The mainstream media frequently call President Trump a conspiracy theorist, mainly because that term is a disparaging way to shut down debate on topics like the Mueller investigation. Trump asks the same penetrating questions posed by eminent experts – e.g., Alan Dershowitz, Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Turley – and gets called a “conspiracy theorist” for his pains.
Some would say it’s Trump’s tone that causes this. After all, the experts are careful not to call the Mueller probe a “WITCH HUNT!” – and, indeed, are careful not to tweet their theses in 280 unadorned characters, thus inviting misinterpretation and backlash to the nth permutation.
But there’s reason to doubt that it’s really about tone. The indictment of Roger Stone this week makes it clear that the Mueller team really has known for many months now that there was no evidence of “collusion” between Russians and the Trump campaign to meddle in the 2016 election. In fact, there was the opposite: evidence that the Trump campaign did not have prior, complicit knowledge of what the Russians may have been doing.
Trump’s often-repeated question – why Mueller has continued a probe on the premise of such complicity by his campaign – actually just makes sense. It’s not a conspiracy theory at all.
On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the Roger Stone indictment fits the classic outline of a conspiracy theory. Remarkably, she frames a line of foreign policy pursued by Trump as if he’s pursuing it not on principle, because he believes in what he’s doing (however unusual or even misguided it might be), but because Vladimir Putin has “got something” on him.
In a press release on Saturday, Pelosi might as well have been an opinion writer for a Third World tabloid:
In the face of 37 indictments, the President’s continued actions to undermine the Special Counsel investigation raise the questions: what does Putin have on the President, politically, personally or financially? Why has the Trump Administration continued to discuss pulling the U.S. out of NATO, which would be a massive victory for Putin?
The 37 indictments include the ones for Manafort, Cohen, Russian Internet trolls, and others – none of which indicates any connection between “Russians” and Trump.
Virtually all the indictments are for process crimes, Internet fraud not involving Trump (i.e., by the Russians), or bank and tax fraud not involving the 2016 election or Trump (Manafort). In one instance, Michael Cohen has pleaded to something a number of experts don’t think is even a crime: acting as a go-between to pay off women with whom Trump allegedly had affairs back in 2006. The potential aspect of wrongdoing is suggested to be that Cohen did this during the 2016 campaign, and that it was a campaign activity paid for improperly. But whether the charge itself could really succeed in a courtroom will never be proven, because Cohen took a plea instead of going to trial. In any case, it has nothing to do with Russia or collusion.
Nothing in this history of indictments gives color to a theory that Russia has undue influence with Trump. In connecting a theory about undue influence to the 37 indictments, Nancy Pelosi is out on a limb by herself. She is articulating a literal conspiracy theory.
Well, she’s not entirely by herself out on the limb. She’s got cover from the mainstream media. Their radar for conspiracy theories depends on whether they regard a political figure as an enemy or a friend of their own politics. Pelosi is a friend.
So she’ll presumably get a pass for speaking exactly like a John Bircher detecting Soviet Communist influence behind every wishy-washy Democrat (or Republican, for that matter) back in the 1960s.
The classic profile of this conspiracism is that it flourishes even where there is no actual evidence. For some dramas, there is extensive evidence of things like money changing hands (e.g., the activities involved in Watergate, Whitewater, the Clintons and Uranium One), or agents of influence at work (e.g., the Alger Hiss case). For Pelosi’s “Russia-Trump” conspiracy theory, there is nothing.
Pelosi was enamored enough of her press release to tweet it all out in sections on Saturday. (See thread.)
Roger Stone’s indictment makes clear there was a deliberate, coordinated effort by top Trump campaign officials to subvert the will of the American people during the 2016 Election. #FollowTheFacts
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 26, 2019
Much of the right-wing Twittersphere was indignant. But in the mainstream media, we can assume Pelosi will never be called out.