How an FBI raid fed a rumor that Orrin Hatch was about to become president

orin hatch fbi raid

For a moment last week, a part of the Internet thought Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was on the verge of becoming president of the United States.

The stage for the spectacle was set in early Thursday afternoon by Louise Mensch. A former member of British parliament, Mensch has received attention for being the first to report that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, though some of the details of her report were incorrect. In the past few months she has accused hundreds of people of being under Moscow's influence, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin "murdered" conservative media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, suggested Russia was operating a wifi network in her neighborhood, and alleged Russia "funded riots in Ferguson."

On Thursday, in a pair of unproven reports on her website Patribotics, Mensch wrote that Hatch was "likely to become president" should President Trump be removed from office -- because, she said, Trump and the next two people in the Constitutional line of succession were likely swept up in the Russian plot to sway the US election and, thus, ineligible for the presidency.

Related: Story on DNC staffer's murder dominated conservative media -- hours later it fell apart

Mensch's report -- which neither CNN nor any other mainstream outlet has reporting to suggest is in any way true -- claimed the "first arrests" in the FBI's Russia probe were imminent and that both Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan would find themselves unable to ascend to the Oval Office because they likely were involved in "laundering Russian money." The next person in the line of succession is the president pro-tempore of the Senate, a post Hatch currently holds.

A part of the liberal Internet that seems to be constantly waiting on tenterhooks for some news about Russia that will topple the Trump administration responded to Mensch's reporting with glee, eagerly sharing it on social media platforms tens of thousands of times. But things really escalated when, at 1 p.m. ET, a reporter for a local TV station in Baltimore tweeted that FBI agents were executing a search warrant at a Republican consulting firm in Annapolis, Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C. 

Before any further details had come to light, anti-Trump Internet detectives pounced. The Baltimore TV reporter's tweet was retweeted more than 20,000 times. To many on the left, the news seemed to confirm Mensch's reporting. It's begun! The arrests are underway! Prepare for President Hatch! They assumed that the raid was related to the FBI's investigation into Russian election meddling.

"Coincidence, no doubt," snarked Keith Olbermann, the liberal firebrand and former MSNBC host who hosts his GQ video commentary series from the fringes of the left. "Nothing to see here."

When the dust had settled, however, it appeared to be just that: a coincidence.

Federal law enforcement sources told CNN the raid was not connected to the investigation into Russian election meddling and was, in fact, related to state-level campaign work the firm had done.

The Strategic Campaign Group, whose office was the location of the raid, appears never to have done business with the Trump campaign, a search of a database of Federal Election Commission filings revealed. And Kelly Rogers, president of the consulting firm, told news outlets that the law enforcement activity was connected to a dispute it had with former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who sued the firm in 2014 for what he alleged was fraudulent fundraising.

At any given time, the FBI is working on hundreds of cases around the country, many of which likely include possible violations of federal election law. There are also myriad Republican consulting groups that have no connection to Trump. All that was tossed out the window in favor of assuming a standard raid was related to Russian election meddling.

By the time the facts caught up with the rumors it was too late. Out of context tweets about the raid had ricocheted thousands of times in the Russiagate Twitter universe. Theories had been spawned, speculation had run rampant. 

The incident was emblematic of a larger, growing trend on the left. Since Trump captured the White House, some liberals have been all too willing to buy into promises that impeachment proceedings are just around the corner. An echo chamber of these claims seems to be expanding and shows no signs of slowing down. 

Unfounded reports and theories are set free on the internet each day, feeding the insatiable appetite of a large, fervently anti-Trump audience. Bits of real news, like the FBI raid in Annapolis, are often taken out of context and plugged into large webs with Trump and Russia at the center.

It's an ironic twist. The left spent years mocking conservatives for subscribing to the anti-Obama theories drawn out on Glenn Beck's chalkboard. They smirked as their political opposites consumed news from less-than-reliable sources online. 

Now liberals have their own problem -- one that doesn't appear to be going away.

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