MSNBC guest: Let's face it, the bogus Steele dossier created unrealistic expectations for Mueller's investigation

Via Rich Lowry, the claim made here is patently true to the point of being prosaic but the fact that it’s being made to MSNBC’s primetime audience — ground zero of Resistance TV — makes it seem transgressive, even shocking. You can’t truth-bomb people who’ve been nurturing a conspiracy theory day and night for two years. You need to ease them into the new reality.

David French elaborates on Isikoff’s point:

BuzzFeed’s decision [to publish the dossier] had two immediate effects. First, it demonstrated the extent to which an influential media outlet would depart from best practices when it possessed negative allegations against Trump. Second, the instant the claims were published, millions of Americans became convinced they were true. Combine the recent pain of a shocking electoral loss, Russia’s intervention in the campaign to help Trump and sow chaos generally, Trump’s incredibly odd behavior toward Putin, and the emerging reports (some overblown) of unusual contacts between Trump’s team and Russians or Russian assets, and Democrats were primed to believe the worst. Moreover, the dossier’s memo formats, which looked like movie versions of intelligence reports, enhanced their public credibility. They were official-looking.

And so we were off to the races. An odd sort of consensus developed on the left and the right. In essence, it was this: The dossier is the scandal. On the left, a kind of blind faith emerged that the purpose and ultimate inevitable outcome of the Mueller investigation were to prove the core claims (if not all the specifics) of the dossier. People weren’t singing songs to Mueller with the expectation and hope that he’d simply lay out the facts. They believed that they already knew the facts, it was up to Mueller to come through with the proof.

That last line captures why the Isikoff clip hits so hard. The MSNBC audience wasn’t waiting for Mueller to produce a narrative of collusion. They already had a worst-case-scenario narrative in lurid detail, replete with a “pee tape” that would ensure Trump’s humiliation, not just his removal from office. Telling them now that the dossier was a wild-goose chase is telling them they were suckers from the get-go.

What would have happened if there hadn’t been a dossier? Certainly there still would have been a Russiagate probe of Moscow’s activities during the campaign. The various contacts between members of Trump’s campaign with Russia-linked figures plus Trump’s prolonged charm offensive towards Putin would have gotten a look from the feds. The narrative French describes wouldn’t have been nearly as developed, but certainly the Resistance would have arrived early at some consensus on Trump’s guilt. Check out this result from December 2016 — a few weeks before the dossier was published by BuzzFeed.

Before Steele’s handiwork was even revealed, fully half of all Clinton voters already assumed that Russia literally changed the vote tallies in Trump’s favor, a claim not made in the dossier and rejected by every U.S. official in a position to know. This was not a group of people that needed bombshell “evidence” like the dossier to nurture a sense of deep paranoia about Trump’s relationship with Russia. But the bombshell “evidence” certainly didn’t hurt, and doubtless did a lot to cement the belief that Mueller would find *something.*

While we’re on topic of Russiagate polls, a fascinating new one from YouGov:

No surprise there that Republican respect for Mueller has risen now that he’s declined to indict anyone for criminal conspiracy. *Big* surprise that Democratic respect for Mueller has … also risen. If you’re thinking, though, that maybe Mueller’s conclusions have caused a sea change in public opinion about Trump’s guilt or innocence, think again. A Reuters poll found that 48 percent believe that “Trump or someone from his campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election,” down just six points from the week before. A CNN poll released today found that 56 percent believe that Trump and his campaign haven’t been exonerated of collusion, including 80 percent of Democrats. Gonna take a long time, probably not before Trump leaves office, for the Resistance to fully relinquish Russiagate.