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  • Neil Gorsuch's Alarming Relationship With A Serial Voting Rights Misinformer

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Newly released emails from President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, evidence an amicable relationship between the judge and National Review contributor and discredited conservative media legal analyst Hans von Spakovsky. The relationship is a sign that Gorsuch could continue Trump’s assault on civil rights from the high court.

    According to emails released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, first reported on by The Nation’s Ari Berman, Gorsuch’s communications with or about von Spakovsky paint a picture of their  friendly relationship. In 2005, Gorsuch wrote “Good for Hans” after then-President George W. Bush nominated von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission. In another email that year, Gorsuch praised von Spakovsky for participating in a Bush-era Justice Department conference on the election system at a time when "Though the Justice Department was supposed to investigate both voting discrimination and voter fraud, the latter cause took priority and eventually led to Republican US Attorneys’ being wrongly fired from their jobs for refusing to prosecute fraud cases," as explained by Berman.

    As Berman wrote, “the emails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy. But it’s far more disturbing if Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views on voting rights.” As Berman previously pointed out, Gorsuch’s “paper trail on civil-rights cases is slim,” and little is known about his views on voting rights. However, this relationship with von Spakovsky does nothing to reassure voting and civil rights advocates.

    Von Spakovsky is one of the leading conservative media misinformers on voting rights, frequently hyping the false narrative that voter fraud is widespread. In November, von Spakovsky and his frequent partner, John Fund, rehashed discredited evidence to fearmonger about noncitizen voting in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The op-ed was published even though noncitizen voting is incredibly rare and studies that claim otherwise have been found to be flawed. Von Spakovsky has also erroneously suggested that double voting is not only a problem, but that it could be solved by strict voter ID laws. In 2012, von Spakovsky and Fund wrote a book filled with lies about voting rights.

    Von Spakovsky has used these lies to relentlessly advocate for unnecessarily strict voter ID laws across the nation, which have been shown to systematically disenfranchise voters, especially voters of color. To promote these laws, von Spakovsky has hyped myths and misleading details, claiming that the laws don’t lead to voter disenfranchisement and that they actually speed up the voting process. Additionally, von Spakovsky has also praised blatantly illegal voter suppression tactics.

    While von Spakovsky is often held up as a conservative expert on voting rights, his talking points are incredibly misleading and discredited, and his tactics are shady. His apparent disdain for civil rights and access to justice is supported by more than just his disregard for half a century of progressive voting rights jurisprudence. He has called the modern civil rights movement “indistinguishable” from “segregationists.” Von Spakovsky also has been a proponent of forced arbitration clauses, which are when an “employee or consumer is required to waive their right to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal.” Forced arbitration is terrible for consumers, and according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gives less consumers eligibility for financial redress than they would have through class-action settlements.

    Gorsuch’s friendly emails to and about von Spakovsky should trigger alarms among those who are worried about voting rights and civil rights in general. If confirmed, Gorsuch would be ruling on many of these issues from the bench. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 68 bills have been introduced in 2017 alone to restrict access to the ballot in 27 states -- and Trump’s lies about the election and voter fraud are only paving the way for an even wider assault on voting rights. This is to say nothing of Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has a record of being incredibly hostile toward civil rights, even calling the Voting Rights Act “intrusive.” If Gorsuch’s correspondence with von Spakovsky is any hint, access to basic rights and liberties may only get worse.

  • Report Confirms Fox News’ Napolitano Repeated Russian Media For His British Intelligence Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times has confirmed that Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano sourced his false allegation that former President Barack Obama asked British intelligence to spy on President Donald Trump to a discredited former CIA analyst. This analyst, Larry C. Johnson, floated the conspiracy theory on the Russian state-sponsored news network RT on March 6, the week after Trump’s original accusation that Obama was responsible for an illegal wiretap.

    On March 13, Napolitano told hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends that Obama circumvented the American intelligence community to ask “the British spying agency” for “transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump” without “American fingerprints.” Napolitano’s claims were cited by White House press secretary Sean Spicer while defending Trump’s baseless claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

    On March 14, Media Matters uncovered the link between Napolitano's claims and an interview Johnson gave to RT. The New York Times confirmed Media Matters'  reporting that Napolitano used Johnson as “one of the sources” for his “claim about British intelligence.” The Times also noted Johnson’s direct involvement in spreading false rumors that video existed of Michelle Obama using a racial slur against white people. From the March 17 article:

    Mr. [Andrew] Napolitano’s unlikely leap into global politics can be explained by his friendship with Mr. Trump, whom he met with this year to discuss potential Supreme Court nominees. Mr. Napolitano also has a taste for conspiracy theories, which led him to Larry C. Johnson, a former intelligence officer best known for spreading a hoax about Michelle Obama.

    [...]

    Mr. Johnson, who was himself once a Fox News contributor, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Napolitano called him on Friday and requested that he speak to The New York Times. Mr. Johnson said he was one of the sources for Mr. Napolitano’s claim about British intelligence.

    Mr. Johnson became infamous in political circles after he spread false rumors in 2008 that Michelle Obama had been videotaped using a slur against Caucasians. In the interview on Friday, Mr. Johnson acknowledged his notoriety, but said that his knowledge of surveillance of Mr. Trump came from sources in the American intelligence community. Mr. Napolitano, he said, heard about his information through an intermediary.

  • Sean Spicer Caused An International Incident By Citing Fox News To Defend Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The U.S. government has issued a formal apology to the United Kingdom after White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited a Fox News report to accuse a British intelligence service of spying on Trump Tower on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The British newspaper The Telegraph reports that U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster “contacted Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Prime Minister's National Security adviser, to apologise for the comments. Mr Spicer conveyed his apology through Sir Kim Darroch, Britain's US ambassador.”

    Over the past two weeks, Spicer has issued a series of increasingly frantic statements to support President Donald Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory that Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 presidential campaign. Yesterday, after the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees said that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement.

    Amid this litany, Spicer cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s anonymously sourced March 13 statement that Obama had relied on the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    As I noted yesterday, in making the comments, Spicer imperiled our relations with our closest ally in order to buttress an obviously false Trump statement. Napolitano is a conspiracy theorist who has suggested the government may have been involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His claim about British intelligence appears to have originated with a report on the state-sponsored Russian news network RT, and a British security official denied the claim, telling Reuters it was "totally untrue and quite frankly absurd."

    Spicer’s decision to make the same allegation from the White House podium drew a furious response from GCHQ, as The Telegraph reported:

    In a break from its normal practice of refusing to comment on allegations about its activities, a spokesman for GCHQ said: "Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

    The increased scrutiny of Fox News in the U.K. comes at an inopportune time for the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, and its CEO, Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox is currently trying to take full control of the United Kingdom satellite broadcasting company Sky, which oversees Sky News. Yesterday, the British culture secretary, Karen Bradley, referred the $14.3 billion bid to British media regulator Ofcom, in part over concerns about whether the company is “whether Fox is committed to the required editorial standards, such as accuracy and impartial news coverage,” according to The Guardian.

    The White House’s open insult to the British government comes after conservatives spent years trumping up baseless claims that Obama was trying to undermine our relationship with the United Kingdom.

    Right-wing media figures for years decried the return to the U.K. of a bust of Winston Churchill that President George W. Bush had kept in the Oval Office when Obama took office, citing the move as evidence that Obama hated the British and had grievously insulted our strongest ally. When Trump had the bust returned to the Oval Office following his inauguration, conservative media outlets swooned.

    Less than two months later, the White House has had to apologize to the British government for baselessly accusing the country of spying on Trump.

    UPDATE: There is now an apparent dispute within the Trump administration over whether the White House actually apologized to the British. "US officials... disputed whether the Trump administration had gone as far as an apology," according to BuzzFeed. But earlier this morning, CNN's White House reporter said that White House sources had told him McMaster and Spicer had apologized.

    UPDATE 2: Asked about Spicer’s comments by a German reporter at today’s joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said that he and Merkel had “something in common” --suggesting the Obama administration had spied on them both. Trump added: “And just to finish your question, we said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

    UPDATE 3: According to Fox News anchor Shep Smith, “Fox News cannot confirm judge Napolitano's commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.”

  • Sean Spicer Cited A 9/11 Truther To Accuse The British Of Spying On Trump For Obama

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that the British intelligence service surveilled President Donald Trump on then-President Barack Obama’s behalf. Napolitano has promoted conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks and other events, and a British security official has denied the “absurd” claim, suggesting that Spicer is willing to imperil the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom to bail out the president.

    Over the past 24 hours, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have said that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election. In an effort to defuse the situation during today’s press briefing, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement. This included Napolitano’s March 13 statement on Fox & Friends that, according to “three intelligence sources,” Obama relied on “GCHQ,” the “British spying agency,” to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    Here is Spicer suggesting that our allies in the U.K. spied on the current president on behalf of his predecessor, based on Napolitano’s reporting:

    And here is Napolitano telling Alex Jones, the founder of the 9/11 Truth movement -- which claims the U.S. government carried out the 2001 terror attacks -- that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself," and that "twenty years from now, people will look at 9/11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn't possibly have been done the way the government told us":

    Napolitano has pushed a wide array of conspiracy theories over the years, including floating the possibility that Osama bin Laden was still alive and the government was “pulling a fast one to save Obama's lousy presidency."

    The suggestion that Obama asked British intelligence to surveil British intelligence appears to originate in part from conspiracy theorist and former CIA official Larry Johnson, who made the claim during an interview on state-sponsored Russian news network RT. The interview was widely circulated by hyperpartisan and conspiracy theory websites in the days before Napolitano’s appearance.

    A British security official denied the claim on March 14, telling Reuters it was "totally untrue and quite frankly absurd." But now it’s been promoted from the podium by the president’s spokesman.

    Spicer also cited commentary from Fox host Sean Hannity to support Trump’s claim. As he was speaking from the podium, Hannity was on his radio show suggesting that President Obama and U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, who last night granted a temporary restraining order against Trump’s revised Muslim ban, may have been “best friends in Hawaii” and used drugs together.

  • Report: Breitbart Editor-Turned-Trump Official Is A "Sworn Member" Of "Nazi-Allied" Hungarian Group

    Sebastian Gorka Has Denied The Report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Jewish news publication The Forward reported that Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka is a “formal member” of the Vitézi Rend, a far-right nationalist Hungarian group that, according to the State Department, operated under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump and former national security editor for “alt right” website Breitbart.com, denied that he was a member of the group when contacted by another publication.

    The Forward spoke to two leaders of the Vitézi Rend, Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, who said Gorka is a sworn member of their organization. From the March 16 article:

    Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész -- a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus -- and Kornél Pintér -- a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

    Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

    “Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

    The Forward explained that the Vitézi Rend “is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist ‘criminal organizations’ with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Soltész also told BuzzFeed that Gorka is a current member of the Vitézi Rend. Gorka denied these ties to Tablet magazine, telling a reporter, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” (Foward’s article described how Gorka has signed testimony submitted to Congress and other documents with a “v.,” which “is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend” after they have taken a sworn oath.)

    Tablet added that Gorka’s father was “a dedicated member of the anti-Communist underground, and had risked his life to organize the Hungarian resistance and deliver vital information about the Soviets to western intelligence agencies, including the MI6. He was eventually arrested, badly tortured, spent two years in solitary confinement and some more in forced labor in the coal mines before eventually escaping to England.”

    Back in February, foreign policy blog LobeLog confirmed with an expert that a medal Gorka had worn to an inaugural ball was from the Vitézi Rend. Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak defended Gorka in a February 14 article, calling claims about his connections to the Vitézi Rend a “smear” and defending the group by calling it “anti-communist.”

    USA Today reported that following Forward’s report, Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement that “Sebastian Gorka must resign -- and President Trump must make it happen,” and that the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged Trump to fire Gorka. BuzzFeed quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling the reports “deeply disturbing” and saying: “It’s shocking that with these revelations he’s not already fired by the president.” Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also told BuzzFeed that Gorka should resign or that Trump should fire him if the reports about his membership are further substantiated.

    A reporter for Talking Points Memo later tweeted a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, which stated "If true, [Gorka] needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary."

    Before he was hired by the Trump administration, Gorka worked for Breitbart.com as a national security editor and was a paid adviser to the Trump campaign. In the past he has used anti-Muslim rhetoric and backed conspiracy theories. For example, after the Washington National Cathedral hosted an event with two Muslim groups in 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart.com with the headline “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral In DC," arguing that “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim (sic) land. Forever.” Gorka also defended Trump’s false campaign claim that former President Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” saying he “is absolutely right” if he meant the Obama administration “facilitated the growth of ISIS.”