Saturday, June 10, 2023

G.O.P. Weapon



This may be a dangerous instance of  transforming "projection from a psychological phenomenon into a political strategy."

  

Much of the Republican Party wants voters to believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a wing of the Democratic Party. It's easy to forget a report from November 6, 2016 that

On October 28, 2016, (James) Comey wrote to members of Congress, telling them that although he had previously announced the conclusion of an FBI probe into the Democratic nominee’s emails, “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.” It later became clear that the “unrelated investigation” was a inquiry into whether Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, had sexted a teenager.

The FBI said on Sunday it stood by its earlier finding that no criminal charges were warranted against Democrat Hillary Clinton for using a private email server for government work, lifting a cloud over her presidential campaign two days before the U.S. election.

A legal cloud, yes; a political cloud, not by a longshot.  “We’re glad this issue is resolved but for the record, this could easily have been learned before 1st letter was sent,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon wrote on Twitter. It could have been, but wasn't, and thereby turned the election.

Nate Silver, then a data analyst at 538, concluded that the letter of October 28 probably cost Clinton the election because

At a maximum, it might have shifted the race by 3 or 4 percentage points toward Donald Trump, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to him, perhaps along with North Carolina and Arizona. At a minimum, its impact might have been only a percentage point or so. Still, because Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than 1 point, the letter was probably enough to change the outcome of the Electoral College.

Comey inadvertently swayed voters further by restoring the issue to the public consciousness when on November 6, he said in effect "oops, the emails were unrelated."  Silver noted

the controversy was an unwelcome one for Clinton, since it involved voters seeing words like “Clinton,” “email,” “FBI” and “investigation” together in headlines. Within a day of the Comey letter, Google searches for “Clinton FBI” had increased 50-fold and searches for “Clinton email” almost tenfold.

Moreover

Exit polls showed that undecided and late-deciding voters broke toward Trump, especially in the Midwest. A panel survey conducted by FiveThirtyEight contributor Dan Hopkins and other researchers also found shifts between mid-October and the end of the campaign — an effect that would amount to a swing of about 4 percentage points against Clinton.5 And we know that previous email-related stories had caused trouble for Clinton in the polls. In July, when Comey said he wouldn’t recommend charges against Clinton but rebuked her handling of classified information, she lost about 2 percentage points in the polls. Periods of intense coverage of her email server had also been associated with polling declines during the Democratic primary.

Yet two days before Comey startled the country with his claim that the FBI had uncovered emails "pertinent to the investigation, "the New York Times published an article with the headline "Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia." It reported that the director "would not even confirm the existence of any investigation of Mr. Trump’s aides when asked during an appearance in September before Congress."

This may be the greatest irony in American history, now that we know that Clinton, at most, acted irresponsibly while that same Donald J. Trump has been indicted for taking and harboring dozens of documents involving military, nuclear, and intelligence secrets, as well as obstructing investigation into it.

So now there allegedly is a pro-Biden mole in the FBI? The agency's director in 2016 actively- albeit unintentionally- assisted the Trump campaign in a material, probably determinative, way. He notified voters of an investigation into Hillary Clinton but not of the one into connections- proven too late- between the Trump campaign and the Russians. The Bureau, as one agent described it, was "Trumplandia" and Comey was worried about a leak about Clinton.

Yet, we are presently to believe, and be horrified by, the possibility of a pro-Biden mole in the FBI and that the agency is a veritable arm of the Democratic Party. The demonization of the Bureau, and of federal law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies generally, is intrinsic to what Steve M recognizes as the GOP's big "idea: We must stop the weaponization of government." He explains

This is a much bigger idea than I, Donald Trump, the world's most innocent man, am the victim of a witch hunt. This idea encompasses the zombie lie that the Biden Justice Department targeted right-wing parents as "domestic terrorists" if they spoke up at school board meetings (DoJ was concerned only about threats of violence), as well as the notion that January 6 prisoners are suffering politcal persecution (while alleged FBI provocateurs who were at the Capitol remain free), and the belief that DOJ has gone easy on Hillary Clinton and "the Biden crime family."

The "weaponization of government" idea hasn't spread beyond the right, but it has the potential to drive base turnout even if Trump is convicted or drops out of the race, which is why so many Trump rivals, including Ron DeSantis, are invoking the weaponization narrative. DeSantis on Twitter:

"We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.

Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?"

Republicans want "weaponization" to be what the Dobbs decision has been to Democrats -- an outrage that drives turnout. One difference, of course, is that the Dobbs decision actually was an outrage. The "weaponization" idea is nonsense, but it can be useful to the GOP even if Trump is forced out of the race. The next Republican president can use it to genuinely politicize the Justice Department, as Ron DeSantis has promised to do. There isn't much limit to what a GOP president could do under those circumstances, especially with a rubber-stamp Congress and Supreme Court.

Republicans have invented a crisis of weaponization. Trump is using the idea to win the 2024 primaries, and he and his rivals are using it to try to win the general election. We have to turn out to ensure they don't succeed.

Not only is a Republican president likely "to genuinely politicize the Justice Department," he probably would deeply politicize the FBI.  We saw what happened in 2016, and a GOP president would find fertile ground trying to weaponize government in the same manner Republicans now irresponsibly imply Democrats have done.

 


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