Here's what President Trump wants you to believe: At the direction of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the FBI planted spies inside the Trump campaign in order to gather (or plant) information they would later use to concoct a made-up story about Russian collusion, using it in an attempt to destroy the president. Most diabolical of all, they kept the fact that they were doing so secret from the voting public during 2016, because ... well, no one has quite worked that part out yet. But rest assured, once all the facts are known, the perfidy of the Deep State will be the worst scandal in American history.
If you read the above and said, "What a bizarre collection of lies and innuendo. You'd have to be a lunatic to believe it," then congratulations. You are either not a Trump supporter, or in full possession of your faculties, or both. Otherwise, you are part of the president's target audience, or perhaps you're the president himself.
There have been plenty of propaganda campaigns in American history, but nearly all of them proceeded from the premise that they had to be persuasive to a genuinely undecided person, perhaps even a person who wasn't a member of the president's party. They'd appeal to universal values like safety or justice. They'd provide evidence for their assertions, even if the evidence was questionable or fabricated. They'd do their best to avoid claims that were obviously false from the moment they were spoken.
In other words, even if they were trying to fool the public into believing something that wasn't true — like that if we didn't invade Iraq then Saddam Hussein would soon attack us with his fearsome arsenal of weapons of mass destruction — they were constructed so as to have at least some connection to reality.
The campaign Donald Trump is fashioning to fight against the investigation of his various corruption scandals, however, is entirely different. It springs from his own chaotic mind, and proceeds without regard to facts or logic. And it might not even matter.
Let's begin with the president's own synopsis of the current situation:
For the record, there is no "SPY scandal." As part of a counterintelligence operation, an FBI informant reached out to people on the Trump campaign whom the bureau knew had contact with Russians in an attempt to ascertain how Russia was trying to manipulate the U.S. election. Trump took that fact and turned it around to level the false charge that the FBI was spying on him and his campaign. But once this charge emerged, it rocketed through the conservative media ecosystem, repeated over the course of just a few days in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, conservative websites like Breitbart and The Federalist, conservative talk radio shows, and multiple programs on Fox News, where it was given so much coverage you'd think it was a royal wedding.
And because this is the Trump era, a stupid idea like that one becomes the occasion for an appalling breach of ethics and norms, in which the president issues an order to the Justice Department to investigate the investigation of him and his campaign, and the Justice Department caves in. Then the president orders Justice to hand over highly classified information on the counterintelligence operation to his most shameless toady in Congress, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), so Nunes can use it to discredit the investigation.
One might ask: Aren't those moves doomed to failure? After all, Robert Mueller is proceeding systematically, and he'll find what he finds whether Trump likes it or not, and no matter how much Sean Hannity's veins pulse in rage at it.
But the whole point is to discredit in advance anything Mueller finds as an obvious fabrication resulting from this Deep State conspiracy. As Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair reports, "According to people familiar with Trump's thinking, his team is attempting to build the case that anti-Trump forces in the FBI entrapped his advisers using informants to plant evidence about Russian collusion." Planting evidence!
And that's not all: "The president himself is convinced that the secret F.B.I. informant who reportedly met with several Trump campaign advisers in 2016 was not merely an informant, but an Obama political operative." In fact, the informant is a former official in Republican administrations who has done extensive work for the FBI and CIA.
But if you're one of Trump's employees or allies, you have to treat all these insane theories as though they're facts. Yet if they were actually convinced he's innocent, this is pretty much the opposite of how they'd be acting. They wouldn't have to concoct bizarre stories about dark anti-Trump conspiracies and planted evidence, because they could just wait confidently for the investigation to conclude and say, "See? Told you he didn't do anything wrong."
No, this is how you'd act if you knew Trump was guilty and you knew that Mueller's ultimate conclusions (and indictments) will be damning. And let's not forget what has happened already. Trump's campaign chairman is under indictment. That chairman's deputy has pleaded guilty to a crime. Trump's national security adviser has pleaded guilty to a crime. One of Trump's campaign foreign policy advisers has pleaded guilty to a crime. Trump's "personal lawyer" is probably going to spend the next three or four millenia behind bars. Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman eagerly took a meeting to get dirt on their opponent from the Russian government, a meeting everyone then lied about at the president's direction.
And there's the key fact underlying all this discussion of "spying" on the Trump campaign: That campaign was so full of people who were potentially compromised by a hostile foreign power that the FBI felt compelled to open a counterintelligence investigation on it.
The Trump administration and its allies are obviously preparing for the moment when all the actions taken by him and those who work for him are made public in all their horrific detail. So the rest of us should prepare as well. We should remember that no matter how ludicrous the charges Trump makes to discredit the investigation, they will be reinforced and disseminated by an enormous media apparatus with a single-minded devotion to protecting the president. According to an examination by the liberal Media Matters for America, over the last year Sean Hannity's Fox News show has featured an incredible 487 segments attacking the Mueller investigation, and that's just a taste of what's to come.
Trump is treating this entire matter like a media problem and not a legal problem. He thinks if he can hold on to his party and convince them to wave away any evidence of wrongdoing, then he can avoid impeachment. And he's probably right.