By last night, the furor over a “secret society” within the FBI had taken a body blow after an ABC News report suggested it was merely a bad joke between two agents. Nevertheless, questions still remain over the curious loss of five months’ worth of texts during the same period that the FBI conducted a controversial investigation into the campaign of a major-party presidential nominee — having just concluded an investigation into the other nominee.
Coincidence? Maybe. Ridiculous? Possibly. Analogous to the Immaculate Conception? CNN host Chris Cuomo didn’t quite get the link, and suspected that Rep. Matt Gaetz (F-FL) didn’t understand it either:
Gaetz said the Immaculate Conception “deals with the Christian faith.”
“Where is the analogy, that’s what I don’t understand. What do you think happened with the immaculate conception,” Cuomo asked again.
“Look, did you really bring me on to discuss my religious views?” Gaetz asked. “I’m a Christian. I believe that the Immaculate Conception was how Jesus was born.”
Yeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhh … no. It’s a common misconception, if you’ll pardon the play on words, but it’s completely incorrect. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not through sexual relations, so original sin doesn’t apply and no added grace was necessary. Cuomo clearly recalls his catechesis:
Cuomo shot back, saying the Immaculate Conception was not how Jesus was born.
“It was Mary’s conception. It was the mother’s conception without original sin. It was not the conception of Jesus,” Cuomo said.
“Facts matter, congressman. If you’re going to make an analogy, at least know what you’re talking about.”
That’s one lesson. The other is having some sort of connection to the point. If he thinks that Jesus’ divine conception was just a coincidence, that’s not going to sit well with his constituents in Florida. But even if he doesn’t, no one argues that either Jesus or Mary got conceived by coincidence. Coincidence with what?
I once attended a lecture by a deacon here in the Twin Cities, also an ardent Pittsburgh Steelers fan, which began with a cold open about the Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris in December 1972. He spent five minutes describing it in vivid detail, with audience members of a certain age (ahem) nodding enthusiastically. When he finally finished, he looked out at the audience and said, “And what a shame it is that, even among Catholics, more is known about the Immaculate Reception than about the Immaculate Conception!”
We laughed. Nervously.
At any rate, Gaetz was flogging what looks like a predictably overblown story:
For the past 24 hours, a number of Republican lawmakers have been suggesting that a months-old text message between two FBI officials reveals a “secret society” of federal law enforcement officials clandestinely plotting against President Donald Trump.
Lawmakers have refused to publicly release the full text message, sent the day after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. But ABC News has obtained a copy of the one message that Republicans appear to be citing, and it’s unclear if the message’s reference to a “secret society” may have been made in jest.
“Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society,” FBI lawyer Lisa Page wrote to senior FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was working on the FBI’s probe of Russian meddling in the presidential election and would later join Page for a brief period on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
That text stands alone in the series of messages obtained by ABC News – with no apparent tie to other messages sent before or after it.
That doesn’t clear the FBI from bias, of course, but it may put some egg on the faces of those who went full tilt for the “secret society” conspiracy theory. This is precisely why it’s important to wait for the full context of evidence before leaping to conclusions, and why it does a disservice to continuing investigations to spin pieces of evidence outside of the whole — regardless of which side does it.
Why would they have been making a bad joke about a secret society? That’s no coincidence, Aaron Blake points out:
But there is also plenty of reason to believe that it’s a joke, and that’s because there was plenty of talk late in the 2016 election about just such a conspiracy happening behind closed doors within law enforcement. It was talk spurred by Trump.
Trump’s theories included pointing to State Department official Patrick Kennedy’s requests to the FBI to declassify some of Clinton’s emails — which Trump and others alleged amounted to collusion between the Clinton campaign and law enforcement — and also a reported agreement in Clinton aides’ immunity deals to destroy their laptops after they were reviewed by investigators. Fox News, in its reporting on the latter situation, called it a “side arrangement.”
Trump keyed on the Kennedy news at an Oct. 18, 2016, rally in Colorado Springs “The FBI document show that Patrick Kennedy made the request for altering classification as part of a very, very serious quid pro quo,” he said. “Not allowed to do it. This is a felony corruption. Yesterday, I said Undersecretary Kennedy must immediately resign.”
In both this and a speech the day before in Green Bay, Wis., Trump also referred to “the destruction of laptops, in a secret deal with the FBI.”
If the “secret society” text turns out to be a bad joke, it will impede momentum for a broader review of the FBI’s investigations of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The same applies to the Nunes memo, and the competing Schiff memo too, in terms of the investigation into Russian activity during the election. All the hyperbole does is generate unfortunately enduring misconceptions, which are about as far away from “immaculate” as possible.