Even if you’ve never worked in politics or media, you’re probably seen “oppo dumps,” even if you didn’t know that’s what they’re called.
The idea is straightforward: a political entity such as a campaign or a party committee will hire opposition researchers to dig up embarrassing information about a rival. Sometimes the research is above board, focusing on things like voting records, and sometimes the research is unseemly, focusing on more personal matters. Either way, the “oppo” information is then stockpiled for future use.
The dissemination of the research isn’t always easy, and in most campaigns, information is shared carefully, slowly, and strategically for maximum effect. But when a campaign believes it’s losing and starts to panic, the result is often an “oppo dump” – with basically all of the information pushed out at the same time, in the hopes that some of it will stick and do harm to the target.
I mention all of this because Donald Trump recently went on the offensive against Special Counsel Robert Mueller – a first for this president – and a Politico report suggests the criticism was followed by an oppo dump.
Within hours [of Trump’s critical tweets], the Drudge Report featured a story blaming Mueller, the special counsel leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, for the FBI’s clumsy investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks when Mueller ran the bureau. The independent pro-Trump journalist Sara Carter posted a story charging that Mueller, as a federal prosecutor in Boston in the mid-1980s, had covered up the FBI’s dealings with the Mafia informant Whitey Bulger. Carter was soon discussing her findings in prime time with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Meanwhile, Trump supporters on Twitter circulated video of testimony Mueller gave to Congress ahead of the 2003 Iraq War in which he endorsed the view, later proved false, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction…. On Fox News, Hannity gave Mueller a thorough drubbing too…..
The innocent explanation for this is that these White House allies went digging on their own; they found this information; and they coincidentally started pushing the anti-Mueller research out at the same time, just as Trump was going on the offensive himself.
The less-innocent explanation is people close to the president put together an oppo package against Mueller, and feeling panicky, they shared the research with some conservative media allies in the hopes they’d help push the information to the public.
The point isn’t that the oppo research on the special counsel is especially damaging. In fact, as best as I can tell, the revelations are rather boring and not the sort of “news” that’s likely to affect public confidence in the investigation.
Rather, what I think is important here is the idea that Trump World is doing oppo research on Mueller in the first place, and as the Russia scandal intensifies, people close to the president are opening their files.
To some, the barrage looked coordinated among pro-Trump allies and media outlets, a concerted effort to tarnish Mueller’s reputation as part of a political strategy to undermine, or even eventually fire, the Russia investigator.
“It looks like the beginnings of a campaign,” a source familiar with Trump’s legal strategy said. “It looks like they are trying to seed the ground. Ultimately, if the president determines he wants to fire Mueller, he’s going to want to make sure there’s ample public record that he can fall back on.”
Quite right. If Trump World wants to take a few rhetorical shots at Mueller as part of a political game, that’s one thing, but if we’re starting to see an oppo dump as a precursor to a firing, that’s something vastly more serious.