Quick Takes: It’s Been a Bad Week for Conspiracy Theories

A definitive list of debunked Republican conspiracy theories.

In their efforts to discredit the Mueller investigations, the Republicans have ramped up the generation of conspiracy theories. But lately, they’ve been failing almost as fast as Rep. Nunes and his pals can dream them up. I decided to use “Quick Takes” today to present the definitive list of what they’ve tried so far.

1. Rep. Nunes and the “unmasking” fiasco.

As a reminder, this one all sprang from a Trump tweet early last March saying that the Obama administration had wiretapped him. On March 21st Rep. Nunes had a clandestine meeting at the White House where Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis showed him classified information of electronic surveillance that swept in President Trump and his associates during the course of eavesdropping operations against foreign intelligence targets. Nunes immediately announced this news to the press the next day before consulting with other members of the House Intelligence Committee. That eventually turned into a story of how former national security advisor Susan Rice may have “unmasked” the names of Trump and his associates in a way that was inappropriate and/or illegal. It all turned out to be a lie.

A review of the surveillance material flagged by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes shows no inappropriate action by Susan Rice or any other Obama administration official, Republican and Democratic Congressional aides who have been briefed on the matter told NBC News.

2. FBI Texts

It was discovered that FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page used their work phones to text each other personal messages while they were having an affair. Strzok had been involved with both the Clinton email investigation as well as the Trump/Russia probe, while Page had been involved in the latter. It was discovered that they said things like “Trump is a loathsome human being,” and “Donald Trump is an enormous d*uche.” Of course, once Michael Wolff’s book came out and we heard that members of Trump’s inner circle had called him a “f*cking moron,” an “idiot,” a “dope,” and “dumb as shit,” their opinions didn’t seem so unreasonable.

3. The Secret Society

In one of the Strzok/Page texts, there was a single mention of a “secret society.” Sen. Ron Johnson added that to the fact that an informant had told him that managers at the FBI had held “off-site” meetings to spin a tale of nefarious groups that were forming within the agency to topple the president. As it turns out, the reference to a secret society was a joke.

4. The Nunes Memo

Demonstrating that he had learned nothing from #1 up above, Rep. Devin Nunes crafted a secret memo whose content was speculated on for days while social media ramped up a #ReleasetheMemo hashtag. Eventually we learned that it criticized the FBI for using the Steele dossier to obtain a warrant from the FISA court to surveil Carter Page. It was almost immediately declared to be a total nothingburger.

5. “POTUS Wants to Know Everything”

This one was round three (or 562nd if you watch Fox News) of conspiracy theories that sprang from the Strzok-Page texts. On September 2, 2016, Page texted about a meeting to brief Comey because “pouts wants to know everything we’re doing.” That was immediately interpreted to indicate that Obama wanted to be briefed on the Clinton email investigation. Since it wasn’t active at the time and the president was going to meet with Vladimir Putin in three days to confront him for the first time about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, it was pretty clear what the briefing was actually about.

6. Grassley-Graham Letter

Last month Senators Grassley and Graham wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking them to investigate Christopher Steele. This week they released a highly redacted copy of the letter, setting off a round of conspiracy theories about a second dossier, which the Guardian had previously reported. Apparently Cody Shearer received information from a foreign source alleging that the Russians had compromising information on Trump of a sexual and financial nature. Shearer shared the information with Sidney Blumenthal, who then passed in on to Jonathan Winer at the State Department, who then gave it to Christopher Steele. When the FBI requested all of the information he had on the Trump-Russia connection, Steele gave it to them. This one has been spun countless different ways by the right wing media, mostly in an effort to discredit Steele and claim that the entire Russia investigation has been fueled by partisans.

Today we saw two responses to this particular conspiracy theory. First of all Jonathan Winer wrote the story about his involvement in all of this for the Washington Post. Beyond outlining his role in passing on the so-called “second dossier,” here’s what jumped out to me:

In the 1990s, I was the senior official at the State Department responsible for combating transnational organized crime. I became deeply concerned about Russian state operatives compromising and corrupting foreign political figures and businessmen from other countries. Their modus operandi was sexual entrapment and entrapment in too-good-to-be-true business deals.

Sound familiar?

The second development on this one today is that Sen. Diane Feinstein wrote a rather detailed response to the whole Grassley-Graham letter. In addition to providing evidence to debunk their claims, it is a strong defense of Christopher Steele, including this line at the very beginning that will cause heart palpitations for a lot of Republicans: “Not a single revelation in the Steele dossier has been refuted.”

7. Uranium One

This is the Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory that won’t go away. It all began with Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash, which insinuates that the federal government’s approval of the sale of Uranium One while Hillary was Secretary of State was part of a pay-for-play with the Clinton Foundation. That story has been debunked over and over again.

Last October, John Solomon tried to resurrect the whole thing by writing about an FBI investigation that began in 2009 into bribes and kickbacks involved in the sale and transportation of Russian uranium here in the United States. That story involved a confidential FBI informant, who was recently released from his nondisclosure agreement to testify in Congress. While Solomon continues to write about innuendos that claim to connect this one to the Clinton Foundation, Reps. Elijah Cummings and Adam Schiff went public this week with the fact that the Justice Department views the source as unreliable to use as a witness due to inconsistencies in his story.

8. Mark Warner Attempts to Meet With Steele

Apparently Trump was busy watching Fox News last night.

But by the time the president tweeted that, none other than Republican Senator Marco Rubio had sent the whole thing up in flames.

Nick Visser has a more detailed explanation.

Unless I’ve missed another one while I’ve been putting this list together, that is the state of affairs right now. It is a pretty sordid tale for Republicans. But here’s the good news. For item #1 on this list, it was almost a full month from the emergence of the conspiracy theory to it’s complete debunking. By the time we get to #8, it was about an hour. That’s why I would suggest that they are starting to go down in flames almost as fast as they are produced.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .