Civil Rights Activist Condemns CNN For Interviewing Joe Walsh After Apparent Threat To The President
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Right-wing media figures reacted to the July 7 shooting attack of 12 Dallas police officers with unhinged conspiracy theories and racially charged rhetoric.
In the wake of an attack on police officers in Dallas, TX, during a peaceful demonstration against the recent police shootings of two black men, the New York Post used the cover of its Friday edition to announce a "civil war." Media figures from across the political spectrum condemned the "utterly irresponsible" cover as "morally perverse and factually wrong."
Newt Gingrich, a Fox News contributor and reported leading contender to be Donald Trump’s running mate, has spammed his email list subscribers with sponsored emails claiming that “cancer was cured back in 1925” and the “actual cure” can be found through a subscription newsletter.
The people behind the Gingrich-sent emails have been criticized as pulling off “an unbelievable, immoral con job,” skirting “the line between spammy and scammy,” and using people’s “faith as a way to sell them bullshit ‘miracle’ cancer cures and nutritional supplements.”
Similar cancer “cure” emails were an issue during the Republican presidential primary when then-candidate Mike Huckabee was criticized for sending out sponsored emails from the same company, Health Revelations.
Gingrich served as House speaker during the 1990s and was “the first speaker of the House to be punished by the House for ethics violations,” according to CNN.com. His media work has crossed multiple ethical boundaries, including by posing conflicts of interest.
The Republican has attempted to cash in on his post-politics life by becoming a consultant and media personality. He has also made money by renting out his Gingrich Productions email list to shady entities. Gingrich list subscribers over the years have received supposed insider information about "Obama's 'Secret Mistress,'" a "weird" Social Security "trick," the Illuminati, and Fort Knox being "empty."
Among the shadiest sponsored emails from Gingrich are a series of missives touting claims that “cancer was cured back in 1925” and “the actual cure” for cancer can be found by ultimately subscribing to a newsletter for $74. The emails are from Health Revelations and Health Sciences Institute (HSI), which are both owned by NewMarket Health, LLC, a subsidiary of Agora, Inc.
Gingrich Productions sent a February Health Revelations email claiming to have “the TRUTH” about preventing cancer and deadly tumors.
The email linked to a pitch page claiming that “all cancers were cured back in 1925” but the government has been covering up the evidence. The email ultimately asks readers to subscribe to the Health Revelations newsletter, which costs $74 a year.
The following are screenshots of the pitch page and signup page:
In 2013, Gingrich’s list sent a similar email from Health Revelations which also claimed that “cancer was cured back in 1925” and a “God-fearing American doctor … gives the actual cure.”
In October and December 2015, Gingrich Productions sent an email from Health Sciences Institute claiming that “researchers investigating” the Bible have “unlocked a connection to a stunning cancer-fighting power... a breakthrough so monumental, it's poised to make traditional cancer therapies obsolete... and save millions of lives.” HSI is a subscription newsletter, which costs $74 a year.
HSI and Health Revelations have been heavily criticized by those who have examined their practices.
Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy profiled Health Sciences Institute and Agora and found that “Agora's emails skirt the line between spammy and scammy,” pointing to an email that HSI sent in 2014 which “claimed that the Obama administration was blocking a miracle cure that ‘vaporizes cancer in six weeks.’”
WAFF, NBC’s Huntsville, AL, affiliate, debunked Health Revelations' claims “that the cure for cancer -all cancers- is hidden specifically on page 859 on an ancient version of the King James Bible.” Ordained minister and cancer researcher Rob Seitz slammed Health Revelations, telling the station: "Our creator did not encode that. I think it is an unbelievable, immoral con job. … The most unethical thing we can do is to intentionally give cancer patients false hope in an attempt to get money from them."
WAFF also reported that it contacted the University of South Florida, which “supposedly conducted the studies on the Matthew 4 Protocol as touted by Brian Chambers with Health Revelations that proved the Bible's secret cure. The University of South Florida confirmed it ‘has done no such verification.’ They go on to say, ‘There is no way this is true and it is very disturbing that our name would be attached to this.’”
The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman, who has written for The Washington Post, The Week and Media Matters, commented in 2015 that Health Revelations is “another con artist, whose con is to use people's religious faith as a way to sell them bullshit ‘miracle’ cancer cures and nutritional supplements.”
FBI Director James Comey announced that he would not recommend criminal charges be filed against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. Right-wing media, echoing Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, soon baselessly accused Comey of excusing Clinton’s “gross negligence” in violation of the Espionage Act.
Amid allegations that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign is illegally soliciting donations from foreign nationals, new CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski claimed that it was actually “perfectly legal” because the individuals had "opted into" Trump’s email list. Lewandowski’s explanation suggests either he is misleading CNN's audience in order to defend Trump or he is ignorant on the issue.
Talking Points Memo reported on June 29 that elected officials from the U.K., Australia, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland have complained about receiving fundraising emails from Trump’s campaign. Talking Points Memo also reported that two watchdog groups announced they would be filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging “that the Donald Trump campaign has broken federal law by sending fundraising emails to foreign elected officials.”
CNN host Alisyn Camerota asked Lewandowski about the allegations and the FEC complaint on the July 1 edition of New Day, noting it’s “illegal to be soliciting donations from foreign leaders or foreigners.” Lewandowski claimed that it was “perfectly legal” because those who received a fundraising email “opted into” the campaign’s “email system.”
CNN has drawn extensive criticism for hiring Lewandowski as a political commentator after he was fired from the Trump campaign, due in part to questions over whether Lewandowski had signed a nondisclosure agreement before he left the campaign, which could prohibit him from criticizing the presumptive Republican nominee.
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Veteran journalists and media ethicists are slamming CNN for hiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, saying his hostile treatment of the press and the lack of clarity over whether he signed a non-disparagement agreement with the campaign make his hiring a “new high of immorality.”
Lewandowksi, who was fired by Trump on June 20, has long had a troubling relationship with reporters, including being investigated by police in March after grabbing the arm of reporter Michelle Fields, threatening to pull credentials of CNN’s own Noah Gray, and being accused of making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”
CNN has already been widely criticized for hiring Lewandowski. In interviews with Media Matters, several media observers and veteran journalists added their voices to the chorus, saying the move raises ethical issues and harms CNN’s credibility.
“CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski is problematic in a number of ways,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald. “First, and perhaps most important, is his failure to respond to the question about signing a non-disparagement agreement, which can only be interpreted as meaning that he did sign one.”
Lewandowski was asked in his first interview as an official CNN contributor whether he signed such an agreement, and he dodged the question.
“Unless and until he can counter that interpretation, he must be perceived as being totally compromised in his commentary -- put bluntly, a Trump shill,” Fiedler added. “But even putting that issue aside, the fact that CNN would give a prominent platform (not to mention a paycheck) to an individual whose personal and professional behavior includes bullying and misogyny at best and assault at worst, baffles me. Can his insights into the presidential campaign and into the candidates be so valuable as to enable CNN to overlook this well-documented record?”
Former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno, who is currently director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, said hiring Lewandowski is different from other former political operatives joining a network.
“In this case, CNN has hired an outspoken adversary of journalism,” Sesno said. “Someone who has challenged its role, attacked reporters and represented a candidate who was openly hostile to journalism and the First Amendment itself.”
Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University and author of the book New New Media, said hiring Lewandowski “is a new high of immorality in the relationship between our media and our political system.”
He later added, “It would be one thing if he had just been fired for whatever reason, things happen. As we know, and CNN covering all of the details, Corey Lewandowski was investigated" for the incident with Fields. "The police got into it, it was a serious issue and that combined with the fact that Lewandowski’s relationship with the Trump campaign even now isn’t clear.”
For Tim McGuire, former Arizona State University media professor and past president of American Society of News Editors, CNN’s hiring of Lewandowski is “profoundly disturbing. The terms of that agreement are crucial. If it truly is a non-disparagement agreement this hire is totally wrong.”
Clark Hoyt, former New York Times public editor and one-time Washington Bureau chief for Knight Ridder, said he was “surprised that any news organization with aspirations to credibility would hire Cory Lewandowski in any capacity.”
Hoyt also said, “His well-documented hostility to journalists and the role of a free press aside, he comes to his new role as a paid political commentator bound by some kind of contract with Donald Trump. Whether it contains a non-disparagement clause or not, it bars Lewandowski from disclosing exactly the kind of information that a news network should be trying to get to help inform voters. CNN ought to put up a disclaimer every time he appears on camera.”
Corey Lewandowski, who was fired on Monday from his position as campaign manager for Donald Trump, has been hired by CNN. The network reported earlier this week that Lewandowski likely signed a nondisclosure agreement that prevents him from disparaging the campaign in any way, throwing into question the type of commentary he will be paid to offer as a political commentator.
After Lewandowski gave an interview with CNN's Dana Bash about his exit from the campaign in which he lauded Trump, the network's senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, reported, "Anyone who works for the Trump campaign signs a nondisclosure agreement, so he cannot disparage or anything like that at all, not that he might be inclined to. I was struck during his interview with Dana how positive he was."
Bash told Lewandowski during the interview in question that "somebody tuning in to watch this might be thinking that they're on another planet because you're making it seem like everything was really great, and I get that that's your instinct because you've been so loyal to him, but it just doesn't make sense in a logical way."
"Conservatism is a racket for a lot of people to get very, very rich. With no thought of winning elections.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, 2012.
Journalists, who are fascinated by fundraising totals and are forever stressing their importance in terms of judging campaign strength, were gobsmacked to learn Trump has just over $1 million in his campaign coffers after raising just $3.1 million in May.
“The total is unbelievably paltry for a major party nominee,” reported The Huffington Post, which labeled Trump’s recently released campaign finance report a “dumpster fire.” By comparison, four years ago Mitt Romney’s campaign raised $23.4 million in May. And by comparison, Hillary Clinton raised $4.5 million in just one day of fundraising this month.
“Donald Trump’s May fundraising totals are disastrously bad,” announced a Washington Post headline.
But it’s not just Trump’s finances. It seems with every important campaign measurement -- staffing, get out the vote, communications, etc. -- Trump not only languishes; he barely competes.
It's certainly possible, given Trump's history and lack of political experience, that his campaign's problems stem largely from basic incompetence. But something else might be in play here.
Republicans have been staging modern White House campaigns for decades. Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re not, but the party always manages to build an apparatus and support system that’s designed to compete on the national stage. So why would that formula suddenly elude Trump? Why would this nominee not to be able to pull off Campaign 101 as the calendar readies its flip to July?
Just as importantly, why is Trump’s campaign pouring so much money into paying Trump’s own companies for goods and services?
Recipients of payments from Trump campaign with “Trump” in name, through May 31. Doesn’t include Mar-a-Lago/planes. pic.twitter.com/JF6skaWYGF
— Derek Willis (@derekwillis) June 21, 2016
Why would Trump, whose campaign is in crisis at home, set aside two days this week to fly to Scotland to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a golf resort? The answer, of course, is that Trump owns the luxury golf club.
Do the two red flags of Trump’s seeming unwillingness to commit resources to genuinely compete for the White House, combined with his desire to fill his companies’ own coffers, suggest that his campaign is actually some sort of large-scale scam or con? And if it is, is that how the press should cover his campaign and drop the assumption that the Trump run represents a traditional GOP march toward the White House?
It’s true that journalists are aggressively detailing his campaign’s many shortcomings. But most of the coverage suggests Trump and his team just haven’t mastered the campaign game, or that Trump’s simply too mercurial, which is causing trouble for him.
But if the whole endeavor turns out to be more focused on bolstering Trump’s brands and launching his future media career than mounting a serious campaign, shouldn’t that be reflected in the real-time coverage?
The crass self-dealing isn’t a new trend in the conservative movement. Media Matters has documented for years how fundraising scams remain a constant on the right, with high-profile media and political figures cashing in.
Ben Carson’s presidential campaign this year nicely captured the grifter angle as the candidate plowed a huge percentage of his fundraising donations into paying for more fundraising.
“It sure looks like Carson's campaign is a self-perpetuating machine in which money is raised to pay mostly for more money being raised — and the people doing the direct mail and phone calls are making out quite nicely,” noted The Week’s Paul Waldman last year. (This, while Carson gave lucrative paid speeches during the presidential campaign season.)
Trump now seems determined to further that dubious GOP tradition.
“When Trump flies, he uses his airplane. When he campaigns, he often chooses his properties or his own Trump Tower in New York City, which serves as headquarters. His campaign even buys Trump bottled water and Trump wine,” the Associated Press recently reported.
His campaign has been writing very large checks to Trump’s TAG Air, Trump Tower Commercial, the Trump Corporation, Trump’s private Mar-a-lago Club, Trump National Doral and Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, according to the AP. And "Trump's relentless product branding while on the campaign trail" might also be boosting the bottom lines of companies like Trump Ice, his bottled water company.
But again, it’s not just the obvious self-dealing within the Trump campaign that raises doubts about the possibility of a con. It’s also Trump’s refusal to mount an actual, physical campaign operation. “Trump essentially has no campaign at this point,” The Washington Post reported on June 20.
For instance, Trump has not aired any general election ads in eight key battleground states.
And speaking of swing states, Trump hasn’t been to the important swing state of Ohio since March, while Hillary Clinton made two Buckeye stops in the span of eight days this month. "Democrats say they now have 150 full-time employees on the ground in Ohio" working to help Clinton and state-level Democrats win their races. But “Trump doesn't have a campaign operation in Ohio,” CNN recently reported.
In May, Trump had just 69 paid staffers in total, compared to Clinton’s 685. Trump’s entire communication outreach effort seems to consist of Hope Hicks, “who is essentially the lone media contact for reporters,” MSNBC reported.
Ground game? Last week in Phoenix, Trump’s rally drew approximately 4,500 supporters to an arena that accommodates 15,000. As for Trump’s field organization, it consists of “a patchwork of aides, some paid, some retained on a volunteer basis and many left over from the Republican primaries,” according to CNN.
It would be one thing if Trump crassly touted and boosted his myriad businesses while running a muscular presidential run. But to try to cash in while running an at-times-invisible campaign certainly raises doubts about his pursuit.
If the whole thing is built to be a con, shouldn’t the press say so?
Fox News figures are praising network contributor Newt Gingrich as a “great choice” for Donald Trump’s running mate. They have touted Gingrich -- the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to be punished by the House for ethics violations -- as “a genius,” “a conservative with bona fides,” and someone who would “bring tremendous stability, tremendous gravitas, incredible intellect,” and “judgment experience.”
In April, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters released Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. The book lays out the “carefully concealed but ever-growing industry of organized misinformation that exists to create and disseminate lies in the service of political agendas.”
I recently spoke with Rabin-Havt about the group of people -- and their enablers -- feeding false narratives into the media, how we’ve entered an era “where truth doesn’t exist,” and how to fix the problem.
The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The book is titled Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. What does that refer to?
Well it refers to two things. It refers to a group of people who I found in this book are at the center of creating a lot of the lies you see permeating through the conservative media. A group of people who have come up with everything from death panels to the notion that children raised by LGBT couples have worse outcomes than children raised by straight couples. It’s a recognition that a group of people exists to create lies for both ideological and financial profit with the express intent of distorting the public policy process. That’s Lies, Incorporated.
The post-truth refers to the fact that because of this group and because of the media environment that this group feeds off of, we now exist in a world where truth doesn’t exist. Where there’s a truth on the right and a truth on the left, and instead of having debates about issues, we have debates about what is true and what is false, and that’s not a debate that advances us as a country.
And this is a group that not a lot of people realize exists, with an agenda to argue against the facts?
Sometimes a group of people, “experts,” who are paid to create the facts, who are paid to manufacture the facts with the express intent -- and this is what’s interesting -- not of advancing their cause, but of taking us to a draw, keeping us at the status quo. It’s not about advancing an ideology, it’s about keeping everything locked in place.
Because there are certain people who benefit from that, whether it’s a certain political party, or a certain business?
It’s a certain ideology, it’s a certain business, it’s a certain faction, it’s sometimes a group of people. Sometimes the issues are barely connected. A lot of the scientists who worked against the notion that tobacco causes cancer had issues that were completely unrelated. Some were cold warriors who simply believed that any regulation was a step towards communism. One prominent tobacco scientist was a eugenicist who believed that cancer was caused by genetics and therefore couldn’t be caused by tobacco.
The book opens with the story that in 1957 the tobacco industry really started it.
The tobacco industry, they were patient zero here, they really launched this world. What happened is the barons of the tobacco industry met at the Plaza Hotel with John Hill, who was the head of Hill & Knowlton, the legendary public relations firm. John Hill sat them down and said, “You have to stop this advertising that says our cigarettes are the healthiest, you have to cut that out. What we need you to do is start arguing with the science that says cigarettes are unhealthy. And how you do that is we form this Tobacco Industry Research Committee and we do our own science that speaks to our needs.”
What’s interesting is John Hill knew cigarettes are unhealthy. How do we know that? Because John Hill quit smoking prior to this meeting because of its impact on him.
You cover a lot of issues in the book, such as cigarettes, climate change, guns, immigration, and abortion. Which issues among the ones in the book seem to have the biggest offenders?
They’re all very different. The thing I would like to look at is that these lies have an impact on people. We think about death panels for example. This woman, Betsy McCaughey, made up death panels.
That was in the Affordable Care Act debate.
That was horrible, right? But the truth is why it’s horrible is because people aren’t getting insurance today because of that lie. Who isn’t? Well, there was a story in the Washington Post that quoted two women who qualified for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but weren’t getting it and were paying out of pocket for expensive out-of-pocket costs and when they asked them why, one put her fingers in the shape of a gun and implied that it was death panels.
You cite several conservative outlets from Fox News to The Daily Caller to Breitbart. What is the role that the right-wing media have in spreading these lies?
Some of it is laziness, some of it is people are biased towards lies that conform to their world views and confirm their world views. They make us comfortable, they make us feel good. We go to media that doesn’t educate us, that makes us feel good about living in our own world.
My friend Clay Johnson wrote a book a few years back called The Information Diet. In it, he talks about how pizza tastes better than broccoli. If you had a pizza pie in front of you and a plate of steamed broccoli, which one do you want to eat? Well, 99 percent of people want to eat the pizza. But we know that you can’t just eat pizza, you need to eat your broccoli, too. The fact is, we know that in our food diets. On our information diets, people believe and just ingest only pizza, and that’s part of the problem.
Has that gotten better or worse in recent years?
I think it’s gotten worse. Part of the reason is we have a media structure now where you don’t have to get any information other than the information you want.
Our world now is a world of unlimited bandwidth. Which in the end it is better to have more voices in the process, it’s better to have a world where somebody can create a site like Daily Kos, like Breitbart and rise up based on the ability to attract an audience -- that’s not a bad thing. The question is, if your only source of news is somebody like Breitbart, it’s going to distort your world view.
Why do you think the Lies, Incorporated group has so much success with these right-wing outlets?
Sometimes they work for them. You look at certain right-wing outlets, and you’ll see members of Lies, Incorporated writing and working for them. Sometimes it’s because these liars are spreading lies that conform to that world view. And part of that is, a lot of this world blossomed over the past seven years. In the past seven years, we had a Democrat in the White House who was pushing for change that leaned progressive, which meant the people fighting that change were conservative, which meant Lies, Incorporated, whose goal is to keep the status quo in place, was fighting against that. I think that creates the world that you’re talking about.
How much does the mainstream media enable these lies?
I think they occasionally do. I think some of it is when you have the ‘he said-she said’ version of reporting, it enables the lies. It’s also enabling to the lies to sometimes just broadcast them in general. Putting Betsy McCaughey on TV at all, even if you’re doing it to call her out, enables her lies. The question is, how do you then structure your coverage, and this is part of the solution, is media need to bear responsibility for broadcasting lies and for putting liars on television. And when they do, this will help to start to solve this problem.
You mention false equivalency in the book, in which every story has to have two equal sides.
Sometimes I feel like public policy stories end up getting covered like AP sports stories. An AP sports story has a similar model every time. Two teams played, this was the score, quote from winning team, quote from losing team, close story. When you try to cover public policy that way, you invariably end up injecting lies into the equation.
People can have differences of opinion. We can look at similar data and have a different view on what that data means. That happens all the time. And there should be differences and we should have a debate about those differences. And we should come to the best conclusions. But the data should be the data and should be upheld and truth should be truth and we should hold it up and we shouldn’t allow people to inject lies in just because they’re doing it under the cover of politics.
Which lies are the worst culprits on the false equivalency?
The one that I think rises above all else is climate change, where the false equivalency for years put climate deniers who had no standing in the scientific community at the same level as scientists and in fact advanced some climate deniers further because they weren’t interested in science and accuracy, they were interested in spinning politics.
Why does it still stick when there is overwhelming scientific agreement that there is man-made climate change?
The lies are sticky, when people believe what they believe it is very difficult to convince people to look at truth when they have a firmly held belief in their head.
What is the way to counter this?
Part of it is a media solution, not giving liars a platform to lie and not allowing them to grow in the media. Part of it is making sure there is a transparency in how issues are covered. Part of it is making sure we don’t cover public policy like we’re covering basketball.
If we did those three things alone, it would weaken Lies, Incorporated because the practitioners of Lies, Incorporated are hackers, they’re hackers of our small “d” democratic process.
Hackers exploit weakness in computer systems. These democracy hackers exploit weakness in our media and public policy systems recognizing that they can inject themselves into the debate. Like a patch on a piece of computer software, by closing those loopholes and vulnerabilities, we can shut them out of the system.
How are these liars making money doing this?
Some of it is grant money from conservative institutions, some of it is speaking fees, some of it is writing a best-selling book. Some of it is they hold positions that allow them to make money and do this ideologically. Some of them are independently wealthy.
What is the biggest surprise people might find from the book?
How interconnected this world is. How all these people kind of all come from the same kernel. How all of this is an interconnected web designed to distort democracy. And how we actually, this is going on behind the scenes and how little coverage it gets.
A political reporter for the New York Observer has quit, citing the paper’s close relationship with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Ross Barkan, the paper’s national political reporter, made his announcement on his Twitter account, writing, “Personal news: I'm announcing today that my last day at the New York Observer will be April 27th.”
Barkan told Politico that the Observer’s recent endorsement of Trump – along with The National Enquirer, the only papers to do so – was a factor in his decision: “It was a decision I’ve been wrestling with for more than a day and more than a week. I didn’t expect [the endorsement] was coming. It blindsided me.”
Jared Kushner, the owner of the paper, is married to Ivanka Trump (Trump’s eldest daughter).
Barkan also criticized Observer editor in chief Ken Kurson for helping Kushner write Trump’s March 21 AIPAC speech. Barkan said, “The AIPAC situation was very troubling. Anyone knows that an editor in chief should not be reviewing the speech of a presidential candidate. I don’t care if it’s Trump or Bernie Sanders.”
He told Politico that the “AIPAC situation did not please” the rest of the Observer’s politics desk, including political editor Jill Jorgensen and reporter Will Bredderman.
When it was first reported that the Observer had a hand in writing Trump’s speech, the Huffington Post noted that it “raises questions of conflict of interest given that he also oversees election coverage.” Kurson told Huffington Post: “It’s a complicated world and I don’t intend to let the eleven people who have appointed themselves the journalist police tell me, at age 47, how to behave or to whom I’m allowed to speak.”
In 2014, ice cream shop manager and political science major Bill Gifford told the New York Times that Kurson had approached him to write “a smear piece” about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is suing Trump over his controversial Trump University business.
Gifford declined to write the piece, but the Observer later published a piece the Times described as “a searing, 7,000-word indictment of Mr. Schneiderman, portraying him as vindictive and politically opportunistic” that “also included a robust defense of Donald J. Trump.”