Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano did a rare thing today: He apologized for a claim he made on air. Napolitano had previously suggested that former FBI Director James Comey had committed a crime by sharing memos detailing his meetings with President Donald Trump with a friend. Fox has now confirmed that the friend had the necessary clearance to view the materials, which prompted Napolitano to apologize. But Napolitano’s (wrong) accusation follows a pattern; much of his recent “legal analysis” has involved baselessly speculating about misconduct by various current and former government officials, most of which ultimately somehow victimizes Trump.
On April 24, Fox News reported that Daniel Richman, the recipient of Comey’s memos who then shared some of their contents with the media, confirmed to its reporters that he was a special government employee (SGE) and that he had clearance to view classified materials. The next day on Fox’s Outnumbered, Napolitano apologized for previous speculation that Comey had committed a crime:
ANDREW NAPOLITANO: It appeared when the memos were released, these are the seven memos that Jim Comey wrote about his interactions with the president, some of which had blacked out, that turns out that they had classified materials in them and I owe Jim Comey an apology because I said if this stuff had classified materials in it and he gave it to the professor, that is a crime, to fail to secure state secrets if they were properly classified. Now it turns out that the professor had a security clearance. So there was no crime, Mr. Comey, and I apologize. I was wrong.
But for at least a year, Napolitano’s specialty has been to cherry-pick facts or take advantage of partially reported stories with incomplete information to argue that Trump is actually the victim of misconduct from other current and former government officials. While law enforcement and government officials certainly are not infallible, the baseless -- and often demonstrably incorrect -- way that Napolitano tosses out his accusations has been, for lack of a better word, absurd.
- In March 2017, Napolitano stated that former President Barack Obama “went outside the chain of command” and asked Government Communications Headquarters, Britain's spy agency, for surveillance of Trump. His claims were later repeated by then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer and ultimately resulted in an international incident between the U.S. and Britain. Media Matters found that the source of this claim was a discredited former CIA analyst who had floated the conspiracy theory on the Russian state-sponsored news network RT. Napolitano’s claim was later debunked by Comey, numerous other British and American government officials, and even Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). Napolitano was kept off of Fox News for a period of time following this incident.
- In May 2017, Napolitano said “it appears that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was aware” that information about former national security adviser Michael Flynn was given to The Washington Post "in an attempt to destabilize a validly elected administration, Donald Trump.
- In June, Napolitano suggested former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had “made law enforcement decisions for political purposes.” According to the story that claim was based on, Comey showed Lynch a “highly sensitive piece of evidence … that suggested Lynch had agreed to put the kibosh on any prosecution of Clinton.” The evidence cited was a Russian intelligence document “viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake,” according to The Washington Post.
- In August, Napolitano speculated that a rule change by Lynch “probably triggered the unmasking of then-President Elect Trump and General Flynn” and that “the unmasking goes back deep into the Obama administration in an effort to embarrass President Trump and his allies in Congress.” In the segment, he noted that unmasking for national security reasons is lawful, but “if it's done for a political purpose, it's a felony.” Napolitano offered no evidence that Trump was in fact unmasked or that any unmasking would have been politically motivated.
- In December, Napolitano claimed that the General Services Administration (GSA) acted unlawfully by not informing Trump transition team of special counsel Robert Mueller's request for its emails. BuzzFeed News reported that the GSA in fact had informed the Trump transition team that "materials ‘would not be held back in any law enforcement’ actions.”
- In February, Napolitano speculated that Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray could have been involved with the missing text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, saying that he doesn’t know if Wray’s “hands are clean on this.” The text messages were ultimately recovered.
- Also in February, Napolitano questioned the timing of an email that Obama national security adviser Susan Rice wrote to herself on January 20, 2017, about a January 5 meeting with senior administration officials. He argued the memo was an an attempt to “rewrite history” and “make it look as if something happened that didn't happen.” The memo reportedly documented Obama's concern that “intelligence officials be cautious about sharing information about the Russia investigation with the Trump transition team, 'particularly' incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn.” Rice's attorney later explained that she wrote the email on January 20 on the advice of the White House counsel's office.
Of course, even as Napolitano levies charges at anyone in sight, he’s excused any potential evidence suggesting wrongdoing on Trump’s part. Just in the last few months, he’s dismissed reports that Trump may have improperly influenced then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe by asking how he voted in the 2016 presidential election and reports that Trump may be tampering with witnesses in the investigation of his campaign by asking them about their testimony.