Meet Citizens United, Another Right-Wing Group Driving The Clinton Email Narrative

Group's Head Was Fired From Congressional Job For Smearing Hillary Clinton

Citizens United is a conservative activist group with a long history of promoting discredited smears and attacks. Along with fellow right-wing group Judicial Watch, they have been one of the driving forces behind the mainstream media narrative about Hillary Clinton's emails.

Media Matters survey of media coverage of the email story in the Nexis database found that Citizens United has been cited or quoted in reports about Clinton's use of private email in multiple major outlets, including ABC News, Fox News, The New York TimesWall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

Just last week, The Wall Street Journal based an October 15 story on emails parceled out to the newspaper by Citizens United, in a continuation of a pattern utilized by the organization and its leader David Bossie of selectively leaking partial information to news outlets in order to attack Democrats. The story later made the leap to Fox News. 

The emails, which show Clinton aides experienced occasional IT problems when working with Clinton's private server (similar to many agencies, organizations, and businesses), are described by Bossie in the Journal story as “another troubling revelation.” Bossie has also been calling for a “special counsel” to investigate the emails.

This is the type of scandal-mongering that Citizens United has done for years in order to further conservative crusades against prominent progressives. Bossie himself has been targeting the Clintons for more than two decades. In 1998, he was fired from a job with the House Oversight Committee for his role in releasing selectively-edited transcripts that smeared Hillary Clinton.

Citizens United & Clinton Emails

Citizens United has been pushing for the release of Clinton communications from the State Department, and is a party in several lawsuits demanding Clinton-related materials from the agency. In the course of those requests, Citizens United has often insinuated -- without evidence -- that wrongdoing took place. Citizens United President David Bossie told Politico after a recent hearing, “If it weren't for our FOIAs and subsequent lawsuits, these records would remain exactly where Hillary Clinton wants them -- in the shadows.”

One set of emails released to Citizens United and then doled out to mainstream news organizations supposedly revealed a “tangled web” between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation, Bossie told the Washington Post. In fact, the emails mostly showed mundane communications amongst Clinton's team, including arrangements to organize a dinner.

Who Is Citizens United?

Citizens United was created in 1988 by conservative activist Floyd Brown. Early on, the organization ran political campaigns promoting the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, as well as campaigns against Democratic presidential candidates like Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton.

Brown was behind the infamous race-baiting Willie Horton political ad that was used to attack Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign. He was chairman of Citizens United until 2006, a position former congressional investigator and anti-Clinton activist David Bossie now holds.

Since leaving Citizens United, Brown has promoted the birther conspiracy that President Obama was not born in the United States, and demanded his removal from the White House for trying to construct a “totalitarian regime.” Brown also ran political attack ads falsely claiming that President Obama is Muslim.

In 2008, Citizens United produced an anti-Clinton film called Hillary: The Movie. After the group was barred from advertising the film due to its political content and possible influence on the election, the resulting 2010 Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, opened the floodgate of money now influencing elections.

Citizens United also engaged in deceptive campaigns against the Affordable Care Act, and distorted the beliefs of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

In addition to Hillary: The Movie, the organization has produced films attacking the left and promoting the right. These include Occupy UnmaskedBattle for America with Dick Morris, and Hype: The Obama Effect.

Citizens United also has an affiliated political action committee, Citizens United Political Victory Fund, that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars between 2006 and 2014 to support Republican candidates and attack Democrats. They also have a super PAC, Citizens United Super PAC, which has already spent $128,199 so far in the 2016 election cycle. 

Citizens United's Unethical Past

CBS reported in 1992 that as part of an “unusually brazen dirty-tricks operation,” Brown sent his agents, including David Bossie, to prove a conspiracy theory that a woman named Susann Coleman had committed suicide after an affair with Bill Clinton. In order to do so, Bossie followed Coleman's mother to an Army hospital in Georgia, where she was visiting her husband who was recovering from a stroke. CBS said, according to a Nexis transcript, that Bossie and an accomplice “burst into the sick man's room and began questioning the shaken mother about her daughter's suicide.” (The operation was not technically on behalf of Citizens United -- Brown at the time was heading a group called the “Presidential Victory Committee.”)

Brown also called Coleman's sister and harassed her about the affair. The calls were recorded. On the tape, Brown told her, “If there's any truth to this proposed story, I want to be very private. I want to basically have my lawyers approach Clinton's lawyers and tell him that we want him out of the race because he's not morally qualified to be president.”

CBS said that George H.W. Bush's re-election campaign “disclaims any connection with Floyd Brown and describes his anti-Clinton tactics as despicable.”

David Bossie, Citizens United's Attack Dog

Bossie has served as the president of Citizens United since 2000 (and chairman since 2006). Before that, he was chief investigator for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a position he was fired from for releasing selectively-edited transcripts of interviews with former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell in order to leave the false impression that then-first lady Hillary Clinton was involved in wrongdoing.

At the time, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the committee, “I'm embarrassed for you, I'm embarrassed for myself, and I'm embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee.” (The Washington Post reported at the time, “While Burton defended his senior investigator publicly and said Bossie was leaving of his own accord, Gingrich told the conference yesterday that Bossie, who had survived repeated previous attempts, had been fired.”)

During the 1992 Clinton-Bush election, Bossie was involved in the production of a campaign ad featuring apparently doctored tape-recorded conversations, which was then repudiated by George W. Bush on behalf of his father, President George H.W. Bush. The younger Bush reportedly “even sent out a letter to 85,000 Republican contributors encouraging them not to contribute to” Bossie's campaign effort.

Bossie kept up his behavior at Citizens United, coordinating a campaign of leaks and misinformation designed to hurt the Clinton administration and the first lady:

Bossie, the twenty-eight-year-old political director for Citizens United, a conservative Republican operation, runs an information factory whose Whitewater production lines turn out a steady stream of tips, tidbits, documents, factoids, suspicions, and story ideas for the nation's press and for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Journalists and Hill Republicans have recycled much of the information provided by Citizens United into stories that have cast a shadow on the Clinton presidency.

A 1994 Chicago Tribune profile reported that Bossie was part of the campaign to use the Whitewater controversy to attack President Bill Clinton, pointing out that he “harvests tales of alleged wrongdoings from a network of Clinton enemies, then peddles them to Capitol Hill and media contacts in hopes of prompting scandalous stories.”

Bossie is still doing the same, but now he's on the Clinton-email beat.