Robert Mueller
Credit: The White House/Wikimedia Commons

We all watched last week as the right wing attempted to weaponize stories that would undermine Robert Mueller, the FBI, and the investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump. Specifically, it came on two fronts:

  1. A story from John Solomon that revived the debunked lies about Clinton, Russia, and uranium by pointing to an FBI investigation into Russians involved in uranium transport.
  2. The news that the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid for the Steele dossier.

The fist story has pretty much been ignored, except for people like Trump and his BFF Sean Hannity. But the second story has reverberated. Here is how that looked in an editorial at the Wall Street Journal:

The Washington Post revealed Tuesday that the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee jointly paid for that infamous “dossier” full of Russian disinformation against Donald Trump. They filtered the payments through a U.S. law firm (Perkins Coie), which hired the opposition-research hit men at Fusion GPS. Fusion in turn tapped a former British spook, Christopher Steele, to compile the allegations, which are based largely on anonymous, Kremlin-connected sources.

Strip out the middlemen, and it appears that Democrats paid for Russians to compile wild allegations about a U.S. presidential candidate. Did someone say “collusion”?…

The more troubling question is whether the FBI played a role, even if inadvertently, in assisting a Russian disinformation campaign. We know the agency possessed the dossier in 2016, and according to media reports it debated paying Mr. Steele to continue his work in the runup to the election. This occurred while former FBI Director James Comey was ramping up his probe into supposed ties between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Two pertinent questions: Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?

All of that is a lead-up to a call for Robert Mueller to resign from his investigation. James Robbins makes many of the same arguments at USA Today. Eli Lake takes it in a different direction to simply make a bothsiderism argument.

…the Washington Post reported last week that a Clinton campaign lawyer, Marc Elias, paid the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. Some of that information came from Russian officials speaking to a former British spy, Christopher Steele.

So, Trump supporters would seem justified in asking, why is it permissible for Russians to help Democrats and not permissible for Russians to help Republicans?

Lake’s argument may actually be the most absurd. It is premised on the idea that Russians tried to help the Democrats. To the extent that some individual Russians were willing to talk to sources Steele had developed in that country based on his time as a British spy, it would be like claiming that the Nixon administration helped Woodward and Bernstein based on the information passed on to them via “Deep Throat” (hat tip to Jay Bookman for that one).

I also recall that when people were trying to discredit the Clinton campaign based on emails hacked from the DNC and John Podesta, we heard that it didn’t matter who did the hacking, the emails spoke for themselves. Now all of the sudden the Steele dossier should be completely discounted based on who paid for it.

All of this misses some news that broke on Friday night, but got overwhelmed with the leak about indictments in the Mueller investigation. As I wrote previously, the Washington Post reported on the Democrats, but not the Republicans who were involved in hiring Fusion GPS (the firm that Christopher Steele worked for) to investigate Trump. Friday night it was revealed to be the Washington Free Beacon, along with this note:

Conservative billionaire Paul Singer, a major funder of the Free Beacon, strongly opposed Trump at the time of the opposition research project.

None of these attempts to use Fusion GPS to discredit Mueller mention that the whole thing started with funding from a Never Trumper billionaire who backed Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. That story leads down a whole other rabbit hole now that Steve Bannon has decided to go to war with Paul Singer and is using Breitbart News to do so initially. The battle of the oligarchs just expanded a bit.

In the end, it’s worth noting how the initial story in the Washington Post about who hired Fusion GPS is being effectively weaponized to begin the calls for Mueller to resign, or be fired by Trump. It’s all based on distortions and lies, but we’re likely to hear more about it as the investigation proceeds.

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