How pro-Trump media spun Trump saying he’d accept dirt from foreign governments in the 2020 election

How pro-Trump media spun Trump saying he’d accept dirt from foreign governments in the 2020 election

Conservative media claimed that Trump was just “playing,” drew a false equivalence with the Steele dossier, and attacked Hillary Clinton

Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE & BOBBY LEWIS


Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

After President Donald Trump sparked outrage when he admitted in an interview that he would “listen” to any damaging information on his opponent even if it came from a foreign government, pro-Trump media quickly came to his defense.

On June 13, ABC News host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether his campaign would accept, or hand over to the FBI, damaging information on his opponent if it came from a foreign source. Trump responded that “maybe” he would do both, saying, “You might want to listen. There isn’t anything wrong with listening.” Trump also pushed back on the idea that a foreign government providing information on a political opponent is election interference. He conceded that “if I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI” but also asserted that “the FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of” what he characterized as “oppo research.” Trump also lied that he had never in his "whole life" called the FBI (he approached the FBI in the 1980s in a matter related to Atlantic City casinos).

The president’s comments came on the same day U.S. senators questioned his son Donald Trump Jr. about his connections with Russia. At the center of the scrutiny surrounding Trump Jr. is a meeting he took in 2016 -- along with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign head Paul Manafort -- with a Kremlin-linked lawyer to discuss “dirt” on former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The details surrounding the meeting are still in question.

As criticism of Trump’s comments poured in, pro-Trump media rushed to defend the president. Many immediately pointed to Hillary Clinton, a common scapegoat for right-wing media; others drew a false equivalency with the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele on alleged connections between Trump and the Russian government to accuse Democrats and the media of a double standard when it comes to accepting foreign assistance during the election. But in fact, while it is illegal to accept contributions from foreign nationals for political campaigns (as Trump suggested he would do), “paying a foreign national fair market value for opposition research is generally not illegal,” as former chief counsel for the Federal Election Commission Lawrence Noble told The Washington Post. “It is considered a commercial transaction, which is not a contribution.”

Nevertheless, pro-Trump media figures still defended Trump’s recent comments, deflecting to Hillary Clinton and the Steele dossier and lambasting the media for their supposed double standards:

  • On her prime-time show, Fox host Laura Ingraham said that it “seems like he’s playing.” She then referenced Trump’s 2016 comments during a campaign rally when he asked Russia to find dirt on Clinton, framing the comments as “obviously a Trump joke.” Ingraham and Her guest Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, said that the interview showed “you shouldn’t ever talk to George Stephanopoulos.”

  • On Fox & Friends, Fox host Sean Hannity cheered Trump’s comments as “the greatest set-up that Donald Trump has ever made” because he angered the “media mob.” He then drew a false equivalency, saying that “if you’re outraged in the media” about Trump’s comments, “how could you not be outraged Hillary Clinton literally empowered a foreign agent who produced a dossier for the Russian lies,” referring to the Steele dossier.

  • On his prime-time show the night before, Hannity had defended Trump’s comments, asserting that if offered campaign dirt, “you might want to listen.” He then claimed that “listening is much different than … lying, spying, and paying for Russian lies,” criticizing Clinton and chastising the media for not being more outraged at her.

  • On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed “there is so much oppo research floating around Washington, D.C. Perhaps that’s what the president’s talking about.”

  • Fellow Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt dismissed the notion that Trump should report foreign assistance to the FBI, asking “What’s the FBI going to do?” Earhardt concluded that the FBI’s response would be along the lines of “you’re crazy.”

  • On America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz claimed that “fake outrage from the left and the media is part of a pattern.” He pivoted to criticizing the media for not showing any outrage about former President Bill Clinton’s paid speeches when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

  • On Special Report with Bret Baier, The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway responded to Trump’s comments by pointing to Clinton, asserting that she “took information from a foreign government.” She claimed that “if this is a huge problem,” then Stephanopoulos “should be asking” Clinton and the DNC about the Steele dossier. She also said the media should be asking, “Why they created this hoax conspiracy theory.”

  • On Fox Business, The Washington TimesCharles Hurt conceded that Trump’s comments were not good, but he urged people to first “think about what he has been through for the past three years.” Hurt also attacked Clinton over the Steele dossier and concluded that Trump is “in fighting mode” so “of course he’s going to say that.”

  • Fox host Mark Levin tweeted: “Uh, remember the dossier?” Levin then criticized the media -- calling them “these clowns” -- for being “appalled by Trump’s answer.”

  • Far-right conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec wrote that his “favorite part of the exchange was when ABC asked Trump about receiving intel from foreigners and he responded: Everyone in Congress does it #BloodMoney”

  • Media Research Center’s NewsBusters: “It's absolutely amazing how many liberals can't recall that Hillary Clinton paid a foreign operative to get foreign dirt on Donald Trump. They think they're the most intelligent ones.”

  • Right-wing blog RedState sarcastically compared Trump’s comments to the Steele dossier: “Democrats are Apoplectic That Trump Would Listen To A Foreigner With Dirt On An Opponent.” The blog post calling media reaction “extraordinary,” “considering that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC paid $12 million to a foreigner to not only dig up dirt on candidate Donald Trump, but to disseminate it among the Washington political community, the Intelligence agencies and then to the media.”

  • Right-wing troll Kurt Schlichter claimed, “I don’t accept that something is a crime only if it applies to my side.” He also wrote that the left decided that foreign election interference “is not a crime, so it is not a crime,” apparently referring to the Steele dossier, and said, “You might call this whataboutism. But my whataboutism is a moral necessity.”

  • Wash. Examiner correspondent Byron York attacked Politico for being “duly shocked, appalled by Trump foreign oppo research comment.” York misleadingly claimed that the same thing is “done by pros! On Nexis! Steele dossier seems to have slipped the mind.”

  • Daily Caller reporter Scott Morefield compared Trump’s affirmative openness to taking “foreign-obtained dirt” to Schiff being pranked by Russian radio hosts.

  • Conservative commentator Harlan Hill accused Democrats of “LYING THROUGH THEIR DAMN TEETH.” Hill’s comment was addressed at “any democrat saying they'd refuse to use oppo dropped on their doorstep regarding an opponent -- simply [because] they didn't like who dropped the oppo on their doorstep.” Hill also tweeted, “Democrats loved foreign interference in American elections when we were talking about the Anti-Trump Steele Dossier, a FAKE produced by a Brit and sourced by the Russians.”

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