It’s the biggest political hoax since Titus Oates’s allegations of a “Popish Plot” to assassinate King Charles II in 1678. Oates’s charge of a Jesuit conspiracy swept through London and led to the execution of four innocent men before Oates was proved a fraud.
The full consequences of the great political hoax of our time — the charge that former President Donald Trump was colluding with Russia — are not yet fully apparent.
Yet they are surely serious. We have heard from many Democrats and those in media that Trump’s claims that he actually won the 2020 presidential election tend to delegitimize the government and distort the political process. They have a point.
It’s a stretch to call the streaming of Trump supporters into the Capitol on Jan. 6 an “insurrection,” but as I wrote at the time, Trump’s words that day “were uttered with a reckless disregard for the possibility they’d provoke violence that any reasonable person could find impeachable.”
But Trump is not the only losing candidate who has cast doubt on an election result recently. While he has faced the derision of most of the news media and the disagreement of some in his party, that wasn’t true of the utterly baseless charges that Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
It took some time for Oates’s Popish Plot to be revealed as a hoax and for many who believed it to acknowledge it as such. The Russia collusion hoax now seems to be unraveling, but we have yet to see many confessions of error from Democrats or their friends in the press.
The latest in the unraveling comes in special counsel John Durham’s indictment of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann for lying to the FBI general counsel when he denied he was acting “for any client” in forwarding bogus documents that supposedly showed communications between Trump’s business and a Russian bank.
Sussmann is entitled in court to the presumption of innocence. But the facts alleged in the 27-page indictment are powerful evidence of a concerted attempt by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including those reporting to the candidate herself, to delegitimize the candidacy and, after his surprise victory, the presidency of Trump by charges as false as those of Oates.
“Here is where the prosecutor appears to be going,” writes former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy in the New York Post. “The Trump-Russia collusion narrative was essentially a fabrication of the Clinton campaign that was peddled to the FBI (among other government agencies) and to the media by agents of the Clinton campaign — particularly, its lawyers at Perkins Coie — who concealed the fact that they were quite intentionally working on the campaign’s behalf.”
The agents include the investigative firm Fusion GPS and the purported Russia expert Christopher Steele. During the campaign, the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wiretapping warrant on Trump adviser Carter Page and therefore gained access to the whole campaign. After Trump took office, an FBI lawyer lied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the warrant. He was indicted by Durham and pleaded guilty, though astonishingly was given no jail time.
The Clinton campaign’s duplicitous encouragement of an FBI investigation led to an October 2016 Slate story — the beginning of multiyear media charges that Trump was colluding with Russia. Clinton herself immediately tweeted a statement by her foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan, now President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, saying, “We can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia.”
What followed were more than two years of frenzied pursuit of bogus Russia collusion charges by Democrats such as Rep. Adam Schiff, by the New York Times, MSNBC and countless others until the case collapsed with special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in April 2019 and his congressional testimony that July.
Few peddlers of this hoax have apologized. New York Times editor Dean Baquet admitted that “we’re a little tiny bit flat-footed” in August. Have we heard as much from the likes of Schiff or MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow? If so, I missed it.
Trump is charged with violating the political norm of not challenging a close election result. The thought is that if you question an election result, you weaken the legitimacy of, and unnecessarily distract, a president and you weaken the United States.
It’s a norm that Richard Nixon observed in 1960 and that, after litigating unsuccessfully, Al Gore observed in 2000. It’s not a norm that Clinton observed in 2016 or in the years since.
She and her advisers damaged the nation by promoting false charges against a duly elected president. She owes the nation an apology, just as Oates owed England an apology 343 years ago.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.