Fox News has responded to the indictment of former President Donald Trump for withholding classified documents with a swell of demagoguery suggesting this event signals the end of American democracy. But the network is pushing another ridiculous angle: That the indictment was timed to distract from House Republicans’ latest accusations against President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The conspiracy theory is obviously baseless. Special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation of Trump has been going on for months, and Fox itself reported two weeks ago that Smith was going to conclude it soon. In order to buy into Fox’s claim that the indictment is a distraction, you would have to believe that the entire process of Smith’s appointment last November and his 7 month long investigation was timed to produce an indictment in June this year, just in time to spoil yet another House Republican attempt to kick up a manufactured scandal against the Biden family.
Fox News is trying to rehash the anti-Biden smear campaign behind Trump’s first impeachment
Fox News has for weeks been hyping up efforts by congressional Republicans to accuse Biden of having received vast sums of money from Ukraine when his son Hunter was on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. The accusation is a relic of the smear campaign four years ago that led to Trump’s first impeachment, when he attempted to pressure the Ukrainian government into announcing an investigation of Biden in exchange for receiving badly needed military aid to defend itself from Russia. The claims were widely debunked at the time, which did not stop the Murdoch media from ignoring facts their own news desks had reported.
In the latest chapter, members of the House Oversight Committee led by Chairman James Comer (R-KY) on Thursday looked at an FBI document called an FD-1023, containing a tip from a confidential source dating back to 2020, alleging a $5 million payment to Biden during his time as vice president.
Fox’s own reporting describes the tip as coming in June 2020, which was both in the heat of the presidential election and months after Trump’s previous efforts to pin a corruption charge on his opponent via the Ukrainian government. Even then, the source only said that another person claimed they were paying Biden, not that the source had this information directly. (Fox News is now ignoring its own reporting that “the document does not say Joe Biden received any payments,” with hosts speaking of “these $5 million payments” as if they were established facts.)
Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr told The Federalist that he sent the information to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Delaware. This would mean the information has been in the possession of the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for Delaware, David C. Weiss, whom Biden has not replaced during his term. So, either this Trump-appointed U.S. attorney deemed the tip to not be credible, or Weiss has had the information for up to three years and it could form some component of a probe of Hunter Biden. But either way, House Republicans and right-wing media would have no cause to complain of obstruction by the Biden administration.
NBC News reported that a senior law enforcement official said the FBI and a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney had reviewed the bribery claim in 2020 and determined that it was not substantiated. But on Thursday, House Republicans trumpeted the document as absolute proof that Biden was “100% guilty.”
Biden himself jokingly responded to a reporter Thursday, “Where’s the money?” And indeed, such a scheme would also have to involve some incredible degree of money laundering to hide the funds from his publicly available financial disclosures and decades’ worth of tax returns.
Fox News hosts and “straight news” anchors spread the conspiracy theory
- Just as the story broke Thursday night, Fox host Jesse Watters asked, “What does this tell you on the same day we’re learning that the Bidens took $10 million in bribes, supposedly, from Ukraine?” Fox contributor Charlie Hurt responded that Biden had “been asked about it for the first time. So you see this drop on the exact same day. I think that the two are very related.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 6/8/23]
- During her guest-hosting spot in the 8 p.m. hour, Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner alleged: “It’s remarkable that just hours after Republicans made this finding, Biden’s own Justice Department would indict Biden’s leading opponent in 2024. It’s unprecedented.” [Fox News, Fox News Tonight, 6/8/23]
- The theory then got tons of airtime on The Ingraham Angle. New York Post columnist Miranda Devine claimed: “Well, look, Merrick Garland, the attorney general, controls the timing of this and the timing is really outrageous, because it comes right as the FBI has finally been forced by James Comer in the House Oversight Committee to hand over this evidence of Joe Biden receiving a $5 million bribe from Ukraine when he was vice president. This is devastating to the president. It should be devastating. But, of course, they've just brought out this shiny object to make all of the media look over there.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 6/8/23]
- Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz chimed in: “I agree with Miranda. I think the timing is such that here James Comer and all the House Republicans and Democrats can go see what’s going on with the allegation from a credible source about Joe Biden. They just happened, hours later, to drop this indictment on President Trump. Do you think that’s a coincidence?” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 6/8/23]
- Host Laura Ingraham kicked off an interview with far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) by offering this sardonic remark: “Congresswoman, so, the reporting would be then, if this were true, that the Burisma scheme is confirmed, then Trump is indicted. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. This all just happened. It’s sheer coincidence.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 6/8/23]
- The conspiracy theories continued into the morning, with former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi claiming that the government was “going after Donald Trump, and I don't think it's a coincidence now because of the 1023 that’s out.” (In the same interview, Bondi claimed that the government’s prosecution of Trump was taking resources away from investigating child sex-trafficking.) [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/9/23]
- Later in the program, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhart also asked then-Trump attorney Jim Trusty: “It happened to be on the exact same day that House Oversight Committee got to look at that 1023 form that basically alleges — it’s being told that that’s proof that there was an exchange of $5 million from this oil company in Ukraine in exchange for policy when Joe Biden was vice president. Is that coincidence that this happened on the same day?” (It was announced later Friday that Trusty resigned as Trump’s attorney.) [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/9/23]
- During the network’s purported “straight news” programming, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) claimed, “With the indictment last night that came down on Donald Trump on the day that we looked at evidence of corruption, you know, you’re watching the executive branch trying to take out political enemies because of the accusations against the Biden family.” America’s Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer did not challenge Mace or ask her any further questions on this point. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 6/9/23]
Fox’s histrionics are ironic on multiple levels, considering the propaganda network previously championed the cause of locking up the right’s political enemies, argued for a president’s supposed authority to directly order the investigation of a political opponent, and served a major public role in Trump’s effort to subvert American democracy following his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.