CNN  — 

President Donald Trump is deeply invested in the idea that there is a “Deep State” embedded within the government bureaucracy – and centered in the Department of Justice – which actively worked to defeat him in 2016 and then sought to undermine him once he won the presidency.

That conspiracy theory, which has never had much merit, suffered a near-fatal blow Friday afternoon when the Department of Justice declined to pursue criminal charges against former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. (McCabe is a CNN contributor.)

That decision ends a nearly-two-year investigation into whether McCabe, in his role as a senior official in the FBI, lied to investigators about conversations he had with reporters. McCabe had long insisted that if he had done so it had been purely accidental, and noted that, in his role, he was authorized to speak to the media.

Trump spent much of the investigation dumping on McCabe, a man who he insisted was, along with former FBI director James Comey, at the center of the “Deep State” conspiracy against him.

On the day McCabe was fired – less than two days before his planned retirement from the bureau – Trump tweeted this:

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

And he kept at it – month after month running through the names of his “Deep State” enemies and demanding legal action against them. Here’s one example from last fall after former Trump adviser Roger Stone was convicted for lying in regard to his role in the Russian interference mess:

“So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie? A double standard like never seen before in the history of our Country?”

Everywhere he went – White House, campaign trail, even foreign countries, Trump would recite his list. (It reminded me of nothing so much as Arya Stark’s list.) It was evidence, he clearly believed, of oodles of wrongdoing that, once exposed, would show how rotten to the core these people (and the institutions they led) really were.

Except, not so much. Because no one on Trump’s list has been criminally charged. Not one.

Sure, the anti-Trump text messages exchanged between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two FBI ofificials involved in the counter-intelligence operation into Russia interference in 2016, were inappropriate. But the Department of Justice inspector general, in a report released late last year, made clear Strzok did nothing to unduly bias or influence the investigation. And that same IG report also made clear that while there were mistakes made in the investigation at the lower levels of the FBI in regard to applications for a FISA warrant, it also made clear that these errors were not part of any sort of broader attempt to target Trump or his campaign. And now the news about McCabe.

Contrast that with this: The investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election led to 37 people and entities being charged, seven people pleading guilty and six people being sentenced to prison. That group includes a series of one-time close Trump advisers, including his campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his national security adviser Michael Flynn and his longtime confidante Michael Cohen.

Biiiiig difference, right? (And that’s even before we get to the number of Republican senators who acknowledged Trump had engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine but who voted not to remove him from office because they didn’t believe it to be an impeachable offense.)

None of these facts – up to and including the DOJ’s refusal to prosecute McCabe – will convince Trump or his supporters that they were and are wrong. But, make no mistake: The “Deep State” house of cards Trump built to distract from his own problems is collapsing, with the McCabe news Friday the latest structural blow to the crumbling edifice.