The most respectable conspiracy theory in Washington

It’s time to stop begging it. The investigation that began under James Comey and has continued under Robert Mueller has turned up absolutely nothing to support this thesis. Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place after the election, which is shocking if you want to pretend that there is anything out of the ordinary about a member of a presidential transition team contacting foreign officials. An obscure character named George Papadopoulos once emailed an equally obscure character known only as “the Professor,” an exchange that went nowhere. Paul Manafort has pled not guilty to money laundering, which is as unsurprising as it is far removed from what the investigation is supposed to be about. The Russia thing is a tedious and lurid spectacle, a shooting match, like Whitewater before it, in which armed participants are allowed to circle endlessly, at taxpayers’ expense, around invisible targets that they mysteriously never manage to hit but whose existence is as obvious to one group of partisan onlookers as it is unthinkable to the other.

It is also a master course in how to construct a political narrative, something reporters and commentators do without realizing it. Most of them have memories as short as those of their readers and a frame of reference that, except for a handful of clichés about McCarthyism and Boss Tweed and the Compromise of 18-something-or-other, doesn’t extend much further than Pizza Rat. It doesn’t matter. Start with an irresistible general narrative, sprinkle in some suitably exotic if unconfirmable details about obviously grotesque characters, quote a handful of decontextualized communications, throw in some legalese that you don’t understand, and you have an appalling scandal that deserves the attention of the entire American public, one that makes a mockery of the august values upon which this country was founded.