National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • Trump’s Immigration Order Targeting Muslims Is Greeted With Praise By Conservative Media And Dismay By Experts

    ACLU: The “Intent To Discriminate On The Basis Of Religion, Even Hidden Behind Pretextual Religious Neutrality, Violates The Establishment Clause And Equal Protection”

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The executive action President Donald Trump has signed to limit immigration of refugees from a group of majority-Muslim countries was condemned by national security experts and media figures when he initially floated them. Those experts have noted that Trump’s plans are unconstitutional and antithetical to American values and that they would cost the U.S. billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

  • STUDY: Evening Cable News Devoted Nearly 250 Segments To Wikileaks Emails In The 5 Weeks Before The Election

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ROB SAVILLO

    In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.

    After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.

    Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.

    Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

    In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”

    And Trump wasn’t alone.

    Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)

    Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.

    Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.

    Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).

    CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).

    On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.

    The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.

    USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.

    As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study[] Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”

    Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”

    The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:

    I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.

    The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).

    Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.

    For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.

    We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.

    For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”

  • Joe Scarborough Shut Down By Sen. McCain After Claiming Sleep Deprivation Isn’t Torture

    Scarborough: “I See Absolutely No Problem About Doing A Study On 'Enhanced Interrogation' Techniques"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On the January 25 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough complained that “suddenly” so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” became “abhorrent” after public outcry over abuses during the George W. Bush administration. After it was reported that President Trump may sign an executive order that would “order a review of the Army Field Manual to determine whether to use certain enhanced interrogation techniques” again, Scarborough said that he “see[s] absolutely no problem about doing a study on enhanced interrogation techniques.” He added later in the segment that “there has been such a broad brush put across this entire topic of, quote, ‘torture.’ Suddenly sleep deprivation is torture.”

    In the final hour of his show, Scarborough, who previously told a former naval intelligence official that he was wrong in saying that waterboarding doesn’t work, asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who experienced torture, to “define torture,” inquiring whether “sleep deprivation and other techniques like that” in fact “fit” McCain’s personal “definition of torture.” McCain shut Scarborough down, stating unequivocally that “extreme sleep deprivation is certainly not allowed and, again, it is very clear and laid out” in both the Geneva Conventions and the Army Field Manual:

    SCAROROUGH: Can you define torture? Because -- I was saying this morning, we had this discussion at 6 o'clock -- there has been a broad brush, and everything from waterboarding all the way back to sleep deprivation, basically anything outside the Army Field Manual. And certainly the definition of torture became very expansive post-2005, 2006. What's your definition of torture, and does sleep deprivation fit -- and other techniques like that -- does that fit in your definition of torture?

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Yeah, obviously some of it depends on the extent of it, but I can tell you it's the Geneva Conventions for the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Joe, after World War II, we tried and convicted and hung Japanese who had -- and one of the charges against them was waterboarding. And soo look, there is no doubt, just look at the Geneva Conventions, which we are signatories to, for treatment of prisoners, and you will see that it's very well laid out there, and waterboarding is one of those that is prohibited. And I'm entertained, and sometimes frustrated, when I have members of the Senate say, oh, well, I don't think waterboarding is that bad. It's one thing to do it in practice in one of our escape innovation schools. It's something else when it's real.

    SCARBOROUGH: I understand, that's why I'm asking you -- we understand waterboarding -- General Mattis and I think Mike Pompeo, others, said they would not follow through with orders on that. I'm asking on the other side of the spectrum, though, pushing back towards the Army Field Manual for things like sleep deprivation.

    MCCAIN: Well, again, it's laid out in the Army Field Manual, which is guided by the Geneva Conventions. Extreme sleep deprivation is certainly not allowed and, again, it is very clear and laid out, and I'd be glad to send it to you. There's a bright line.

    SCARBOROUGH: That would be awfully kind of you. I'd be sure to read it, or I'll just look at it on the internet.

  • NY Times Remains Embroiled In Controversy Over Its 2016 Coverage Of Russia And Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Nearly three months after The New York Times published an influential report on the eve of Election Day insisting “law enforcement officials” had been unable to find concrete links between Russia and the Trump campaign – or find proof Russian operatives were trying to help get Trump elected -- Times editors are still grappling with the controversial coverage. They also remain slow to provide answers to critics who wonder how an article essentially clearing Trump and his associates of links to Russia -- which “hasn’t aged well,” as Chris Hayes put it -- made it into print during such a crucial juncture of the campaign.

    New questions have also been raised about the Times’ decision late in the campaign to sit on the story that Russian officials may have compromising information on Trump; information that was contained in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official.

    Times executive editor Dean Baquet remains defiant and is lashing out at critics; even one who writes for the Times.

    As for Russia allegedly trying to help elect Trump, Media Matters recently highlighted the Times’ October 31 article, which was headlined, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.”

    We noted that an avalanche of revelations have since confirmed the FBI did suspect there were ties between Russia and Trump during the campaign. And when it was published, it was gleefully endorsed by the conservative media as proof that any speculation of there being Russia-Trump connection had been debunked by Times.

    In real time, coming on the eve of the election, the article helped put the media brakes on the unfolding Russian hacking story; the same Russian hacking story that has since turned into a full-time Trump controversy.

    Last Friday, Times public editor Liz Spayd addressed the Times’ Russia-Trump coverage from last fall. Overall, she critiqued the paper’s work as being “timid,” and too often relying on the actions of law enforcement officials, rather than by the paper’s own investigative reporting.

    She was specifically critical of the paper’s handling of the explosive Trump dossier story, noting, “Only after learning from CNN that Trump and President Obama had been briefed on the document did The Times publish what it had known for months.”

    What had the Times known for months? Spayd spells out that Times reporters knew about the dossier, they interviewed its author, knew he was a legitimate former intelligence officer, and could find no “significant red flags” while trying to fact-check the dossier. Despite all that, the Times sat on the dossier story.

    Spayd suggests that part of the reason they didn’t run with the “explosive allegations” was that journalists didn’t think Trump was going to win the election, so the paper didn’t want to risk sparking a controversy by reporting on the dossier.

    Spayd’s appraisal echoes criticism she made last November, just days before the election, when she stressed the Times newsroom hadn’t given enough time and attention to the Russia hacking story. Times readers, she wrote, had been “shortchanged.” (By contrast, she noted the Times newsroom seemed “turbocharged” while covering the Hillary Clinton email saga.)

    The public editor’s most recent critique immediately sparked outcry from within the Times, leading to the odd spectacle of executive editor Baquet airing his complaints about Spayd’s column to the Washington Post. Denouncing Spayd’s critique as a “bad column” that reached a “fairly ridiculous conclusion” (“she doesn’t understand what happened”), Baquet vigorously defended the paper’s election season work on the Russia-Trump story, and stressed that he personally oversaw much of it.

    If that’s the case, Baquet should be able to answer some key, lingering questions about the Times’ misguided October 31 story about there being no evidence of Russia trying to help elect Trump during the campaign:

    • Does Baquet know who the unnamed “law enforcement” sources were who mislead the newspaper about the FBI not being to uncover any evidence of any Russia-Trump link?
    • If those sources lied to the Times, and especially if they did so for partisan reasons, does Baquet agree that the paper is under no obligation to protect their identity?
    • And were those sources part of an anti-Clinton cabal within the FBI, and specifically within the FBI’s New York bureau?
    • Are Times reporters today still using those untrustworthy sources?

    Banquet’s continued defensive posture is reminiscent of the strategy Times editors took in the wake of the Iraq War in 2003 when it became increasingly clear that the paper’s pre-war coverage had failed badly, especially its over-eagerness to help the Bush administration sell a story about the looming threat of Iraq WMDs. For a year, Times editors defended the paper’s performance.

    It wasn’t until May 26, 2004, that the Times published a mea culpa of sorts. (Days later, the paper’s public editor offered up a scathing critique of the newsroom’s effort during the run-up to the war.)

    Today, Banquet is taking the same approach regarding the Times and the Russian hacking story: The newspaper did nothing wrong and all questions ought to be dismissed.

    But they’re not. From Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama:

    Public editor Spayd made a good-faith effort to put the Times’ 2016 Russia-Times hacking coverage into perspective and to offer up an honest appraisal. It would be helpful if the Times leadership did the same.

  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.

  • When The New York Times Helped Trump By Putting The Brakes On The Russian Hacking Story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Talk about strange bedfellows joining forces to produce an unlikely media alliance.

    That’s what happened when The New York Times reported on October 31, 2016, that FBI officials had not been able to uncover any evidence that Russian operatives, through allegedly hacking Democratic emails, were trying to help elect Donald Trump.

    “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” read the October 31 Times headline which relied on unnamed “law enforcement officials.”  

    Acting as an almost unofficial time-out, and one that came with the Times’ seal of approval, the article helped put the media brakes on the unfolding Russian hacking story; the same Russian hacking story that has now morphed into a full-scale Trump scandal.

    The message on October 31 from the Times’ sources was unmistakable: There’s no conclusive connection between Trump and the Russians, and the Russians’ efforts were “aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.” (Question: How do you not pick sides in a two-person election if you only undermine one of the candidates, the way Russian hackers only undermined the Democrat?)

    The Times piece set off audible cheers within the conservative media, which usually holds the Times in contempt for its supposed “liberal media bias.”

    In fact, pointing to the newspaper’s alleged Democratic leanings, conservative claimed that if even the liberal New York Times determined there was no Trump-Russia story, then it definitely must be true.

    “And as far as liberals are concerned, the Democrats are concerned, when the New York Times clears you, you are cleared,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on November 1. “The New York Times carries as much weight as the FBI, and if the New York Times says there’s nothing to see between Trump and Russia and Putin, then there’s nothing to see.” 

    All across the conservative media landscape, the Times report was held up as putting the Trump-Russia story to bed.

    However, to suggest the Times’ influential October 31 report “hasn’t aged well,” as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently put it, may be an understatement, as the unfolding hacking scandal continues to gain momentum and more evidence tumbles out regarding claims that Russians were trying to help Trump. (Hayes also correctly recalled that "At the same time the FBI was leaking like a sieve about Clinton, people around it went out of their way to dampen the Putin talk.")

    The problems with the Times article are many. First off, Sen. Harry Reid’s spokesman claimed that Reid had been interviewed for the Times’ article, pushed back against its timid premise about there being no connection, and that Reid’s comments were omitted from the story. 

    More recently, we’ve seen all kinds of information revealed that contradicts the Times’ often-quoted October 31 report. For instance, FBI Director James Comey testified in December that Russia had “hacked into Republican state political campaigns and old email domains of the Republican National Committee,” but did not release information from those hacks. As Reuters pointed out, that allegation “may buttress the U.S. intelligence view that Moscow tried to help Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign.”

    More recently, the BBC reported that “a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump's organisation or his election campaign.” Also last week, the Guardian reported that FBI investigators were so concerned with a possible Trump-Russia connection that they asked for a foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) warrant to monitor Trump aides during the campaign. (The warrant request was reportedly denied.)

    Meanwhile, Britain’s The Independent reported that the former intelligence officer who wrote the recently revealed Trump dossier was frustrated that the FBI had “for months” ignored the information he passed along to the bureau about a possible Trump-Russian connection.

    Note that just four weeks after the election, the Times itself reported, “Both intelligence and law enforcement officials agree that there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the Russian hacking was primarily aimed at helping Mr. Trump and damaging his opponent.” (Emphasis added.)

    And from NPR: “FBI, CIA Agree That Russia Was Trying To Help Trump Win The Election.”

    Here’s the larger context for the Times report and why it was seen as such a game-changer at the time.

    On October 31, the FBI was dealing with two breaking news stories that were spinning out of its control and reflecting poorly on Comey.

    The bureau was under withering criticism from legal experts, journalists, Democrats, and even some Republicans after Comey inserted insert himself into the final days of the campaign by informing Congress that the FBI was reigniting its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state. That last weekend in October the bureau was also battling damaging news stories that suggested its leadership had been slow to respond to the Russian hacking controversy as it pertained to Donald Trump. 

    Comey’s letter to Congress about the emails was dispatched October 28. In the days that followed, a steady stream of revelations undercut his actions. On October 30, CNN reported that the FBI had known about the new emails for “weeks” before Comey decided to go public with the information just days before the election. 

    The following day, news outlets reported that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) had sent Comey a blistering letter , insisting the FBI director was sitting on “‘explosive’ information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government.”

    That same day, Mother Jones, foreshadowing the news last week about a dossier collected on Trump, reported that, “a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country” had provided to the FBI with “memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump—and that the FBI requested more information from him.”

    And that same day, CNBC reported, “FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election.”

    The contrast was startling: Comey had publicly reinvigorated the Clinton email investigation based on emails the FBI hadn’t even read (the emails turned out to be irrelevant), yet at the same time Comey allegedly sat on new information regarding claims that Trump had ongoing ties with Russia because Comey thought the optics would look bad.

    Given all this, the FBI needed a way to stop the public relations bleeding. And late in the day on October 31, the Times provided the respite. 

    Specifically, the article helped push back on reports Comey didn’t want to go public with any Russian information close to Election Day.

    “The reason Comey didn’t announce the existence of this investigation wasn’t because it was it was ‘explosive’ and could impact the election,” announced the conservative site, Hot Air, pointing to the Times article. “It was because the FBI had already figured out it was a dud.” 

    In other words, FBI PR problem solved. The problems with the Times report, however, were just beginning.

  • Media Reports Contradict Top Trump Aide: FBI Director Briefed Trump On Alleged Russian Dossier

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN and CBS are now reporting that FBI Director James Comey did, in fact, brief President-elect Donald Trump on unsubstantiated claims that Russians have a dossier of information against him. The information corroborates earlier CNN reporting that intelligence chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him. According to The Hill:

    FBI Director James Comey briefed President-elect Donald Trump on a two-page summary of an unverified dossier claiming Russia had compromising information on the real estate mogul, CNN reported Thursday.

    That contradicts claims by members of Trump’s transition team and other news outlets that intelligence officials never briefed Trump on the two-page addendum to a classified report given to President Obama and leaders in Congress about Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election.

    From the January 12 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:

    SCOTT PELLEY (HOST): Sources tell CBS News that F.B.I. Director James Comey personally briefed President-elect Trump last Friday about scandalous tales about Mr. Trump that were never proven, and were nonetheless attached to an official U.S. intelligence report. Major Garrett has been looking into this.

    MAJOR GARRETT: CBS News has confirmed that Christopher Steele, seen in this photo, produced the memo containing unsubstantiated claims that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about President-elect Donald Trump. Steele is a former British intelligence officer who works for Orbis Business Intelligence, a private investigation firm in London. Orbis was originally hired by Fusion G.P.S., a D.C.-based research firm working for an unknown client. The unverified claims circulated widely in political and media circles. Last week, the U.S. intelligence community included a summary of the information in a classified briefing with Mr. Trump, who said the memo was phony.

    DONALD TRUMP: I think it's disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. And that's something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.

    GARRETT: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper phoned Mr. Trump last night. In a statement, Clapper said he expressed his "profound dismay" at the leaks and emphasized the unverified document is not a U.S. intelligence community product. President Obama and Vice President Biden also received the briefing. On MSNBC, the vice president was asked if including the claims was appropriate.

    JOE BIDEN: It was their obligation to inform not only us, but the President-elect that this was out there, so that it didn't come out of the blue and have any impact on-- on the conduct of our foreign policy.

    GARRETT: House Speaker Paul Ryan told CBS News he understands Mr. Trump's frustration, calling the leaks and subsequent media frenzy unfair. But, Scott, the speaker said he would not have suggested U.S. intelligence agencies used Nazi tactics in this or any other matter.

    From the January 12 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:

    ERIN BURNETT (HOST): We begin with breaking news. U.S. Officials tell CNN the FBI director James Comey personally briefed Donald Trump on unsubstantiated claims that the Russians may have compromising information on Trump. Now, Comey had a brief, one-on-one conversation with the President-elect last Friday during an intelligence briefing.

    The FBI Director at that time presented Trump with a two-page synopsis of the Russian claims. The nation's top intelligence chiefs have decided that Comey would be the one who would handle this sensitive discussion. Now, this is a very significant development because it appears to contradict what Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, has been saying over the past several days.

    [...]

    BURNETT: Evan Perez is part of the team that broke this story, he's OutFront tonight. As Evan, as we said, a significant development because you heard Kellyanne, they said that this briefing didn't happen. You are reporting it was a one-on-one conversation between James Comey and the president-elect, and it did happen.

    EVAN PEREZ: It did, and this helps correct the record, really, of what exactly happened here. Now, we know there were four intelligence chief who is met with the President-elect last Friday. The purpose of this briefing overall was to bring him up to date on the findings of the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, the 2016 presidential election.

    Now, at the end of this, the four chiefs were finishing their work and Comey decided to do a one-on-one with the President-elect. The chiefs had decided that Comey should be the one to handle this, after all, it's the FBI counterintelligence division that is doing the investigation to take a look at these claims, and it's also their job to -- to take a look at what foreign intelligence services are up to in this country. In this case Russia, if the Russians are targeting or trying to target the President-elect, it was very important for the President-elect to know about this. That was the purpose of this.

    We're told that this was a cordial briefing, that Trump appreciated the information that he was given, and so we're a little puzzled, really, by the reaction over the last couple days in various stages of denial by the Trump transition team about what really was the FBI and the intelligence chiefs doing their job to make sure he was informed before he took office.

    BURNETT: Right, because Evan, just to underline this, they are -- you've heard them repeatedly say this briefing did not happen.

    PEREZ: Right. We've heard various different versions,I mean, we don't really know where they're at at this point, but we know this information was brought to the briefing and of course we also know from Vice President Joe Biden today, he met with reporters at the White House there, and mentioned that he and president Obama were both briefed on this information, that they got this information from the two-page -- synopsis.

    He even said that he read the entire 35-page document this thing was based on, Erin, and so he said that the intelligence chiefs told him that the reason was they were going to make sure that Donald Trump knew about this very important information.

  • RT Host To Alex Jones: Putin Told Me, “Say Hi To Alex”

    Jones Has Claimed He Was Previously Told That Putin Is A “Big Listener” And The “Russian Government Listens To” His Show

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Radio host and prominent Donald Trump ally Alex Jones was told by an RT host that Russian President Vladimir Putin asked him to "say hi to Alex.” Jones has claimed that he was told years ago that "Putin’s a big listener" and was previously informed that the “Russian government listens to" his show and the Kremlin partially “modeled” RT off of his Infowars network.

    Scrutiny of Trump and his allies’ alleged ties to the Russian government have increased since the U.S. intelligence community released an unclassified document finding with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” and that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” CNN recently reported that senior intelligence officials presented a “two-page synopsis” to Trump and President Obama that “included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.”

    Jones has said that he talks to the president-elect on the phone to give advice and stated that it’s “surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word for word hear Trump say it two days later.” Trump has appeared on Jones show and is reportedly a viewer. Prominent adviser Roger Stone is a regular contributor and guest host for Jones’ program.

    Jones has claimed that 9/11 was an “inside job” by the U.S. government and that Osama Bin Laden was “a CIA asset.” He and his Infowars network have heavily praised Putin in recent months.

    Kremlin-connected commentators have made clear in recent weeks that they view Jones as an important part of a campaign benefiting Russia.

    Jones recently appeared on Tsargrad TV, which was founded by Putin ally Konstantin Malofeev. The Russian tycoon is reportedly “one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite businessmen” and has “close ties to the Kremlin elite.” During the appearance, Tsargrad TV editorial director Alexander Dugin praised Jones as “a hero of this campaign” because he “told the truth while everyone else lied.” Dugin has been widely referred to as “Putin's Rasputin” because of his ties to and influence on the Russian president and his political apparatus. Jones himself bragged about appearing on “Vladimir Putin’s favorite TV show” and with “top Putin advisers.”

    Jones has also recently claimed that he’s been praised by Putin himself. On his December 8 program, Jones hosted RT broadcaster Max Keiser. Slate profiled Keiser in 2013 and wrote that he’s “become an eccentric hero of a certain ultralibertarian, 9/11-conspiracy-espousing, gold-bug-loving corner of alternative media.”

    Keiser and Jones spent time discussing Putin’s interest in Jones, with Keiser stating: “Vladimir Putin says to say hello, by the way.” Jones responded, “Wow,” and claimed that he was “told by the head of RT America, before they even launched it, like eight, nine years ago, Putin’s a big listener.” Jones then added that “years ago” he was told by unnamed people that “Putin wants to come on” and talk about hunting (the appearance appears to have not materialized).  

    From the December 8 discussion:

    MAX KEISER: Vladimir Putin says to say hello, by the way.

    ALEX JONES: Did that really happen?

    KEISER: Oh yeah. He said, when you see Alex, tell him I said hello.

    JONES: That’s crazy. I better not go over there, though.

    KEISER: I’m going to introduce -- interview Putin this year.

    JONES: Really?

    KEISER: Yeah. Going over there.

    JONES: Now I am interested in this because I was told by the head of RT America, before they even launched it, like eight, nine years ago, Putin’s a big listener and by the way, he likes how you play --

    KEISER: He loves my show. He imitated me at the 10-year anniversary dinner.

    […]

    JONES: Let’s get back to the Putin thing. This will be newsworthy. Let me hear this. What did he say?

    KEISER: Well I’m just telling you what he said. He was imitating me and Jesse Ventura was there at the dinner, and --

    JONES: [unintelligible] told me that. So he said, “Say hi to Alex?”

    KEISER: Yeah.

    JONES: Wow.

    KEISER: Yeah, he said, “Say hello to Alex Jones.” He’s going to come on my show this year, Moscow is beautiful in the springtime.

    JONES: We actually got reached out to years ago by some people and I checked and it was like, “Yes, Putin wants to come on. But he wants to talk about hunting ‘cause you’re from Texas.”

    Jones has repeatedly hosted Keiser on his program, and he has also frequently appeared on RT over the years, including recently on Keiser’s program. (Jones said during the Kesier segment that he's "probably been on" RT "200 times.") In a separate edition of his RT program, Keiser referred to Jones as his “good friend” who helped elect Trump.

    The U.S. intelligence community’s recently released report stated that the “rapid expansion of RT's operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT's leadership point to the channel's importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest.”

    Jones told his audience on a July 20, 2014, show that “the basic Russian government listens to my show” and said he was told that they “started” and “modeled a little” bit of RT off of Infowars. From that show:

    ALEX JONES: I’m not bragging when I tell you this, because I knew about this years ago. When I was at RT headquarters in New York and then in L.A., the head of RT at the time, who was replaced because the State Department freaked out and threatened to shut him off if I was ever allowed back on there. Because I'd go on national Russian TV and criticize communism, criticize Stalin, criticize the New World Order, say whatever I wanted. The head of RT was a huge listener. And they were -- I was told they literally started it, modeled a little bit off Infowars. That was part of it. And that the basic Russian government listens to my show. And I never really said that on air because it sounds so wild, but it’s confirmed. It’s come out in communiques and cables and stuff like that. It’s been in the London Telegraph that Assad also, they hacked his emails and the government was reading our analysis at Infowars.com. My analysis. And I’m not saying that arrogantly, but when the Russian government’s listening to you, you might as well just say that that’s going on. I mean it’s no mistake that -- now I’ve been invited on national Russian TV repeatedly to be on with Vladimir Putin’s best buddy, I forget his name, that runs the state-run media over there, and I’ve said no. The crew’s had the request come in, I’ve said no, because this is getting too close to war and I’m not going on Russian media.