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    Paul Manafort, Donald Trump, and the weight of misinformation

    The Trump White House is shrouded in a fog of misinformation so thick that it can sometimes be impossible to see in or out.

    But some of it cleared Monday.

    For months, the president and his fellow travelers in Congress and the press have fiercely objected to the idea that possible Russian interference in the 2016 election was worthy of investigation. To that end, they’ve put forward a steady stream of distortions and defamations, libel and lies.


    The president went so far as to fire the director of the FBI for his refusal to end an investigation that today put on record evidence of Russian involvement with his campaign.

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    Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his associate Rick Gates, were indicted on numerous charges, including acting as unregistered foreign agents of a client regime of Moscow and lying about it. Both pleaded not guilty.

    Responding to the indictments, the president reacted, as he so often done before, by tweeting that this was old news and that there was “no collusion.”

    At the same time, a second court filing dropped, revealing that one of Trump’s campaign advisors, George Papadopoulos, says he was in contact with Russians who said they had “thousands of emails” from Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to initially lying about it to the FBI.

    That revelation alone should render null and void objections to the existence of the Mueller probe.


    It’s a dismaying fact that the legitimacy of the special counsel has been under attack since it began in May with a writ to investigate “any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with” the Trump campaign.

    Those attacks have not come solely from the radical Make America Great Again brigade online. Five days ago, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal called on Mueller to resign. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are talking about cutting off funding to the special counsel’s office.

    Since the opening days of his presidency, when he sent his press secretary to lie about the size of his inaugural crowd, Trump and his allies have created “alternative facts” that provide supporters a common language for denying unpleasant truths.

    These “alternative facts” ricochet around conservative media and occasionally attain escape velocity into the mainstream press.

    These distractions — that the real story is a racy dossier, or a conniving deep state, or unmasking of Americans by the Obama administration, or a uranium deal, or an excuse Democrats cooked up for losing — should been seen for what it is: agitprop, designed to turn Americans against each other and distract them from the pursuit of the truth.


    And it is working: 46 percent of people recently surveyed say they think the news media actively fabricates negative stories about Trump.

    Neuroscience shows that our brains are capable of handling a limited amount of misinformation but they can’t resist it in a deluge of dishonesty. We’re seeing the same thing play out with our democratic institutions — from the press to Congress and the courts — struggling to handle the volume of disinformation being thrown around, whatever the source.

    Of course, many Americans enthusiastically believe the lies that they’ve been told, taking comfort in a dose of partisan dopamine. There’s a horserace quality to political “whataboutism” that demands sustained attention from the target audience — to the exclusion of common sense.

    But charades can’t continue indefinitely. Manafort, Gates, and Papadopoulos were each cited for lying to the FBI — a crime.

    There’s no law against presidents lying. Surely all have done so at one time or another. Yet no other president, no other administration has been so consciously and routinely dishonest. That’s their right, of course. And it’s the right of voters to throw them out of office or reward them with re-election for it.

    But the more immediate problem with today’s revelations is that they show that the president, and some of those around him, can’t be trusted to speak the truth even when their freedom is at stake. While lying to the American people is free, lying to the FBI comes with a steep cost.

    Alex Kingsbury can be reached at alex.kingsbury@globe.com.