They've got her now, just you wait.

Republicans in Congress have Hillary Clinton in their sights, and it's all going to be different this time. They're demanding that the Justice Department appoint a special counsel to investigate Clinton, or more specifically, a couple of different matters relating to her, including the sale of a company that mines uranium and the Russia dossier, in which an opposition researcher assembled potentially damaging information on Donald Trump in 2016. What America obviously needs is a prosecutor with unlimited resources and subpoena power to get to the bottom of these matters, because ... because ... well because Hillary Damn Clinton, that's why!

You may have noticed that Hillary Clinton is not actually the president, a fact that has left Republicans who were looking forward to four or eight years of rip-roaring investigations rather bereft. So why not have the Justice Department investigate the president's former opponent? Maybe they'll get to lock her up after all. Sure, that's something that tends to happen in countries where elections are a prelude to tyranny, but isn't the American system far too lenient on people who commit the crime of losing an election?

What is the point of all this? The answer is a bit complicated, but first let's quickly address the Republicans' complaint. In their fantasy world, what demands investigation is chiefly this: Hillary Clinton gave 20 percent of our uranium to Russia in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation, and there was obviously something fishy going on. However, every bit of the previous sentence is false, other than that there is a person named "Hillary Clinton," a thing called "uranium," a place called "Russia," and an organization called the "Clinton Foundation."

In fact, the Russian government controls a company that has rights to mine a portion of the uranium located within the United States (far less than 20 percent), and the uranium isn't allowed to leave the country. The sale of that company was approved in 2013 by a board that includes representatives of nine different federal agencies; though the State Department is one of the nine, Clinton had no personal role in the decision. The donations to the Clinton Foundation that supposedly were payback actually occurred in 2007, before she became secretary of state, from a man who no longer had any stake in the company by the time the sale took place (you can read more here or here).

As for the Russian dossier, it was opposition research of the kind undertaken by candidates for every significant office in America. It contained some salacious rumors about Donald Trump, but the Clinton campaign didn't even make them public.

In short, this isn't the kind of thing you appoint a special counsel to investigate. When this was brought up by far-right Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), whom retired Speaker of the House John Boehner recently referred to as a "legislative terrorist," at a Judiciary Committee hearing this week, even Attorney General Jeff Sessions seemed uninterested. But Jordan and his compatriots are hardly alone; the president himself recently said it's "very discouraging to me" that the Justice Department is not "going after Hillary Clinton."

If there's one thing Republicans know, it's how to work a Clinton scandal. You start with wild charges, whether there are any facts behind them or not, then start to hold hearings, create a rising din in the conservative media, and before you know it, you've woven a scandal out of nothing.

Of course, you have to pretend that you care very deeply about consular security or proper email management or whatever the ostensible topic of the scandal is, but they can manage that without too much trouble.

This formula has to be understood as serving multiple goals. In the short run, it merely makes trouble for Democrats, putting them on the defensive and dominating the news. Now that Trump is president, it could also help distract attention from the administration's scandals. Since this story involves Russia too, it can potentially create a fog in the addled mind of the American public, to the point where "Russia" is just associated with a bunch of Washington corruption that involves both parties.

In the longer run, the investigation can act as a lever, producing something more consequential than whatever it set out to investigate. Republicans don't have to know what they're fishing for at the outset; it's enough to hope that there might be something waiting to be uncovered. The Benghazi investigation revealed the existence of Clinton's private email server, so who knows what an investigation into the uranium company might produce?

And then there's the emotional component. Investigating Hillary Clinton promises a return to a simpler time, when Republicans felt a sense of righteousness and purpose, and didn't have to worry about crafting complicated legislation that required difficult tradeoffs. That stuff is just no fun.

The trouble with the project, however, to return to where we started, is that Hillary Clinton is not the president and is never going to be the president. She's gone. There isn't anything to be gained by rooting around like pigs hoping to unearth a truffle of scandal buried somewhere in the woods of Chappaqua. All it does is make them look like sore winners.

Which of course is exactly what they are. Nothing in the last year has turned out the way they thought it would, and they have no idea what to do about it. A good Clinton scandal would make everything make sense again. But they probably won't get it, so they'll just have to content themselves with defending the toddler in the Oval Office and worrying about which of their candidates are going to turn out to have a thing for teenage girls. Oh — and maybe passing some legislation. If they get around to it.