented in bad faith. We're not talking about mistakes; we're talking about deliberate efforts to create a smoke screen in order to distract and deceive.
Innocent people don't generally find it necessary to behave this way.