The discourse falls apart: Should the FBI have sent [NAME WITHHELD] to lure George Papadopoulos into a conversation? Through the use of a pile of cash and an airplane ticket to London?
(To see the name of NAME WITHHELD, click to Kevin Drum. Or click to Ken Dilanian of NBC News.)
Should the FBI have told NAME WITHHELD to do that? We can't voice a useful opinion. Basically, we lack the requisite experience.
That said, the behavior does begin to strike us as strange within the context of a presidential election. Beyond that, the general topic seems to be introducing The Total Crazy into the public discourse.
Julie Hirschfeld Davis is one of the sane ones at the New York Times. That said, her front-page report on this topic today strikes us as borderline nuts.
It reads like the work of someone who's trying to trigger a civil war. Morning Joe sounded the same way on this same topic this morning.
In fact, Trump asked for an investigation of the so-called informant/spy/embed. Rod Rosenstein said that would be fine with him; the IG can do it, he said. It's hard to see what's scary, upsetting or wrong about that. What explains all the hysteria?
Meanwhile, we've been struck by an apparent general reluctance to describe what NAME WITHHELD actually did. For starters, here was Matt Miller last Thursday night, speaking with Chris Hayes:
HAYES (5/17/18): I want to talk about this quote about the government informant because that has been what the President is sort of building this on, what Trump T.V. have talked about:According to Miller, here's what happened:
"At least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said." That has become a politically contentious point of Mr. Trump's allies questioning whether the FBI was spying on the Trump Campaign or trying entrap campaign officials. What, how—what do you think?
MILLER: ...If there was an informant in the campaign who was talking to the FBI, it's because that informant presumably saw evidence of a crime and wanted to report it to law enforcement. You know, they're trying to twist that now and say that it's spying of some sort...
If there really was an informant, it was because that person "saw evidence of a crime and wanted to report it to law enforcement."
But as the subsequent reporting has shown, that isn't what happened at all. Beneath a weirdly didactic headline, this is what the New york Times reported on Saturday morning:
GOLDMAN, MAZZETTI AND ROSENBERG (5/19/18):The informant is well known in Washington circles, having served in previous Republican administrations and as a source of information for the C.I.A. in past years, according to one person familiar with the source’s work.That isn't what Miller had imagined at all. In fact, the informant paid Papadopoulos $3000 to fly across the ocean to confer with him in London, pretending that he wanted him to write an academic paper.
F.B.I. agents were seeking more details about what Mr. Papadopoulos knew about the hacked Democratic emails, and one month after their Russia investigation began, Mr. Papadopoulos received a curious message. The [informant] inquired about his interest in writing a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a subject of Mr. Papadopoulos’s expertise.
The informant offered a $3,000 honorarium for the paper and a paid trip to London, where the two could meet and discuss the research project.
Mr. Papadopoulos accepted the offer and arrived in London two weeks later, where he met for several days with the [informant] and one of his assistants, a young woman.
Given the fact that a presidential campaign was involved, that strikes us as potentially shaky conduct. But however one may judge this behavior, it certainly isn't what Miller had imagined.
That said, so what? We've seen little attempt to describe this play, and some pundits on MSNBC continued to offer misleading, Miller-like accounts over the weekend. Meanwhile, Joy Reid kept telling us how dangerous it would be for anyone to name the informant, failing to say that her colleague Dilanian, and half the known world, had already done so.
(Dilanian employed some Times-like gorilla dust to seem to say that he wasn't naming the informant even as he did so. For background, see Drum)
More and more, day by day, our discourse seems to be moving toward a completely crazed two-tribe double muddle. Donald J. Trump is out of his head. Day by day, increasingly, we liberals may be too.