National Security & Foreign Policy

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  • Report: Trump Chooses To Retain Former Fox Analyst Rather Than Hire Decorated Navy Veteran

    Retired Vice Adm. Harward Turned Down The Position After Being Informed Former Fox Analyst McFarland Could Not Be Fired

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Donald Trump’s top choice to replace ousted aide Michael Flynn as the next national security adviser, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has turned down the president’s offer reportedly because of “a dispute over staffing the security council.” According to CBS News’ Major Garrett, Harward declined the offer after Trump insisted that the current deputy national security adviser, former Fox News analyst KT McFarland, be retained.

    While Harward is a 38-year member of the Navy, formerly served as the deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, commanded a SEAL team, led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and worked on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, McFarland most recently worked as a national security analyst at Fox News. Throughout her tenure as a Fox News analyst she repeatedly praised Russian president Vladimir Putin, advocated for war with Iran, misled about the Iranian nuclear program, expressed support for torture, and made bizarre and incendiary statements about international terrorism, including blaming “political correctness” for the 2015 attack on France’s Charlie Hebdo.

    According to a report from CBS News, Harward “demanded his own team” to staff the National Security Council, which became a point of contention after Trump told “McFarland that she could retain her post.” Harward reportedly “refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.” From the February 16 CBS News report:

    Vice Admiral Robert Harward has rejected President Trump’s offer to be the new national security adviser, CBS News’ Major Garrett reports.

    Sources close to the situation told Garrett Harward and the administration had a dispute over staffing the security council.

    Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward Harward [sic] demanded his own team, and the White House resisted.

    Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.

  • Trump Team Uses Debunked Right-Wing Media Smear To Deflect From Russia Scandals

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    President Donald Trump and Sebastian Gorka, Trump's deputy assistant and the former national security editor for Breitbart.com, claimed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “approve[d] the sale of 20 percent of our uranium to Russia” in an attempt to deflect from the administration’s ongoing scandals involving Russia. The claim, which originally came from discredited Clinton Cash author and Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer, has been repeated by right-wing media but, repeatedly debunked by other sources. This is not the first time Trump has cited the debunked claim and Gorka has a history of pushing conspiracy theories.

  • NRATV Blames Trump's Russia Scandal On Plot By "Obama Loyalists" To "Destroy America From The Inside"

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    The National Rifle Association’s news program blamed the Trump administration’s growing Russia scandal on a “concerted effort with Obama loyalists” aiming to “undermine the president every step of the way” and “destroy America from the inside.”

    The New York Times reported on February 14 that according to four current and former U.S. officials, members of Trump’s presidential campaign “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials,” and that “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee.” The Times report came on the heels of a Washington Post article reporting that “national security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials.”

    That the NRA responded to the growing scandal with a baseless conspiracy theory is the latest evidence that the gun group is using its media arm as a pro-Trump propaganda tool.

    During the February 15 edition of NRATV’s Live Updates with Grant Stinchfield, host Grant Stinchfield claimed that the leaks are a “concerted effort with Obama loyalists” who are “trying to destroy America from the inside.” He went on to suggest that Congress should identify and purge the supposed Obama loyalists from government":

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): You know there’s a big issue in Washington now, all this discussion over what's been going on with Russia, the Trump administration, Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, who is now out. You've made a career of being able to communicate with people, many times being able to communicate with criminals. I believe what is going on in Washington is you have a concerted effort with Obama loyalists inside these bureaucratic agencies, from the Justice Department to the intelligence community, trying to undermine the president every step of the way. Is there anything Congress can do to root out those loyalists who are really, I believe, trying to destroy America from the inside?

    [...]

    STINCHFIELD: All right, so that brings us to the same Americans disrupting service -- many are still operating inside government. Is there a way to get -- to root those out? Especially these ones who are issuing these leaks to The New York Times, no less. How do you root them out?

    Stinchfield previously claimed that President Obama accomplished his secret plan to “inflict harm on America.”

    NRATV, a rebranding of NRA News that launched in October with the stated mission of providing “the most comprehensive video coverage of Second Amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world,” has repeatedly gone to extreme lengths, including pushing blatant falsehoods, to defend President Trump and his actions. The outlet frequently attacks the press on behalf of Trump, even going so far as to label protected speech reporting on the president as a plot to destroy the United States, “anti-patriotic,” and an “assault against freedom and the Constitution.”

  • Trump Loyalist Outlets Claim Flynn Is The Victim Of His Resignation

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Pro-Trump propaganda outlets are rushing to paint President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as the victim in his February 13 resignation, claiming that he was “the subject of a concerted attack” and that “the fake news media had been going after Flynn for months.” But Flynn’s resignation came after reports indicated that he may have violated the Logan Act during his communications with Russia.

  • Trump Calls On Only Right-Wing Outlets, Again Avoiding Questions About A Top Adviser Possibly Breaking Federal Law

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    For his second straight press conference, President Donald Trump called on only conservative reporters, this time during a joint presser with the Canadian prime minister. By responding solely to friendly press, Trump avoided answering any questions about reports that national security adviser Michael Flynn may have violated federal law.

    Reporters have been questioning whether Flynn can retain his job after multiple current and former American officials told The New York Times that he discussed lifting Russian sanctions with the country’s ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration -- a potential violation of the Logan Act, “which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments in disputes involving the American government.” Vice President Mike Pence previously denied that Flynn had discussed this topic, but his assurance relied solely on Flynn’s recollection of the conversation.

    During Trump’s February 13 press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reporters had a chance to ask the president about this pressing issue, but Trump skirted that possibility by calling on only reporters for conservative outlets friendly to Trump -- Scott Thuman of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s WJLA, the Washington, D.C., affiliate of ABC, and Kaitlan Collins of The Daily Caller, a pro-Trump outlet founded by Trump shill Tucker Carlson.

    During the election, Sinclair reportedly struck a deal with the Trump campaign to “secure better media coverage” in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Thuman, who is also a political correspondent for conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson’s Full Measure, asked Trump about how his philosophical differences with Trudeau would affect cooperation on trade and terrorism:

    The next question came from Collins, who also failed to ask about Flynn but did question Canada’s security measures surrounding refugees. Her previous work on refugees includes an article about Syrian refugees who she dubbed “Syria-sly hot,” suggesting governors opposed to allowing refugees into the country would change their minds if they saw these women:

    Many journalists criticized the selection of these reporters. Even Fox News’ national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, asked if the queries were “planted questions”:

    On CNN, Wolf Blitzer immediately followed the end of the presser by highlighting the lack of questions about Flynn’s future, explaining, “Presumably that’s what the White House wanted.” CNN’s Gloria Borger also questioned whether “they arranged that in advance.”

    The press conference with Trudeau followed a similar one from February 10 featuring Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where Trump also took questions from only two reporters representing a couple of conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets, the New York Post and Fox Business Network. Those reporters likewise avoided asking about Flynn, even though the reporting on his possible violation of the Logan Act had come out the previous day.

  • Legal Expert Trump Erroneously Cited To Defend Muslim Ban Actually Thinks Trump Is A Threat To Democracy

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The national security law expert miscited by President Donald Trump to criticize a court ruling against his administration is actually a frequent critic of the president who has called the president’s travel ban “malevolence tempered by incompetence.”

    Following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s February 9 unanimous ruling against the Trump administration that declined to reinstate the administration’s executive order targeting people from seven majority-Muslim countries, Trump attacked the decision by citing on Twitter a Lawfare article authored by the site’s editor-in-chief, Benjamin Wittes:

    Unfortunately for Trump, the article he cited actually reached the conclusion that the 9th Circuit “is correct to leave the [temporary restraining order] in place.” (ThinkProgress notes that Trump likely discovered the article by watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe, which had a segment highlighting the portion of the Lawfare article Trump referenced on Twitter.)

    Wittes, who is also a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, took to Twitter to ridicule Trump over other parts of his Lawfare article that Trump could have cited:

    Wittes also referenced his harsh critique of the travel ban executive order in a January 28 Lawfare article (headlined “Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence: Trump’s Horrifying Executive Order on Refugees and Visas”), where he wrote that “the malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly -- and perhaps only -- by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction”:

    He also shared some of his past criticism of the president, such as his routine argument that Trump is a threat to democracy in the United States:

    Wittes also called Trump’s patriotism into question after Trump held a July 2016 press conference where he encouraged Russia to commit espionage against his then-opponent Hillary Clinton. In a July 27 article, Wittes wrote, “I am pretty careful about not questioning people's patriotism, but when a presidential candidate calls on a foreign intelligence service to engage in operations against the United States, he leaves us little choice.” That same day he co-authored another article that described Trump as a “useful idiot” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that Trump “has taken public positions exceedingly favorable to Russia and far outside of the American mainstream.”

  • Morning Shows Largely Ignore Trump Adviser's Possibly Illegal Communications With Russia

    Fox News And NBC Ignored The Reports, While CNN’s Coverage Led The Way

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Morning news programs on cable and broadcast television largely ignored reports that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn seemingly engaged in “inappropriate and potentially illegal” communications with the Russian government, spending less than 30 minutes on it across 15 hours of programming.

    The Washington Post reported on February 9 that Flynn “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office.” The Post explained that “Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin.” The New York Times pointed out that the conversations “raise the prospect that Mr. Flynn violated a law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy, and directly contradict statements made by Trump advisers.”

    However, the story was all but neglected on morning shows across broadcast and cable news networks, with the exception of CNN. The February 10 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today spent a combined total of 2 minutes and 26 seconds on the story, with Good Morning America spending 1 minute and 32 seconds on it and CBS This Morning devoting only 54 seconds to the story. The story wasn’t mentioned at all on NBC’s Today.

    On cable news, Fox News’ Fox & Friends also spent no time on the reports during the February 10 edition. MSNBC’s Morning Joe barely fared better, discussing the story for only 3 minutes and 3 seconds during the three hour show. CNN’s New Day, on the other hand, led the pack, spending 20 minutes and 2 seconds discussing the new reports.

    Fox News and NBC’s decisions to ignore a story that is problematic for the Trump administration on their morning shows also fits into their patterns of providing favorable coverage to Trump and normalizing his incredibly abnormal administration.

    During the campaign, broadcast and cable news were reluctant to devote a significant amount of time to investigative reports about Trump and those around him. Instead, outlets consistently allowed Trump to hijack the media narrative and drown out negative coverage through his tweets and antics.

    Graphs by Sarah Wasko