Trump tweets many puzzling things. On Tuesday night, he fired off a new attack that left many close observers of national politics scratching their heads.
Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were two FBI agents who had an affair that exposed their text messages, and views on Trump, to the public.
Trump’s tweet refers to an article about Strzok and Page’s texts that appeared on Gateway Pundit, a notorious right-wing conspiracy website, claiming that the texts prove the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign.
The Gateway Pundit article, in turn, is based on an unsourced tweet from a pseudonymous twitter account. (It’s notable that even this random Twitter user is more suspicious of his own analysis than Trump.)
It was also a popular post on the forum for conspiracy theories on Reddit, called r/conspiracy.
As you might imagine, the analysis is totally wrong.
The texts are from December 2015. The FBI investigation of the Trump campaign did not launch until July 2016. The investigation was prompted by a May 2016 meeting in which Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that “Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.”
So the texts could not refer to the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign because the investigation did not yet exist. The texts between Strzok and Page at issue, notably, do not mention Trump or the Trump campaign.
Also false is the idea that these texts are “breaking” news contained in a cache of documents that were just released. The texts at issue were included in documents released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on February 7, 2018.
The use of the term “lure,” incidentally, also does not match the conduct that Trump is complaining about. Trump is upset that the FBI used a professor in England to approach Trump staffers it suspected could be in contact with Russian operatives. But a “lure,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Manual, is someone used to attract an individual abroad to the United States so that he or she can be arrested.
None of this stopped the “story” from making its way on to Fox News. First, in this tweet by Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs:
Then, it was presented to an audience of millions by Laura Ingraham. Her question about the texts was received positively by a United States congressman.
Ultimately, the basis for this coverage is the tweet from the President of the United States. That tweet, in turn, is a fever dream plucked from the darkest corners of the conspiracy-minded internet. It has been retweeted 22,000 times.