President Donald Trump has seized on a conspiracy theory that Democrats, not Russia, hacked themselves as an "insurance policy" in case he won the 2016 election.
NBC News reporter Ben Collins explained to MSNBC's "Morning Joe" how the conspiracy has percolated on right-wing blogs and message boards and then were pushed out by Fox News host Sean Hannity and more mainstream websites like The Hill, and eventually ended up on the president's desk.
"The insurance policy is this theory," Collin said, "and the goal of it is to say that the DNC -- just bear with me here -- the DNC hacked itself so just in case in 2019, if Donald Trump got elected, in 2019, they could impeach him. That's the premise of this conspiracy theory, and that's why you see these sort of globetrotting missions from (Attorney General William) Barr, from Secretary (Mike) Pompeo and things like that."
The impeachment inquiry is based, in large part, on Trump's orders to top administration officials to dig up evidence in other countries to fit the "insurance policy" theory.
"They're trying to retroactively fit evidence to fit this conspiracy theory," Collins said, "because if Russia didn't hack the DNC, who did it? In its stead, it's like this Illuminati like thing, it's like a global cabal, and it's the 'Deep State.'"
Trump and his allies claim that Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the Ukrainian ambassador were among the conspirators, and Collins said the theory shows how much influence right-wing fringes had over official White House policy.
"This is completely bonkers," Collin said. "It's been debunked at every turn. But the point is to absolve the Russians and make it look like this 'Deep State' thing goes much deeper than you'd ever imagine."
"It's tied to basically far-right extremism and its sister sites," he continued. "That started there. It percolates up, goes to things like Reddit and then to blogs that people like Rudy Giuliani read. You saw him on Fox News reading this blog that no one's ever heard of. That sort of thing winds up on the desk the president at the end of the day."
"Why? Because it's something that can serve him," Collins added. "It's something that can provide him an alternate narrative that makes it look like he won the election super cleanly, that he actually won with a popular vote. So that's the innocent explanation of this."