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  • FBI Director Puts To Rest Two Weeks Of Fox Lies About Trump's False Wiretap Claim

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Since March 4, President Donald Trump and Fox News have been feeding each other evidence and defenses to back up Trump’s false claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, ordered a “wiretap” at Trump Tower. Fox figures, including Andrew Napolitano, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, have been backing up Trump’s claim, and Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have in turn recycled their comments in their attempts to substantiate the original claim. On March 20, FBI Director James Comey debunked Trump’s original tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping, unequivocally stating, “I have no information that supports those tweets. … The Department [of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”

  • State Department Rewards Reporter Who Wrote Tillerson Puff Piece With Sole Seat On His Plane To Asia

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The only reporter traveling with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during this week’s trip to Asia recently authored a puff piece on Tillerson’s close relationship with President Donald Trump that was based almost entirely on an anonymous Tillerson aide.

    Last week, the State Department announced that Tillerson would not allow the press to travel with him on his government plane during his trip to Japan, South Korea, and China, an extremely unusual step that will reportedly make it “exceedingly difficult, if not impossible” for journalists to cover the proceedings.

    D.C. bureau chiefs from a host of major news outlets sent a letter to the State Department last Tuesday protesting Tillerson’s decision. According to the letter, “Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders.”

    At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, just hours before Tillerson was scheduled to take off, spokesperson Mark Toner was still unwilling to divulge whether any reporters would be traveling on the plane. But eventually, news broke that one reporter would be on board when the plane lifted off: Erin McPike, the White House correspondent for the conservative website Independent Journal Review.

    According to IJR founder Alex Skatell, who previously worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association, McPike got the spot because of her “tenacious, detailed brand of reporting.” According to the State Department’s Toner, the agency wanted to “take a journalist from an outlet that doesn’t normally travel with the Secretary of State, as part of an effort to include a broader representation of US media.”

    But it sure seems likely the State Department rewarded McPike because she was willing to help a Tillerson aide burnish the secretary's reputation.

    The glowing beat-sweetener, published two weeks ago, is a rebuttal to the widespread narrative that Tillerson has been largely sidelined by the White House, lacks influence with the president, and is unwilling to engage with the press or the public. Based on her interview with an unnamed “aide to the nation’s top diplomat,” who boasts that Tillerson frequently speaks with Trump on the phone, McPike decides that this is all Tillerson’s “strategy to keep his head down while he sets out to make the State Department more efficient.”

    McPike grants the aide anonymity to give quotes like, “If Trump closes the deal, Rex is the person who makes the deal.” She goes on to praise the aide’s statement: “It's a comment that suggests Tillerson may have figured out how to ingratiate himself well with his TV star boss: eschew the cameras and make the boss look better.”

    McPike appears to have figured out how to ingratiate herself with the State Department: Make the boss look better.

    The State Department Correspondents Association responded by saying that that it was "disappointed" Tillerson chose to travel to Asia “without a full contingent of the diplomatic press corps or even a pool reporter.” According to the association, several reporters “have traveled commercially to meet Secretary Tillerson on the ground in Asia.”

    “I covered State for more than nine years,” The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler said on Twitter in response to the statement. “What just happened is shocking -- and counterproductive for US diplomacy.”

    For its part, IJR is not interested in solidarity with the rest of the press corps; McPike reportedly is not filing pool reports from the plane. It’s the second time this month the site has been rewarded with exclusive access while the rest of the press was shut out; when Trump ditched the press for a dinner at the Trump Hotel, the website’s Benny Johnson had been tipped off and filed a fawning report after sitting at a nearby table.

    And there’s little reason to think that this will be the last time Tillerson -- or another member of the administration -- ditches the press in favor of hand-picking a reporter from a right-wing outlet who has proved willing to play ball.

    “I want to make the point going forward that we’re going to make every effort in future trips to have a contingent of press onboard that plane,” State Department spokesperson Toner said at the press briefing yesterday.

    Why should reporters believe this?

    If the administration wanted to have the diplomatic press corps accompany Tillerson to Asia, officials could have arranged that. But they haven’t.

    According to the State Department, while the secretary has access to an Air Force Boeing 757, Tillerson “prefers to travel on a smaller plane” which has no room for the press corps. That personal preference apparently outweighed any responsibility the secretary feels about providing the press with access. Part of the rationale is that this is “a cost-saving measure” because news outlets only “pay a degree” of the costs associated with sending journalists to travel with the secretary.

    None of this will change the next time Tillerson leaves the country on the nation’s business. His personal preferences about the size of his plane presumably will remain the same. So will the cost structure for bringing the press.

    There are only two plausible options. Either circumstances will remain the same, and the press will still have limited access to Tillerson when he travels.

    Or Tillerson will switch back to a plane that can accommodate the diplomatic press corps, suggesting that the decision with regard to the Asia trip was arbitrary, intended to send a message to journalists: Act more like McPike, and you, too, can have access to the secretary.

  • US Attorney Preet Bharara Was Investigating Fox News When Trump Fired Him

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump’s decision to fire U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara happened as Bharara’s office was reportedly probing Fox News over its alleged failure to inform shareholders about repeated settlements for allegations of sexual harassment and assault by former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and other executives against female employees. Reports indicate Trump may pick one of Ailes’ former lawyers to replace Bharara.

  • Here's Why Jeff Sessions Expects Tucker Carlson To Help Clean Up His Russia Mess

    Carlson Has Frequently Defended The Attorney General From Charges Of Racism -- As Recently As Last Night

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to tamp down the scandal surrounding his contacts with Russia through an interview with Tucker Carlson. Sessions surely expects an easy time from the Fox News host, who has repeatedly used his program to defend the attorney general, including on last night’s broadcast.

    Sessions announced today that he will recuse himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States” in the wake of the revelation that he failed to acknowledge during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russia’s ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign season, when he was a Donald Trump surrogate.

    He will reportedly appear on Tucker Carlson Tonight in an effort to defuse a firestorm that includes calls for his resignation from numerous Democratic lawmakers, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

    It’s unusual for Carlson to host a newsmaking interview with an administration official, as Rosie Gray noted. And helping Republicans find their footing in the midst of scandals is usually Sean Hannity’s job. But Sessions has good reason to expect the kid gloves treatment from Carlson.

    Sessions’ racism was a key point of contention during the fight for his confirmation as attorney general. Roll Call’s Jonathan Allen described him as “unfit for the Cabinet” and a “partially reconstructed baiter of minorities” in a November 15 column.

    As Allen noted, Sessions’ nomination for the federal bench was rejected by the Senate in 1986 amid allegations that he “had called major civil rights organizations ‘un-American,’ used racially insensitive language with associates and even said pot-smoking was the only reason he no longer thought the KKK was OK.” Allen reviewed Sessions’ shameful legislative record on civil rights issues and noted his support from white nationalists.

    Carlson went to the mat for Sessions, bringing Allen on to his November 18 broadcast to accuse him of “smearing” Sessions by producing “almost like a pure download from the DNC website.” Carlson suggested that Allen had been unfair to suggest Sessions was racist because Sessions had represented Alabama, which has a large African-American community, for decades. He accused Allen of “carrying water for the Democratic Party” by impugning Sessions with “slur[s]” and “pure talking points.”

    Last night Carlson hosted attorney Eric Guster, who pointed out that Sessions recently gave a speech “where he was saying that they're going to stop suing police departments” over civil rights violations. Carlson responded by blaming President Obama’s Justice Department for racial bias in policing.

    Like Sessions, Carlson is beloved by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, in no small part for the way he “has crushed professional mud-slinging Heebs like Jonathan Allen” on his show.

    Carlson is also extremely skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions that Russia played a role in the 2016 presidential election, denigrating those claims in numerous segments over months.

    The attorney general is in good hands tonight.

  • 10 Times Media Figures Demanded The Recusal Of An Attorney General

    Meanwhile, Calls Grow For Attorney General Jeff Sessions To Recuse Himself From An Investigation of Trump's Ties To Russia

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    On March 1, the news broke that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had spoken to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during Trump’s campaign, for which he was an official surrogate, despite his assurance to Congress during his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” Sessions is currently overseeing investigations into Russian connections with Trump’s campaign. During the 2016 campaign, media figures were quick to call for then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s recusal from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server after Lynch met with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac. 

  • When Jeff Sessions Feverishly Urged The Recusal Of An Attorney General On Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In November, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) called on the sitting attorney general to recuse herself and appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations related to Hillary Clinton's use of private email. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are now demanding that now-Attorney General Sessions do the same thing amid reporting that he failed to acknowledge during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russia’s ambassador as a Donald Trump surrogate during the 2016 presidential campaign season.

    In a November 5 letter posted on FoxNews.com that was signed by Sessions, he berated then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for not recusing herself from the Clinton email investigation, and called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate instead:

    Attorney General Lynch and former President Clinton met on the Phoenix, Arizona tarmac days before Secretary Clinton was to be interviewed by the FBI for possible criminal activity. It has been reported that her staff ordered witnesses not to take pictures and no one was present during their 39-minute conversation. General Lynch never recused herself from decisions on the Clinton investigation after her self-admitted “mistake,” as it has also been reported that she continues to deny the FBI the authority to convene a Grand Jury, which is necessary for any meaningful investigation.

    It has also been reported that General Lynch opposed Director Comey from fulfilling his obligation to Congress by informing members of the discovery of 650,000 emails on Anthony Weiner’s and Huma Abedin’s computer, the existence of which had been concealed from government authorities.

    Recusal is a formal process. It is a written document specifically describing the scope of the recusal and designating the official in charge of the recused matter. If General Lynch went through the proper procedure for recusal, she has not publicly shared it.

    [...]

    In 1991-1992, a Special Counsel was appointed for three separate matters: House Bank, Iraqgate, and Inslaw. It was also done in 2003 in the Valerie Plame matter.

    Instead of moving with dispatch to ensure a vigorous investigation of Secretary Clinton, it appears that the Justice Department, along with State, have enabled the Clinton campaign to “slow roll” the inquiry.

    General Lynch continues to exert control of a matter that she should have assigned to another official.

    We are distressed by widespread and credible reports that FBI agents have been hindered by the Justice Department’s withholding of basic investigative tools, such as grand jury subpoenas, which are fundamental in a complex investigation.

    It is time to do what should have been done long ago – appoint a Special Counsel.

    Sessions doubled down on this claim during a November 6 interview on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures, saying “We need an independent person, person that's not politically connected, that people in America can have confidence in to take over this investigation and make sure it's done correctly, to bring charges if need. Hopefully not charges. Hopefully they're not needed. But there are some serious allegations here that the American people need to know are fully investigated”:

    MARIA BARTIROMO (HOST): I want to talk about this letter that you penned along with others like Rudy Giuliani, Frank Keating, Victoria Toensing and Henry McMaster. This is a letter basically saying, look, it is time for Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel because this brings me to the question of the morning after. Regardless who wins, Senator, you're going to have the next day and you're going to have real issues on the table. Will Hillary Clinton be able to make important decisions when she's got these investigations overhanging? What does the morning after look like for Trump? And what do you want to see in terms of this special counsel?

    SESSIONS: Well, you should never politicize criminal investigations or prosecutions. We should never do that. But the situation is such and the facts are such that we have an investigation going now, and there's a lack of confidence, in fact, zero confidence really that the attorney general is doing anything other than delaying this investigation and not pursuing it effectively. It's been ongoing for over a year. A special prosecutor would have been the appropriate thing to do to take it out of politics and maybe would already have been completed, but the rumors we hear are that the FBI is being obstructed and delayed and blocked by the Department of Justice, Attorney General Lynch. So, I think this is a serious matter. We've just got to have integrity in our criminal justice system. Everybody deserves a fair day in court, but we need a fair investigation, too, and I'm afraid that's not happening.

    BARTIROMO: Well, in the letter, you and your colleagues write, look, the Department of Justice has been thwarted by top officials' refusal to conduct a proper investigation of former Secretary [Hillary] Clinton's unsecured email server and the pay-for-play accusations. So if Donald Trump were to win the presidency, is he going to move to remove Loretta Lynch?

    SESSIONS: Well, of course, there will be a change in the attorney general, as well in every cabinet position. Remember, Loretta Lynch serves at the pleasure of President Obama. She doesn't have a termed office. She knows who appointed her and she knows whose pleasure she serves at. So we need an independent person, a person that's not politically connected that people in America can have confidence in to take over this investigation and make sure it's done correctly, to bring charges if need -- hopefully not charges. Hopefully they're not needed. But there are some serious allegations here that the American people need to know are fully investigated. You know, FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he found new evidence. He had no choice but to report to the American Congress where he had under oath testified the investigation was over. He had to correct that and say, this investigation is ongoing now. I'm sure it's significant or he wouldn't have announced that.

    BARTIROMO: Right, which is the question I'm trying to get at in terms of Hillary Clinton. Should she win the presidency, what is she going to do in terms of governance? Can she govern effectively if she's got these investigations going on? Will she have to change FBI directors knowing that Jim Comey is pursuing this? Or are we going to have four years of, you can't get anything done because of these investigations and the challenge from the Republicans like naming new Supreme Court justices?

    SESSIONS: Well, it is a dangerous thing, no doubt. It puts a cloud over her tenure as president. What is she going to do about the attorney general? Who will she appoint? Will it be an utter loyalist, as it appears Loretta Lynch is and Eric Holder was during his tenure, or will it be someone that has the respect of the American people who can handle a complex matter and do it right with confidence. To me, at this point, it's so off track and so badly handled that an independent counsel is the right thing, I have no doubt about that.

    Sessions is now facing demands from even Republican members of Congress that he recuse himself from the Department of Justice investigation into ties between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials, following revelations that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador but told his confirmation committee, under oath, that he had not met with any Russian officials. From The Washington Post:

    Top Republicans said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from federal investigations of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

    House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early Thursday that “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”

    Later, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement, “Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe.”

    [...]

    Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is also demanding a special counsel to investigate the Trump administration for ties to Russia, “given AG Sessions’ false statements about contacts with Russia.”