The news this week – as is typical under President Donald Trump – came fast and furious. It was also an extremely confusing week in politics.
Here’s a selection of major stories that have broken just since Monday:
* House Republicans opened up two separate investigations into alleged wrongdoing in the Obama administration. One probe will deal with the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the decision not to bring charges against her. The other will look into the 2010 sale of a uranium mining interest to a state-owned Russia company who, according to The Hill’s reporting, was under FBI investigation at the time. Trump is also urging the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an FBI informant involved in the 2010 deal.
* New reporting revealed that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee had been involved in the funding of the famous/infamous Trump dossier put together by former British spy Christopher Steele via an opposition research firm known as Fusion GPS. And we learned on Thursday that apparently neither Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta nor ex-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz knew that their organizations were funding the dossier.
* Alexander Nix, the head of the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which Trump used during the 2016 election, reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in hopes of getting access to emails from Clinton’s private server. What’s less clear is whether Cambridge Analytica was on contract with the Trump campaign when Nix made the outreach or whether Nix knew definitively that WikiLeaks was getting the hacked emails from Russia.
Investigations! Counter investigations! Dossiers! Assange!
It’s all too much for people who follow politics casually and are already running on Trump overload. (Hell, it’s hard for me to follow it all – and this is all I do every day.)
Combine the complexity of these various stories with both parties’ tendency to seize on whatever story reaffirms their broad worldview and insist that it is The Most Important Story Ever and your natural reaction is to simply tune out.
To the average observer, it looks like Washington is doing what it always does: Investigate and feud. Who’s right and who’s wrong becomes secondary. The focus instead is on how messed up Washington – and everyone in it – is.
That’s a win for Trump and his allies as they seek to cast the ongoing special counsel investigation being led by Bob Mueller – and the multiple congressional committee probes into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 election – as just part of a Washington culture where someone is always investigating someone else – usually with political gain as one of the main motives.
Trump has been doing that on his own for months, regularly referring to the special counsel’s investigation and other questions about Russian interference in the election as a partisan witch hunt.
“The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,” Trump tweeted last month. “What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”
The sheer number of developments over this past week – and the complexity of each of the issues – helps Trump drive this “what-about-ism” narrative. While all of these investigations and revelations aren’t created equal – the appointment of a special counsel is a far bigger deal than, say, a Republican-led congressional investigation into whether or not the FBI put a finger on the scale for Clinton in 2016 – the complexity of the various allegations (and counter allegations) allow for a significant muddying of the waters.
The muddier those waters get, the better for Trump. It seems hard to believe that the Mueller report will be filled with terrific news for the President and his administration. But, the more other investigations are happening right around that same time – and the less people understand the specifics around these investigations – the easier it is for the President’s allies to paint Mueller’s findings as a) partisan and b) just a small part of Washington’s investigations culture.
When you look down at the Washington swamp after this week, you’d be lucky to see your feet. Which means Trump is having a good week.
Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately characterize the Clinton emails Cambridge Analytica was seeking from Wikileaks.