Think Republicans Went Bonkers Over the Nunes Memo? Just Wait.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes with Representative Peter King on October 24, 2017.

Did last week make you feel like you were going a little bit crazy? Well buckle up, because it's only going to get worse.

Of course, the entire last year has involved careening from one bizarre controversy to the next, to the point where you encounter a headline reading, "The president paid a porn star $130,000 in hush money to keep an affair quiet," and your response is "Sure, that doesn't surprise me."

But the controversy around the Nunes memo truly brought us to uncharted levels of lunacy.

For weeks, Republicans have been saying the memo, written by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee on behalf of Representative Devin Nunes, would blow the lid off FBI corruption so awful, so horrifying, and so gruesome that those who viewed the document might just bleed from their eyeballs or burst into flame. Before it was released, Republican members of Congress who had read it described its contents as "worse than Watergate" (Representative Steve King) and "jaw-dropping"(Representative Matt Gaetz). Representative Mark Meadows, the head of the Freedom Caucus, was driven to terrible depths of despair by the memo: "Part of me wishes that I didn't read it because I don't want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much." Sean Hannity, who is reportedly advising Trump regularly on this and other issues, told his viewers it constitutes "the biggest political scandal in American history."   

And then it was ... really not much of anything. The worst allegation the memo contained was that when the FBI got a FISA warrant to spy on occasional Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, it relied in part on information contained in a dossier assembled by a British ex-spy hired by a research firm hired by the law firm representing Hillary Clinton's campaign.

That's it. And yet many conservatives reacted like some kind of unbelievable malfeasance had been revealed, not least because poor innocent Carter Page had been so cruelly targeted because of his closeness to Donald Trump. That's despite the fact that Page would have had to walk back and forth in front of the FBI building with a giant sign reading "I'm a Russian asset" to give the Bureau any more reason to think that he might be worth keeping an eye on. Or that in September of 2016—before the FISA warrant application—Page's suspicious Kremlin ties had been the subject of news stories, leading Trump's own spokesperson to say, "Mr. Page is not an advisor and has made no contribution to the campaign. ... He's never been a part of our campaign. Period."

Let's take a moment to step back and look at the chain of argument Trump and his defenders are making, because it's truly remarkable. This is their logic:

1. The FBI should have told the FISA court that some of the information on which they based their request for a warrant to surveil Carter Page came from a dossier collected by a researcher who was hired by Democrats.

2. This omission is so awful that therefore the surveillance of Page should never have happened.

3. This means the FBI and the Justice Department, including people appointed by Donald Trump, have engaged in a conspiracy to undermine Donald Trump.

4. Even though everyone acknowledges that Page was only a peripheral figure in the Trump campaign, the fact that the warrant providing for his surveillance was problematic means the entire Russia investigation is a sham and everybody, particularly Donald Trump, is completely innocent.

Yes, that's ridiculous, but it's what many Republicans are saying. If they had an iota of shame, the release of the memo they so angrily demanded would have been greeted by them saying, like Emily Litella, "Oh. Never mind."

But that's not what they said, of course. While there were a few here and there who tried to avoid looking like fools, the prevailing reaction was to simply screech louder. Let me treat you to the glorious introduction to Sean Hannity's show on Friday evening:

Welcome to Hannity. Breaking right now, the highly classified FISA abuse memo has now been released and it is absolutely shocking. It is stunning. Now this now is the biggest abuse of power, corruption case in American history. Now, tonight, we have irrefutable proof of a coordinated conspiracy to abuse power by weaponizing and politicizing the powerful tools of intelligence by top-ranking Obama officials against the Trump campaign, against the Constitution, and against your Fourth Amendment rights. They have been deeply shredded by deep state, unelected bureaucrats all in an attempt to influence an election and then undermine a duly elected president, that being President Trump.

This is something that should never happen in the United States of America but it has. We will go line by line through the memo's findings. It shocks the conscience. It proves that the entire basis for the Russia investigation was based on lies that were bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and her campaign. The Mueller investigation does need to be shut down and the people responsible, who we will name tonight, many need to go to jail.

What madness is this? The truth is that for someone like Hannity—whose daily audience of millions includes the president of the United States, let's not forget—the lameness of the Nunes memo only increases the need to play it up as something earth-shattering. Should his viewers decide that panic may not actually be in order, the entire justification for his genre of cable horror show would be called into question.

This problem has its roots in the Fox News ethos, which requires viewers to tune in multiple times a day to learn what and whom they should be hating and fearing. When a Democrat is in the White House it's relatively easy, since every action he takes is a catastrophe portending even worse savagery to come. But when there's a Republican president, toning things down is out of the question. That intensity, that urgency is what keeps the viewers coming back, so every threat to the president must be presented as so vile and monumental that our nation itself will crumble if his enemies are not beaten back.

And what will happen when Robert Mueller's investigation nears its end? Mueller has already indicted Trump's campaign chairman and turned two Trump advisers (George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn), who agreed to plead guilty to minor charges and tell what they know. How will Republicans in Congress and the conservative media react to the charges Mueller raises, when Trump's entire presidency is threatened?

We know already: They'll go positively bonkers. Yes, they'll argue that the whole thing can be ignored, which is part of what the Nunes memo was about: discrediting anything to do with the Russia investigation so Trump's followers will already have their fingers in their ears when Mueller finishes his work. But the more serious the charges are and the more systematic the case Mueller makes against Trump, the more they'll lose their minds. This was just a preview.

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