The Republican National Committee (RNC) pushed a false talking point that originated from the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem to try to discredit former FBI Director James Comey’s June 8 testimony to the Senate intelligence committee.
During his testimony, Comey said that he believed President Donald Trump fired him due to the FBI’s Russia probe, saying, “I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that.” He discussed a number of other issues as well, including saying that Trump directed him to end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and that he wrote memos on his one-on-one interactions with the president because he feared Trump might lie about the exchanges.
Responding to the testimony, the RNC tweeted, “#BigLeagueTruth: Comey testified under oath that @POTUS never asked him or anyone else to end any investigation. #ComeyHearing.” The tweet included a video of Comey’s previous testimony before the Senate intelligence committee -- on May 3 -- in which Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked him if “the attorney general or senior officials at the Department of Justice” tried to block an FBI investigation, to which Comey replied, “Not in my experience.”
Contrary to the RNC’s implication, Comey did not contradict himself. On May 3, he was talking specifically about the Department of Justice, not the president. The RNC’s false claim was pushed early on by “alt-right” trolls Jack Posobiec and Nick Short, and was then repeated by fake news purveyors and other “alt-right” outlets before more traditional right-wing media figures and outlets, such as Fox & Friends and Rush Limbaugh, picked it up. Since then, Republican politicians such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have also repeated the false assertion. The false claim even impacted the stock market.
In a statement to Media Matters, Sen. Hirono criticized the RNC for taking “a far-right conspiracy theory as fact,” and noted that she “only asked former Director Comey about pressure from officials at the Department of Justice”:
“If you listen to the exchange, it’s clear that I only asked former Director Comey about pressure from officials at the Department of Justice, but the RNC chose to move forward and take a far-right conspiracy theory as fact. This sends a clear message that Republicans are willing to share fake news and dangerous narratives in their quest to deny Russian interference in our elections. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect no less from the mouthpiece of an Administration that deals in alternative facts.”
The RNC’s incorrect claim is yet another example of how the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem has been able to amplify its misinformation out of the fringe, pushing forged documents, baseless conspiracy theories, and smear campaigns into more of the mainstream.