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Simon Maloy

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  • Torture fan Sean Hannity still hasn't been waterboarded like he promised

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Gina Haspel’s nomination to be director of the CIA has reinvigorated the long-simmering controversy over the George W. Bush administration’s decision to turn America into a torture state. Haspel, who oversaw the torture of one detainee at a CIA black site in 2002 and later engineered the destruction of videotaped evidence of torture, is being held up as a hero by conservative pundits who celebrate her “toughness.”

    One of those pundits, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, has spent the past week defending Haspel and advocating for the torture techniques she implemented. “We can't have evil exist in this world without doing something to counter it,” he said on his March 13 show. “And if it means that terrorists caught on the battlefield are forced to answer questions, well, sadly that’s what you have to do because you are dealing with evil.”

    This line of argument resurrects an issue related to the torture controversy that has remained conspicuously unresolved for nearly a decade: Sean Hannity promised to be waterboarded but still hasn’t done it.

    Hannity has long been an advocate for torture, and one of his more curious pro-torture strategies is to dismiss its unpleasantness while simultaneously lauding its effectiveness. Back in April 2009, while speaking to actor Charles Grodin on his Fox News show, Hannity said: “Is it really so bad to dunk a terrorist's head in water and make him talk? Tell me what's wrong with that.” Later in the program, the two had this exchange:

    CHARLES GRODIN: Have you ever been waterboarded?

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): No, but Ollie North has and I've talked to him about it.

    GRODIN: And how -- would you consent to be waterboarded?

    HANNITY: Yes.

    GRODIN: So we could get the truth out of you?

    HANNITY: Yes. Sure.

    GRODIN: We can waterboard you?

    HANNITY: Sure.

    GRODIN: Are you busy on Sunday?

    HANNITY: I'll do it for charity. I'll let you do it.

    GRODIN: I wouldn't do it.

    HANNITY: I'll do it for the troops' families.

    That was almost nine years ago, and Hannity still has not been waterboarded, but not for lack of trying. Keith Olbermann, then an MSNBC host, tried to get Hannity to live up to his promise by pledging $1,000 to charity for every second of torture Hannity could endure. Four years after his initial promise, ThinkProgress called into his radio show to ask when he was going to follow through, and Hannity snapped at the reporter for being rude. “Here I am, nice enough to bring you on the program and give you an opportunity to give your pretty radical left-wing point of view,” he said, “and that’s kind of -- you know what -- the way you treat me.”

    And now here we are in the year 2018 and Hannity is still noticeably unwaterboarded and still hiding behind the fact that his buddy Oliver North knows what it’s like. “Have you been waterboarded in your life, in your career in the military as a marine that served his country and have a Purple Heart or two,” Hannity asked North on his March 15 show. North said yes he had as part of SERE training, a program soldiers go through to learn how to resist -- you guessed it -- torture. “I waterboarded at least 150 people,” North said, “some of whom I'm sure are right now wondering what the heck is going on because it was all legal before.”

    Look, Sean, one of the sad consequences of the utter lack of torture accountability and your status as a premier advocate of state-sponsored barbarism is that the torture issue isn’t going away, which means this whole “I volunteered to be waterboarded” issue isn’t going away -- that is, until you get waterboarded. No one is saying you’re a coward, Sean. In no way am I implying that the reason you haven’t followed through on your nine-year-old promise to be waterboarded for charity is that behind the bravado lurks a secret terror of what the “dunking” entails.

    Quite the contrary, in fact. I think your promise to volunteer to put yourself through this physically debilitating and psychologically horrifying torture technique is the height of manliness. A total alpha move. And the fact that you’re going to do it for the troops is just patriotic icing on the testosterone cupcake.

  • Let’s treat Steve Bannon like the fringe crank he is

    The media elite embrace Bannon even as he cozies up to far-right European extremists

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The past several months have been difficult for Steve Bannon, the disheveled, wannabe Machiavelli of American politics. Late last summer he was unceremoniously fired from his senior post in the Trump White House, then the candidate he backed in the Alabama special Senate election suffered a historic defeat under the weight of credible reports of sexual assault, and then he was evicted from his chairmanship of Breitbart News. All throughout the long, dark winter he was relentlessly mocked and jabbed by opponents and erstwhile allies alike, including President Donald Trump, who rechristened him “Sloppy Steve” and blamed him for the Senate loss in Alabama.

    But now it’s springtime for Bannon, and he’s plotting a comeback. Undaunted by his manifold defeats and humiliations, Bannon is looking to prove once and for all that a whack job extremist -- no matter how disgraced or putrefied by white supremacist politics -- can still command the attention and respect of America’s elite.

    Next week, Bannon will be one of the keynote interviewees at a Financial Times forum on “Trust, Technology and Transformation in an Age of Upheaval.” He’ll be appearing alongside some of the biggest names in news media: New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, CNN President Jeff Zucker, HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen, and others. Per the Financial Times’ description of the event, lucky attendees will get to “hear insights from owners/editors of traditional media on how they are dealing with digital disruption.”

    Earlier this month, the very same Steve Bannon was in the middle of a goodwill tour of Europe’s repugnant far-right political parties. Having stumbled in his efforts to lead an American political movement devoted to white resentment and xenophobia, Bannon hopped across the Atlantic to have a spirited wallow in the rising bog of European ethnonationalism.

    In Italy, Bannon showed up just ahead of the country’s latest round of elections reportedly to support the far-right League party and its leader, Matteo Salvini. The League and Salvini are noxiously anti-immigrant and often openly bigoted -- Salvini campaigned on mass deportation of African migrants, advocates the “controlled ethnic cleansing” of Italian cities, and has called for segregation of public transportation. During a speech in France on March 10, Bannon referred to him as “Brother Salvini.”

    That speech was delivered before a gathering of the National Front, France’s premier far-right, xenophobic political party. The National Front has been trying to worm into the mainstream of French politics by carefully distancing itself from the blunt racism and winking Holocaust denial of its founders. The modern National Front employs more guarded language and PR savvy while blending aggressive nationalism with hostility toward immigrants, Muslim immigrants in particular. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who has masterminded the reformation of the National Front’s image, still sometimes lets the mask slip, like when she compared public demonstrations of faith by Muslims to the Nazi occupation of France. Bannon was happily at home among the party faithful, telling them to embrace accusations of racism and xenophobia as “a badge of honor.”

    This is who Steve Bannon is hanging out with these days, and these are the people whose influence he’s trying to borrow in order to mount some sort of comeback. And he, of course, has every right to choose “hero of European racists” as his next career move, although one could argue that it’s really the only place he has left to go after being excommunicated by Trump and Breitbart following the Alabama fiasco.

    But it’s scummy and gross that Bannon, after declaring common cause with bigoted political movements in Europe, can head back to the United States and have the welcome mat laid out for him by the country’s media elite. I’m not even sure what insights the Financial Times forum expects to glean from Bannon. As a media executive he was a fraud and a failure -- when he wasn’t using Breitbart.com as his personal PR service, he deployed its resources to (ineptly) bolster the sagging fortunes of the lunatic candidates he picked as the vanguard for his political movement. He vilifies all media outlets that aren’t servile to the president, and he spins wild conspiracy theories about secret plots between journalists and politicians to sabotage his preferred candidates.

    Steve Bannon is drifting deeper into the fringes as he grasps for relevance. He has done seemingly everything in his power to forfeit his credibility and render himself toxic, and he's still afforded elite deference despite being an extremist crank.

  • Gina Haspel, John Brennan, and CIA “accountability”

    John Brennan vouched for Donald Trump's pick to head the CIA despite her direct involvement in torture

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Editor’s note: ProPublica has published a major correction to its February 22, 2017, article -- cited in the piece below -- reporting that Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two detainees at a “black site” prison in Thailand in 2002. The correction states that “Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of [Abu] Zubaydah ended,” though additional reporting by The New York Times indicates “she was in charge when [Abd al-Rahim] al-Nashiri was waterboarded three times.”

    President Donald Trump yanked the rip cord on an especially haphazard personnel change this morning, firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, designating CIA director Mike Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement, and naming deputy CIA director Gina Haspel as Pompeo’s successor. It’s a wild reshuffling of top national security aides and most of the media attention is being sucked up by the drama surrounding Tillerson’s sacking (he reportedly learned he was fired when Trump tweeted about it).

    The elevation of Haspel to CIA director, however, is an important story that gets to one of the most critical policy failures of the last 15 years: the brutal CIA torture program launched by George W. Bush and the utter lack of genuine accountability for the people who conceived and implemented it.

    One of those people is Gina Haspel, who (as reported by The New York Times last February when she was named deputy CIA director) “oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.” One of those detainees, Abu Zubaydah, was subjected to especially savage treatment -- he was waterboarded 83 times and nearly drowned after he was rendered “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” (Zubaydah also lost his left eye under circumstances that the CIA has yet to fully explain.) At the time, the government accused Zubaydah of being a senior Al Qaeda operative. He wasn’t.

    As ProPublica reported last year, the tapes of those torture sessions became a problem for the CIA “when questions began to swirl about the Bush administration’s use of the ‘black sites,’ and program of ‘enhanced interrogation,’” so Haspel worked to make them disappear. She “drafted an order to destroy the evidence” that was signed by her superior, and 92 tapes were fed “into a giant shredder.”

    As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the torture program makes clear, the CIA enacted its “coercive interrogation” program in Thailand without “a plan for the eventual disposition of its detainees,” without any meaningful consultation on how to conduct interrogations, and without any real internal deliberation on how to proceed. Haspel was a key figure in both the execution of this slipshod torture program and the subsequent efforts to cover it up, and Trump wants to reward her with the top post at the CIA.

    If you’re thinking that all that torture history should be an impediment to Haspel’s ascension, you’d be correct in theory, but in practice that probably won’t happen. When it comes to torture, the CIA just isn’t held to any real standard of accountability. Former CIA director and current MSNBC contributor John Brennan helped demonstrate as much when he appeared this morning on the cable channel to discuss Haspel’s nomination.

    “She has a wealth of experience and background,” Brennan said of Haspel, and “she has tremendous respect within the ranks.” Referring obliquely to the torture program, Brennan said she "was involved in a very, very controversial program” but “has tried to carry out her duties at CIA to the best of her ability, even when the CIA was asked to do some very difficult things in very challenging times.” Ultimately, Brennan concluded, Haspel “deserves the chance to take the helm at CIA.” He predicted the Senate would confirm her.

    In the context of the torture debate, Brennan’s vouching for Haspel despite her involvement with the torture program is meaningful. Brennan actually tried to promote Haspel to a senior post within the CIA early on in his tenure, but he changed course when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) personally intervened and, according to The Washington Post, “express[ed] concern that someone so closely linked to the [torture] program might lead the agency’s spying service.” Brennan was concerned enough back then to keep Haspel out of the CIA’s leadership, but now he’s fine with her taking on the top job at the agency.

    Brennan himself is a beneficiary of the lax-to-nonexistent accountability standards for the CIA when it comes to the question of torture. In 2014, the CIA -- then under Brennan’s direction -- admitted that officers had spied on Senate staffers who were working on the then-pending release of the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report. Brennan had categorically denied that any spying had taken place. When that was proven false, Brennan apologized and personally appointed a five-member committee to investigate. That committee recommended that no disciplinary action be taken for spying on the U.S. Senate. Brennan continued on in his job and retained the “confidence” of President Barack Obama.

    That’s how “accountability” works for the CIA and the rest of the intelligence apparatus. You always get the maximum benefit of the doubt and are eligible for limitless mulligans because everything you do -- no matter how blatantly illegal or immoral -- is done in the name of “national security.” John Brennan sent a signal to everyone in D.C. that Gina Haspel’s direct involvement in torturing detainees and the ensuing cover-up shouldn’t derail her ascent to the directorship of the CIA, and we shouldn’t be surprised if and when the Senate heeds his counsel.

  • The insane, toxic Trump adulation of Jeanine Pirro

    Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro sold out her public image and debased herself to become one of President Trump’s go-to pundits

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you were to ask me who Jeanine Pirro works for, I’m not sure I could give you a straight answer. On paper, at least, she is an employee of Fox News, which pays her money to host a weekly show called Justice with Judge Jeanine. It’s a terrible program that exploits the well-worn cable news trope of using a crackpot pundit’s career in law enforcement to give unearned credibility to their howlingly stupid opinions. In theory, Justice with Judge Jeanine is a platform for Pirro (a former judge, former district attorney, failed Senate candidate, and speed-limit scofflaw) to give her take on the week’s top legal stories.

    In practice, however, Pirro serves as a combative and vocal propagandist for President Donald Trump. Pirro makes it her business to be the loudest pro-Trump voice in whatever room she happens to find herself in, and she moonlights as an informal adviser to Trump, who reportedly seeks her out for her counsel. Pirro’s advocacy for the president is so aggressive that it often borders on insane -- some of her commentary would be at home in an authoritarian state media apparatus. And she has enthusiastically sold out the cause she built her career in public life on -- advocating for women who were victims of abuse -- to become a sneering and poisonous sycophant to the most powerful elected official in the country.

    An ambitious rise and embarrassing fall

    Jeanine Pirro does not lack for ambition. Her career in public life saw her score a series of firsts: She helped create and lead what was then called the Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Bureau for Westchester County, New York; she was the first woman to be elected as a judge on the Westchester County court; and she was the first woman to serve as the county’s district attorney. Her ex-husband, Al Pirro, was a well-connected real estate lawyer and GOP fundraiser who knew all the power players in New York -- one of his biggest clients in the late 1990s was Donald Trump, back when he was still in the real estate game.

    She had a talent for drawing media attention and relentlessly marketed herself as a hard-charging prosecutor who brought legal hell down upon sex offenders and domestic abusers. Pirro positioned herself as an advocate for women at a time when victims of domestic abuse were an afterthought in the criminal justice system. Her political ascent was durable enough to survive Al Pirro’s 2000 conviction on charges of tax fraud and conspiracy.

    All this success and exposure made her a star within the New York GOP, which, in the mid-2000s, was desperately looking for someone to derail the re-election of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. Pirro, the crusading, media-savvy district attorney, seemed like an obvious choice, and in August 2005, she announced her campaign for the U.S. Senate. She came into the race with a ton of hype and lofty expectations, and almost immediately Pirro proved she was completely out of her depth.

    Pirro’s campaign was an unalloyed fiasco from the start. Her speech announcing her candidacy became a nationwide joke after she spent half a minute silently fumbling for a missing page of her prepared remarks (The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart cracked that she observed “32 seconds of silence in memory of the premature death of her campaign”). Her first campaign ad didn’t directly state that she was running for a seat in Congress, and she showed up at the wrong location for a press conference announcing the ad buy. Pirro was also a fantastically inept fundraiser. Her campaign pulled in just $438,555 in its first fundraising quarter, compared to Clinton’s $5.3 million. (Amusingly, $900 of Clinton’s haul that quarter came from Donald J. Trump, according to campaign finance records.)

    With no money, no traction, and almost exclusively negative press attention, Pirro came under pressure from New York Republicans who wanted her to get out of the race so another candidate could take on Hillary. Among the high-profile Republicans plotting against Pirro’s ambition was her own husband, who reportedly urged state GOP officials to convince her to end the campaign.

    Pirro quit the Senate race after just four months and opted instead to run for New York attorney general. She won the Republican nomination running unopposed. But whatever slim hope Pirro might have nurtured for a comeback was crushed in September 2006 when she herself came under federal investigation for conspiring to wiretap her husband, who she suspected was cheating on her.

    No charges ended up being filed, Pirro lost the race to future New York governor Andrew Cuomo by 20 points, and she and her husband separated a year later. With her political career left a smoldering ruin, Pirro made the move to television. After a short run as host of a low-rated Judge Judy-like courtroom reality program, Pirro jumped to Fox News and started hosting Justice with Judge Jeanine in 2011.

    Pirro enthusiastically sells out for Trump

    Pirro’s affinity for Trump makes sense in a lot of ways: They’ve been friends for decades, they’re both Republicans, they’re both combative New Yorkers who crave media attention. But in one very important aspect, Pirro and Trump should -- at least in theory -- be irreconcilably opposed.

    Remember that Pirro’s entire public image was built around her work on behalf of victims of abuse: women who had been cowed into silence by their abusers and left unrepresented by the law and the courts. Her career as a politician was rooted in the idea that she was a tireless and hellacious enemy of sexual predators, wife beaters, and perpetrators of domestic violence. A 2005 profile of Pirro in the New York Observer described her as “half crusading cop, half crusading mom” and said her career was defined by “work with victims of spousal abuse and sexual abuse, murder, stalking, rape, [and] torture.”

    As a pundit, however, she has fanatically aligned herself with the nation's most prominent accused sexual assaulter. Donald Trump has faced too many credible allegations of assault against women to simply wave off, but Pirro has done exactly that, making every excuse for him, even when Trump got caught describing his own sexual misconduct.

    “The comments are shameful and cringeworthy. The words are disgusting, devastating, and embarrassing. It’s the kind of locker room and frat house talk that personally infuriates me,” Pirro said on her program following the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in which Trump boasted of groping women by their genitalia. “But guess what: I still without a doubt support Donald Trump.” Her rationale aligned perfectly with the excuse offered by Trump: that his comments were just “words” and not to be taken as an admission of sexual assault. And regardless of what Trump said, she argued, he was still better than “double-talking woman” Hillary Clinton.

    Pirro mortgaged her own reputation to defend Trump from his own self-incrimination. “He has always been a gentleman,” Pirro said on Fox & Friends in October 2016. “I know the man, and I can speak as a woman who has fought for battered women, I have crusaded for women my whole career to level the playing field for women who are victims of crime.” When multiple women came forward with their stories about Trump’s sexual assault, Pirro dismissed them as not credible and perhaps part of an anti-Trump conspiracy. “It’s a little too convenient. All of the sudden all of these people on one day on the day when WikiLeaks starts coming out,” she said.

    Last month, during one of the “Opening Statements” that she starts each show with, Pirro lashed out at former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned from the White House amid allegations that he’d physically abused his ex-wives. Pirro called Porter a “batterer” and lamented that “he doesn’t walk around with a scarlet letter or a sign on his forehead that says ‘I beat women.’” But she also went out of her way to exculpate the people in the White House who protected Porter for months, like chief of staff John Kelly, casting them as victims of anti-Trump hysteria. “You want to stop a four-star general who is running the White House, who believes in chain of command, who makes a decision within 40 minutes because you hate Donald Trump?” she asked before absurdly suggesting that the Rob Porter scandal was actually Barack Obama’s fault somehow. “Find another scapegoat. You might want to look at the last president.”

    The reason Pirro has so enthusiastically set fire to her reputation like this is that Trump is her avenue to power and influence. She protects and champions Trump in the face of all the damning evidence because he’s her friend, and because he’s the president of the United States and he gives her access.

    Softballs and poison

    Jeanine Pirro’s access to Trump comes in several different forms. She’s not just a pro-Trump pundit -- she’s also an adviser whom the president routinely seeks out. The New York Times reported in November 2017 that Pirro had once interviewed to be Trump’s deputy attorney general and that she had met with Trump in the Oval Office to “excoriate” Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Daily Beast reported that Trump regularly consults Pirro “privately for advice on political and policy matters.” Pirro was the keynote speaker at a January event at Mar-a-Lago put on by a pro-Trump political group, and she’s reportedly discussed with Trump the possibility of writing a rebuttal book to Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury.

    As a media figure, Pirro has scored two interviews with Trump since his inauguration; both were embarrassing spectacles that set new boundaries for the definition of “softball.”

    Her most recent sit-down with Trump was on February 24. The “questions” she asked him were, in several instances, just direct invitations for Trump to praise himself. This, for example, is an actual question posed to the president of the United States by Jeanine Pirro:

    Mr. President, your approval rating is soaring. And we can talk about the economy and the low unemployment and the stock market and all of the great things that have been happening with the economy. But you have accomplished all of this -- and, by the way, there’s a poll that put you at 50 percent, and at CPAC you were at 93 percent approval rating -- you did all this in one year with the economy. To what do you attribute these incredible advances?

    “I know that you support the military and you’re giving them the resources they need -- are we going to have a parade?” she asked at another point. The parade (one of Trump’s favorite pet issues) elicited a follow-up from Pirro: “When do you think we can have this parade? Because I want to go to the parade!”

    Her previous interview with Trump, on May 13, 2017, came in the immediate aftermath of his massively controversial firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Pirro used the opportunity to soothe Trump’s ego. “The media’s in a frenzy, and so given that some of these congresspeople thought he should have been fired … doesn’t it suggest to you that it isn’t even about Comey, it’s about anything that you, as president, do?” (Trump, of course, agreed.) That question wasn’t nearly as sycophantic as Pirro’s take on the messaging disarray within the administration. “Are you moving so quickly that your communications department can’t keep up with you?” Pirro asked. “Yes, that’s true,” Trump responded.

    I’d like to think that any media personality bearing even the spindliest shred of professional integrity would choke on the idea of being so exuberantly obsequious to the most powerful politician in the country. Pirro, however, is not so encumbered.

    The obverse side to Pirro’s gross deference to Trump is the noxious vitriol she spits at anyone who crosses the president, be they political adversaries or government officials who’ve drawn Trump’s ire.

    Like her Fox Business Network colleague (and fellow presidential propagandist) Lou Dobbs, Pirro is a staunch advocate of arresting and prosecuting Trump’s perceived enemies for the crime of opposing Trump. On December 9, 2017, she caused a stir by calling for a “cleansing” of the FBI and the Justice Department (DOJ), which she said were full “of individuals who should not just be fired, but who need to be taken out in handcuffs” and whose “corruption and lawlessness” require that they made into “examples.” Her fervor for “cleansing” the DOJ was undercut by her difficulty in identifying any actual crimes committed by the people she wanted purged -- special counsel Robert Mueller’s arrestable infraction, for example, was that “in a year, with a team dedicated to destroying Donald Trump, he can’t come up with one piece of evidence.”

    That insane harangue caused a media backlash driven largely by the fact that Pirro herself was a former law enforcement official calling for a purge of law enforcement. The following week she responded with an escalating series of attacks on the DOJ, grandiosely declaring: “I hereby double down.” She said there is “a criminal cabal in our FBI and the Department of Justice who think they know better than we do who our president should be,” describing it as “a crime family like in the movies except this time the FBI is the crime family.”

    Hillary Clinton also features prominently in Pirro’s weekly diatribes, likely due to Trump’s ongoing obsession with his former rival and Pirro’s own history as a failed Clinton foil. Last week saw huge stories break on guns, trade, and White House staffers, but Pirro’s “Opening Statement” on Saturday’s show focused on a tweet by Clinton about Trump and Russia. “The woman is even dumber than I thought,” she said as the starting point for a six-minute screed aimed at a candidate who lost an election 16 months ago.

    Earlier this year, Pirro filmed a “Street Justice” segment in which she wandered around Chappaqua, NY, pestering locals with inane questions about the Clintons. “Does Hillary Clinton drop off her pantsuits here?” she yelled through the open door of a dry cleaner (the employee inside ignored her). Then she tromped through the local woods “looking for Hillary,” apparently because Clinton was spotted hiking there after the election. The segment was confusing and pointless but extremely amusing to Pirro. “You think she’s home writing another book? Or maybe she’s still reading ‘What Happened’ because she can’t figure out what happened!” she said, taking obvious delight in what she believed to be a joke.

    The wages of propaganda

    Like other pro-Trump propagandists in the Fox News family, Jeanine Pirro understands that the way to attract and maintain the president’s attention is through grandiose, inflammatory demonstrations of dog-like loyalty. Trump watches a disgusting amount of cable news and loves pundits who posture as fighters and scrappers. Pirro markets herself precisely that way: a brawler who brings the principled, no-nonsense sensibility of a crusading judge to her weekly program. But Pirro has no principles and her only crusade is deifying Trump. And for her service, she is rewarded with access to the White House and the president.

    Corrupt arrangements like these have a baleful influence on how media figures behave. The most unethical and least principled actors in the media ecosystem are the ones who enjoy the best access and benefit from the exposure granted by their proximity to the president. This perverse incentive structure makes flagrant toadyism and barking lunacy desirable attributes (or, at the very least, it makes them less intolerable as trade-offs for access). The rise of unscrupulous pro-Trump whack jobs like Jeffrey Lord and Ed Martin speaks to this dynamic: inflammatory, manifestly untrustworthy voices given positions of prominence by media outlets because their slavish devotion to the president.

    This rotten dynamic puts a sycophant and sellout like Jeanine Pirro on the inside track, and it makes the Trump worship and scalding venom of Justice with Judge Jeanine a formula to be emulated.

  • David Brooks needs to shut up

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    David Brooks is back on his bullshit. Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, the New York Times columnist has become an outspoken proponent of ideologically vacant centrism as the one and only solution to toxic partisanship and intractable tribalism. The fact that “the center” of Brooks’ dreams has no political appeal, no coherent philosophy, and no agenda beyond tongue-clucking rebukes of partisanship is of no concern to him; it can and will fix everything simply by scolding everyone in Washington to be polite to one another.

    Brooks’ ridiculous faith in this feeble worldview animates his column this morning on gun regulation. Under the impossible-to-parody headline “Respect First, Then Gun Control,” Brooks argues that the way to prevent more gun massacres like the one that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, is for proponents of stricter gun laws to show unlimited deference to gun-rights extremists and cede them control of the legislative agenda:

    If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is that guns have become a cultural flash point in a nation that is unequal and divided. The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture. If we end up telling such people that they and their guns are despicable, they will just despise us back and dig in their heels.

    So if you want to stop school shootings it’s not enough just to vent and march. It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can strike a compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.

    It feels almost gratuitous to critique this passage given how self-evidently devastating it is to Brooks’ ridiculous centrist fetish. Here we see Brooks attempt to confront the gravely serious and deadly problem of gun violence, and his paramount concerns are: 1) the reputations of elites such as himself, 2) the civility of public discourse, and 3) “compromise.” What would that compromise look like? Brooks has no idea and makes no attempt to work it out. That’s because he doesn’t actually care -- compromise for the sake of compromise is the goal, the details don’t matter.

    This is also the absolute worst political advice one could offer to someone who wants to clamp down on gun violence. Brooks’ strategy for success is for the most vocal and committed proponents of gun restrictions to keep quiet and fade into the background so “Red America” can take the lead on implementing their agenda. His rationale for this course of action is that the outrage felt by “Red America” over perceived threats to “their culture” must be the first consideration, and should be shown greater deference than outrage felt over dead schoolchildren. This is completely backwards and demonstrates appalling ignorance of how political change happens.

    The “culture” of maximalist gun rights that casts even the slightest move toward gun regulation as a tyrannical assault on freedom is the product of intense and effective activism by gun-rights extremists. That “culture” is toxic and actively impedes all good-faith efforts to address gun violence -- Congress has done nothing in response to horrific massacres and violent attacks on its own members because Republicans have decided that escalating body counts are less politically threatening to them than gun-rights activists. “Red America” has been “leading the way” on gun regulation for a long time, and look where it’s gotten us.

    The fact that Brooks views this rotten “culture” not as a problem to be fixed but as a totem to be respected is a testament to how powerful uncompromising political activism is (and how stupid Brooks is).

    The key to passing better gun laws isn’t to be unfailingly polite and deferential to the politicians and poisonous culture that brought us to our current blood-soaked state of affairs in the vague hope that they will someday allow a “compromise.” If bad lawmakers make any meaningful federal gun legislation impossible, the solution is to insist on better lawmakers. The only way to do that is through sustained and vocal activism of the sort David Brooks finds so very rude and counterproductive.

  • “No collusion”? Not quite…

    Donald Trump and his conservative media allies throw themselves a little premature celebration

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Today the Justice Department announced the indictment of 13 Russian individuals accused of breaking a whole panoply of laws as part of the Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The indictment itself is a hell of read -- it details a sophisticated and multilayered operation spanning several years that waged information warfare as part of a conspiracy to sow discord and chaos within the American political system. The Russians stole identities, created fake social media accounts, staged protests, bought political ads, and attempted to coordinate with political groups within the U.S.

    “By early to mid-2016,” the indictment reads, the Russian defendants’ “operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” Some of the defendants, the indictment notes, “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

    For Trump’s most slavish defenders in the conservative press, one little word in that passage -- “unwitting” -- is prompting a good deal of celebration. It proves, they argue, that no one in the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia in the 2016 election, and that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a farce that needs to be shut down.

    Sean Hannity tweeted “No collusion” and linked to an article on his website with the blaring headline: “NO COLLUSION: Mueller Indictment Says TRUMP CAMPAIGN Unaware of Russian Meddling.” Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton tweeted: “Big Mueller indictment of Russians confirms ‘unwitting’ involvement of Trump campaign with disguised Russian operatives. No collusion. Shut it down.”

    Republicans are also eagerly jumping on this line of argument. The White House put out a statement saying the special counsel’s investigation indicates “there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia.” During an appearance on Fox News, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said, “Today marks the day that the Democrats’ Russia collusion conspiracy theory unraveled.”

    Of course, the indictment doesn’t demonstrate that at all, and the Justice Department was very careful in how it addressed the issue of American involvement in the Russian election conspiracy. In fact, everyone celebrating the exoneration of Trump very well may be spiking the football on the 25-yard line.

    Conservatives from Hannity and the RNC on down are conveniently ignoring the fact that this is just one indictment from an investigation that is still ongoing. The indictment indicates that Trump-associated political operatives were unwitting participants in this specific series of alleged criminal activities. It does not say that the illegal actions it describes encompass the entirety of the Russian election-meddling campaign. There very well may be more indictments on the way, and they could be related to known instances of Russian interference that today’s indictment didn’t touch on at all: the hacking of the DNC’s emails, the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting, etc.

    During his press conference announcing today’s indictment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was extremely careful and unfailingly precise in how he described the involvement by Americans in the alleged Russian criminal conspiracy. “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said (emphasis added). When asked what relationship Trump campaign officials had to the Russian conspiracy, Rosenstein again applied the same precise language. “There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge.”

    And that’s to say nothing of the possibility that Trump-associated people could still be charged with other crimes discovered in the course of Mueller’s investigation: money laundering, obstruction, fraud, etc. Mueller is reportedly on the verge of flipping another senior Trump campaign official, which certainly indicates that Trumpworld could still be in for a whole lot of legal trouble.

    Of course, no one has any real concrete idea of what will happen. Well, no one except Robert Mueller and his team, who are still investigating. Regardless, the president hopped onto Twitter this afternoon to join the (possibly premature) celebration and proudly transmit the fact that Russia’s “anti-US campaign” -- the existence of which he’d refused to acknowledge up to this point -- got rolling long before he even became a presidential candidate:

    So, Trump is touting as good news the fact that Russia’s election interference campaign didn’t start with him, but rather identified his candidacy as an asset to be exploited. One starts to think that the president and his allies don’t really think too far in advance before they begin celebrating.

  • Gun dysfunction is a Republican problem, not a “Washington” problem

    NBC News helps obfuscate the GOP’s culpability in mass shootings

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The horrific mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, yesterday has once again touched off a discussion about what can be done to stop the escalating series of bloody massacres that only happen with this regularity in our country. The preordained answer, of course, is nothing. The Republican Party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, and its commitment to the National Rifle Association’s maximalist position on gun rights cannot be shaken -- not by dead schoolchildren, not by the fact that two members of Congress have been gunned down in the last decade, not by anything.

    Opposition to strengthening gun laws emanates from the GOP, which has collectively made the political calculation that shot-up schools and ever-increasing body counts are an acceptable alternative to angering the gun lobby and pro-gun activists within its own base. This is not an exotic political argument: it’s a plain, uncontroversial truth that anyone who’s paid a moment’s attention to the politics of gun regulation can attest to.

    And yet, in this morning’s First Read newsletter by NBC News, blame for the sclerotic toxicity of this situation was laid at the feet of “Washington,” which, the authors argue, is “fundamentally broken.” Here’s how the authors described the state of gun politics:

    And what has Washington done to respond to this mass violence? Absolutely nothing. America’s political system has been incapable of coming up with ANY federal public policy to address mass shootings. In 2013, after the Newtown shooting, the U.S. Senate blocked a measure to require background checks for gun purchases. In 2017, after Las Vegas, Congress talked about banning bump stocks – accessories that makes rifles fire more rapidly – but ultimately did nothing.

    As I noted on Twitter, this paragraph (and the rest of the piece) goes well out of its way to avoid placing blame for the dysfunction where it belongs: on the GOP. By framing the issue as one of “Washington” gridlock, NBC News is actually doing the real culprits a favor by obscuring the ghastly political game the GOP plays to maintain its grip on power while allowing more and more Americans to be cut down by bullets fired from legally obtained military-style weaponry. Calling this a “Washington” problem is horrendously misleading and needlessly seeks to remove partisanship from what is an absolutely partisan issue.

    One of First Read’s authors, NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray, responded to my tweet and, in the process, accidentally helped underscore just how awful the piece’s framing is:

    First of all, the vote tally on the 2013 background check filibuster wasn’t mentioned in his piece, so they did ignore it. Had they included that vote tally, it would have undermined their lazy framing. Yes, four Democratic senators voted against background checks in 2013 (as did then-majority leader Harry Reid, who supported the bill but voted no for procedural reasons). But those four Democratic senators stood alongside forty-one Republicans who voted down the measure. So the filibuster would have been sustained regardless of how those Democrats voted, which demonstrates that meaningful gun safety legislation is impossible to pass at the federal level so long as Republicans maintain any measure of control.

    That gets us back to the original, uncontroversial point: Republicans are the problem when it comes to legislation addressing mass shootings. There is no reason to avoid stating it plainly.

  • The right-wing roots of Trump’s "Blue Apron" SNAP attack

    The outrageous SNAP proposal in President Trump’s new budget is built upon decades of conservative lies about welfare

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump White House’s newly proposed budget is (like all White House budget proposals) more of a political document than anything else. It has no actual bearing on how the government will spend its money, and Congress will almost certainly ignore it. But that’s not to say it is entirely devoid of value -- the White House uses the annual budget proposal to act out its fantasies and give us a little glimpse at the ideologies motivating the administration’s policy preferences.

    One of those ideologies, as conveyed by the White House’s vision for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, expresses insane and horrifying contempt for low-income Americans. And while the policy the administration has proposed is extreme, it fits in squarely with longstanding conservative efforts to stigmatize and shame recipients of government assistance.

    One of the administration’s supposed cost-saving measures is “a bold new approach to administering SNAP.” The way the program currently works, SNAP-eligible households are provided a monthly benefit based on income level in the form of a debit card, which can be used to purchase grocery items. Some restrictions apply (no alcohol, tobacco, or pet food, for example), but SNAP recipients have wide latitude in what foods they can purchase and where they can shop.

    The Trump administration wants to change all of this by forcing most SNAP recipients to receive half their monthly benefit in the form of “a USDA Foods package, which would include items such as shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish.” The Republican White House wants to choose which foods SNAP recipients eat, and it wants to control how they receive their food each month -- so much for “small government” conservatism abolishing the “nanny state.” Through means left utterly unexplained, the Trump administration argues that this new system (which will require massive bureaucratic build-up alongside the establishment of food-delivery infrastructure) will somehow be cheaper and more efficient than simply transferring money to a debit card. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney laughably spun this proposal to send low-income Americans a monthly box of canned goods and peanut butter as "a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash."

    This idea is so absurd, impractical, and wildly paternalistic that people can’t really believe that the White House is actually proposing it. Politico reports this morning that “the idea that USDA would provide millions of low-income people packages of food on a national scale has not been floated by conservative think tanks, promoted by industry, or sought by previous administrations.” It was “so out of left field,” Politico notes, “that some anti-hunger advocates initially thought it was a joke.”

    The proposal didn’t come out of nowhere, though. It’s an escalation of existing right-wing efforts to use SNAP as a means to control the behavior of its recipients. These efforts are rooted in a mythology -- eagerly promoted and disseminated by conservative media -- that SNAP is rife with fraud and that SNAP beneficiaries, by virtue of their status as welfare recipients, lack the moral character to make good decisions on their own.

    Right-wing demonization of welfare recipients stretches back decades, from Newt Gingrich’s high-profile efforts in the 1990s to shame low-income teen mothers to Ronald Reagan popularizing the “welfare queen” slur back in 1976. The running theme of these attacks on the poor is that there exists an epidemic of undeserving welfare recipients who abuse their benefits. That’s a myth, but it carries a potent political message that blends racial and economic resentment with small-government agitation.

    When it comes to SNAP, the most common complaint made by conservatives is that recipients are using their benefit to purchase inappropriate foods: “luxury” comestibles like seafood and steak, or junk food like candy bars and energy drinks. This line of attack got a huge boost in 2013 when Fox News put together a special news report called “The Great Food Stamp Binge.” The program -- hosted by Special Report anchor Bret Baier -- spotlighted an unemployed surfer in California who proudly used his SNAP benefit to buy sushi and lobster. Baier dubbed him “the new face of food stamps,” and the program pointedly asked why there isn’t “at least some stigma” attached to SNAP recipients, who used to be called “losers.”

    It was a farcical piece of propaganda that actively shunned any sort of data or reporting in order to create a caricature of SNAP recipients as lazy, undeserving parasites on the public. SNAP actually has extremely low rates of fraud and abuse, and “the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    The news program was wildly popular with Republicans. Fox News distributed tapes of the “The Great Food Stamp Binge” on Capitol Hill, and the SNAP-abusing unemployed surfer became the mascot for the congressional GOP’s efforts to gut funding for nutritional assistance programs. Since then, various state governments have taken up measures intended to restrict which foods SNAP recipients can purchase.

    In 2015, Wisconsin Republicans passed a bill banning SNAP recipients from purchasing crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other shellfish, citing “anecdotal and perceived abuses.” A Republican state senator from New York proposed legislation to cut off SNAP users from “luxury food items” like lobster and steak, while the Missouri GOP sought to ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.” The reality that all of these proposals ignore is that SNAP recipients are not blowing their benefits on “luxury” foods.

    The Trump administration’s proposal derives from the same idea that SNAP recipients can’t be trusted and will necessarily misuse their benefit. Rather than banning certain foods, the White House is proposing to force SNAP beneficiaries to eat an approved list of low-cost foods while simultaneously limiting the amount of benefit they have to spend. It’s gross paternalism lightly disguised with absurd promises about efficiency and cost-savings. And it fits right in with the broader right-wing argument that receipt of government assistance is morally suspect and recipients should be penalized through stigma and controlled through loss of choice.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Devin Nunes are feeding the Fox News conspiracy pipeline

    Congressional Republicans team up with a credulous right-wing media to undermine the FBI’s Trump investigation

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The crusade by the Republican Party and its media allies to discredit the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign is a fantastically dishonest and propagandistic farce, and the whole effort is conducted with transparent bad faith while grotesquely masquerading as an exercise in good-government oversight. The mechanism driving this disinformation campaign is a pipeline of bullshit that originates with Republicans in Congress, flows directly through Fox News, and sometimes ends up spilling out all over the president’s Twitter feed.

    To date, there have been two high-profile congressional sources for the “scandals” that have powered conservative media coverage of the FBI’s Trump investigation: Senate homeland security committee chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) and House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA). Both have been repeatedly caught lying and ginning up controversy where there is none, and both have had phenomenal success in propagating falsehoods through conservative media outlets that don’t care whether what they report is true or not.

    Late last month, Johnson went on Fox News to talk about “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI” as evidenced by a text message conversation between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that referenced a “secret society” -- presumably a cabal of powerful individuals plotting to illegitimately tar Trump’s presidency. The “secret society” talking point quickly permeated conservative media and became a focal point of outrage.

    A couple of days later, the truth about the “secret society” text came out -- it was an obvious joke between the two officials. There was no secret society, and Johnson backpedaled by acknowledging the “real possibility” that the supposedly nefarious text message he’d highlighted as proof of a conspiracy just days earlier might, in fact, be nothing more than a gag.

    Just a couple of weeks after that, Johnson was at it again. His committee released an “interim report” on the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton email scandal that once again highlighted specific texts between Strzok and Page. Among them was a September 2, 2016, text from Page regarding the creation of talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey. Page wrote that then-President Barack Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing.” According to the report, “This text raises additional questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.”

    Fueled by a credulous Fox News write-up of Johnson’s report, the text message shot like an electrical current through the conservative media, which leaped on Johnson’s suggestion that Obama might have meddled with the FBI’s investigation into Clinton. The president himself got in on the dissemination, tweeting that the “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS” not long after his favorite Fox News morning program ran a segment on the report.

    And, once again, it all turned out to be false. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the text was referring to a briefing on Russian election interference, not a Clinton matter. The FBI’s Clinton investigation was closed by the time Page sent the text.

    Devin Nunes’ contributions to the fog of disinformation include last year’s “unmasking” fiasco, in which Nunes -- acting on information fed to him by the Trump White House -- wrongly accused Obama national security officials of inappropriately exposing  the identities of Trump aides captured on wiretaps. More recently, Nunes wrote a report that all but accused the FBI of illicitly obtaining a warrant to surveil a former Trump aide. The report’s key contention -- that the FBI hid the political origins of some of the evidence in its warrant application -- was quickly debunked.

    In each of these examples, the lies spread rapidly and had ample time to become entrenched as part of a conservative media narrative before the facts undermining them could be established. Claims that former Obama officials inappropriately “unmasked” Trump associates and that an anti-Trump “secret society” exists within the FBI formed the bases of countless Fox News prime time monologues before they were debunked. After the truth came out, the lies were either quietly shelved (per a Nexis search, Sean Hannity mentioned the “secret society” in three straight Fox News shows after Johnson highlighted it on January 23, but hasn’t brought it up since) or kept alive as nefarious-sounding buzzwords (casual, unelaborated references to “unmasking” still come up regularly in Hannity rants).

    The presence and power of the conservative echo chamber means that Republicans in Congress like Johnson and Nunes don’t really have to care when the obvious lies they’re peddling get debunked. They have a receptive audience for whatever conspiratorial claim they can manufacture, and they can be confident that they’ll face no factual challenge to their nonsense so long as they limit their media appearances to Fox News and other conservative safe spaces.

  • The big #ReleaseTheMemo flop

    The same people who loudly demanded the Nunes memo be released won’t be bothered by its underwhelming “revelations”

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After far more drama and tension than should have been necessary, the infamous House intelligence committee memo on alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI against President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was released. And it was, predictably, a hilarious and self-defeating flop, but that fact won’t discourage Trump’s most slavish acolytes from claiming the Russia “hoax” has been exposed.

    This was actually a bit sad for me. I was holding out an irrational hope that House intelligence chair Rep. Devin Nunes, in the course of his day-to-day duties of abusing the committee’s oversight role to shield the president from political damage, might have accidentally stumbled into some real FBI malfeasance. After all, the government has granted itself vast surveillance powers and shielded itself from public accountability through secrecy and classification, making it extraordinarily difficult to know if and when abuses of those powers occur.

    But, alas, the memo was a bust. It didn’t really tell us anything that hadn’t already been leaked or guessed, and it actually undermined a critical point Donald Trump and his defenders hoped the memo would bolster.

    Nunes’ document alleges that FBI investigators relied in part on a dossier compiled by ex-MI6 officer Christopher Steele to obtain a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and that the government failed to “accurately provide an accounting of the relevant facts” about the dossier when applying for and reauthorizing the warrant. Those “relevant facts” do not have anything to do with the accuracy of the information contained within the dossier, which Nunes’ memo doesn’t address.

    Rather, the memo complains that the government did not disclose the “political origins” of the dossier -- specifically the fact that Democratic groups helped fund it and that Steele himself showed “clear evidence” of bias against Trump -- when presenting its case before a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge. The memo doesn’t actually make any allegations, but it strongly implies that Justice Department officials deliberately withheld this information to illicitly obtain and reauthorize surveillance of Page.

    None of us have any way of knowing how legally significant these claims of bias would have been, however, because Nunes’ memo doesn’t lay out the government’s case against Page in any detail. Nor does it provide the name of the FISC judge who heard the evidence. In fact, it doesn’t provide any information one would need to gauge the validity of its implications. Instead, the memo strongly suggests that the Steele dossier was the critical component to the case against Page (while it conveniently omits the fact that he was on the radar of counterintelligence officials as far back as 2013).

    This is important because Trump and his defenders are heavily invested in the notion that the whole Russia investigation originated from the Steele dossier, which they loudly insist is discredited and total bunk. The memo, however, accidentally disproves that allegation. In a sloppy attempt to gild what is already an unimpressive lily, Nunes’ memo vaguely alleges bias by noting that investigators mentioned a different Trump associate, George Papadopoulos, in its warrant application for Page. “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016,” the memo notes, thus corroborating a New York Times report that the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts began with Papadopoulos, not the Steele dossier.

    But all of this is immaterial to the people who had already decided what the memo would say before they even saw it. Nunes, with allies in the conservative media, mounted an effective PR campaign around this document while it was still under wraps and advertised it as an earth-shaking and world-historic revelation of anti-Trump corruption and bias at the highest levels of government. Sean Hannity (who is denying reports that he advised Trump to approve the memo’s release) hyped the memo earlier this week by saying “this makes Watergate like stealing a Snickers bar from a drug store.” Former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka grandiloquently declared that the memo’s revelations would be “100 times bigger” than the abuses that precipitated the American Revolution.

    The memo, of course, comes nowhere close to matching that absurd hyperbole; it’s impossible to assert that the memo even points to a minor scandal at this point. So, now, these same Trump lackeys will set about to loudly exaggerating or flat-out lying about the memo’s contents so that it fits their pre-formed conclusion. It's already happening: right-wing pundits are saying the "devastating" memo undermines special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump. The same people who spent weeks loudly demanding that the memo be released won’t be bothered by what the memo actually says. All they’re interested in his how they can use it to discredit the intensifying federal investigation into the president and his associates.