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  • Fox helps Trump sell his absurd claim that he misspoke during his press conference with Putin

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After being roundly criticized for capitulating to President Vladimir Putin during a press conference, President Donald Trump attempted to walk back his remark casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s findings about Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election with a flimsy excuse that was accepted only by some members of his own party and his most obsequious allies in the media.

    On July 16, Trump lost the support of even some of his closest allies when he questioned his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s denial of Russian meddling, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia that attempted to interfere in the U.S. election. The next day, under intense pressure from aides and supporters, Trump made the laughable claim that he accidentally “said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’” during his press conference with Putin. He went on, “The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia’” that meddled in the 2016 election. Many media outlets were quick to point out that the full context of Trump’s remarks indicated he was, in fact, accepting Putin’s denial of Russian meddling over the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion.

    But on Fox News, friends of Trump defied this reality and ran with Trump’s obvious lie:

    • Fox host Sean Hannity: “President Trump clarified his remarks from the summit, made it perfectly clear that he trusts our intel agencies.”
    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “Fortunately for [Trump’s critics], the president took pity on them and gave them a statement today to the effect he had misspoken.”
    • Dobbs later commented that Trump is “being as presidential and forthright and effective as any president in modern history, more so in my judgment,” but his critics “don’t want to play straight.”
    • Fox correspondent Kristin Fisher: “This should go a long way to satisfy or at least quell some of the president's critics.”
    • Fox’s Jesse Watters accepted Trump’s claim that his comment at the press conference with Putin as “a gaffe” and praised him for admitting his mistake, calling his admission “historic.”
    • Fox host Sandra Smith said Trump was “admitting he misspoke” while discussing Russian election meddling and “making it clear he does indeed support the intelligence community.”
    • Smith also called Trump’s dubious clarification “a walk-back to remember” and failed to push back on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) acceptance of Trump’s excuse.
    • Fox Business’ Trish Regan: Trump “might have misspoken” because “perhaps he was tired.”
    • Fox & Friends also parroted Trump's dubious excuse for his disastrous press conference with Putin: "He had misspoken."
    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham and her panel complained that Trump’s clarification “wasn’t good enough” for Democrats or the media.
  • The small chorus of pro-Trump figures defending his disastrous presser with Putin

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Amid bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s capitulation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, some of Trump’s fiercest media allies are standing behind him, even as many of his loyalists defect.

    During a July 16 press conference with his Russian counterpart, Trump questioned the findings of his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s false claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election, calling his denial “extremely strong and powerful.” His shameful performance garnered sharp rebukes from intelligence community veterans, Democrats, Republicans, and even friends of Trump who have defended the president through some of his most egregious slip-ups.

    Nonetheless, a group of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the media rejected the overwhelming consensus and defended the president:

    • Fox's Jeanine Pirro: "What was [Trump] supposed to do, take a gun out and shoot Putin?"
    • Fox host Sean Hannity praised Trump for being "very strong at the end of the press conference."
    • Infowars host Owen Shroyer on the press conference: "It just kept getting better in time."
    • Conservative radio host Mark Simone: “The whole idea of a summit is to make peace. That’s what he was doing there.”
    • Fox host Laura Ingraham admonished “mass hysteria” in reaction to the press conference and downplayed Trump’s performance as involving an “unfortunate word choice.”
    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson attacked media for their reactions to the press conference and said it seems like politicians critical of Trump’s actions toward Putin and Russia “seek increased conflict with Russia.”
    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak: “A day after the media/Democrats/NeverTrump meltdown over Trump-Putin summit, they're still wrong, the world's still here, and the future is bright.”
    • Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering: “Remind me, did Obama forcefully confront Putin for” the 2014 attack on a Malaysian Airlines passenger flight over Ukraine?
    • The Washington Times boosted comments from former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), current host of the web show Liberty Report, who categorized Trump’s meeting with Putin as “significant diplomacy.”
  • Right-wing media are mad Trump picked Putin over US intelligence. He was just following their lead.

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In an unusual development, many right-wing media figures have criticized President Donald Trump for throwing the U.S. intelligence community under the bus during a July 16 appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin by refusing to affirm its conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. While it’s uncommon to see typically sycophantic figures rebuking the president, this criticism is particularly surprising given right-wing media’s own history of encouraging Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community for just that finding.

    During the press conference in Helsinki after his one-on-one meeting with the Russian president, Trump touted Putin’s denial of interfering in the U.S. elections and claimed he doesn’t “see any reason why” Russia would have meddled. Many right-wing media figures were displeased with this response and rebuked the president’s behavior:

    • Fox News’ Abby Huntsman (whose father currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Russia): “No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus.”

    • Fox’s Newt Gingrich: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.”

    • Fox News analyst Jack Keane: “That’s alarming that the president would not stand behind that entire intelligence community and judicial process and back them up a hundred percent.” Keane also stated: “To stand there on a world stage and appease Russia in disfavor to our intelligence community was a thing that shocked me."

    • Fox’s Trish Regan: “This was clearly not [President Trump's] best performance. ... He should have defended us. He should have defended his own intelligence community."

    • Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera tweeted: Trump “seems to distrust & despise @HillaryClinton & #SpecialCounsel more than he distrusts& despises #Russia & #GRU He also didn’t embrace our own intelligence community, which says Russia is guilty of meddling.”

    • Fox News analyst Brit Hume: “Trump, finally asked whom he believes on Russia interference, gives a vague and rambling non-answer, with renewed complaints about Hillary’s server. Says he trusts US intel but made clear he takes Putin’s denials seriously. Lame response, to say the least.”

    • Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: said that “When Newt Gingrich, when Gen. Jack Keane, when [Chairman of American Conservative Union] Matt Schlapp say the president fell short and made our intelligence apparatus look bad, I think it’s time to pay attention.” He also claimed that Trump “fell short” in Helsinki.  

    • Townhall’s Guy Benson: Trump’s response to the question if he believes U.S. intel or Putin was an “atrocious, humiliating answer.”

    • The Washington Examiner’s Byron York: “Concerning Trump's newser remarks specifically on Trump-Russia affair: Appalling.”

    Right-wing media’s apparent shock at the president’s actions, however, is itself laughable, given Trump’s history of attacking the U.S. intelligence community over the Russia investigation, and right-wing media’s own war against intelligence officials. Right-wing media have spent years besmirching the intelligence community to protect Trump and undermine the Russia investigation, often pushing outlandish conspiracy theories about a “secret society” and attempted “coups,” or else aggressively targeting individual officials in order to delegitimize intelligence findings that might hurt Trump. There is plenty to scrutinize the intelligence community over, but it is wildly hypocritical that right-wing media are finding Trump’s rhetoric about the Russia investigation “appalling.” After all, he probably got it from them.

  • Here's what you need to know about the right's theory that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In recent days, many on the right have pushed the claim that the FBI "infiltrated" President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign with a "mole." The claim relies upon the testimony of a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired a former British agent who compiled an intelligence dossier about Trump’s connections to various Russians. The claim also builds off of a recent squabble between the Department of Justice and the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), over the release of classified information. Here is what you need to know about the story’s origins:

    • On January 2, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the founders of the research firm Fusion GPS, claimed in an op-ed that the FBI had a source “inside the Trump camp” during the 2016 election.

    • On January 9, the transcript from Simpson’s August 2017 Senate testimony was released, revealing that he had told the Senate Judiciary Committee it was his “understanding” that the bureau had an “internal Trump campaign source.” Simpson also testified during the hearing that conversations he had with the author of the dossier about Trump’s Russia connections, Christopher Steele, led him to believe that the FBI had “a human source from inside the Trump organization.”

    • The same day, reporters tweeted that the Trump campaign insider Simpson referred to was George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and that the FBI's source was an Australian diplomat who informed U.S. officials that Papadopoulos had mentioned to him receiving Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton in May 2016.

    • Between January 9 and January 10, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that the “human source” Simpson had mentioned was allegedly the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer.

    • On January 18, however, a lawyer for Simpson sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asserting that Simpson “stands by his testimony.” The lawyer stated that Simpson was not withdrawing his claim that Steele had “believed the FBI had another source within the Trump organization/campaign.”

    • On May 8, The Washington Post reported that the DOJ was refusing to hand over information requested by Nunes because it could “endanger a top-secret intelligence source.” The source, according to the Post, had developed information that was “provided to the Mueller investigation.”

    • Two days later, The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel published an op-ed in which she speculated that the FBI may have secretly had a source “who used his or her non-FBI credentials” to interact with the Trump campaign.

      • Strassel wrote in the Journal that the DOJ and the FBI “outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation," which could mean that the FBI had a spy linked to the Trump campaign.
      • Strassel wrote that “When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency,” asserting that the FBI could have secretly planted a source who interacted with the Trump campaign.
      • ​According to Strassel, any such move on the FBI’s part would “amount to spying.”
      • Strassel also concluded that "Now we find [the FBI] may have also been rolling out human intelligence, John Le Carré style, to infiltrate the Trump campaign."
    • Strassel doubled down on her assertion during a May 11 appearance on Fox News, claiming, “The FBI was using human intelligence to spy on a presidential campaign.”

    Right-wing media is pushing the "spy" theory 

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed he knows “who the spy is” and that this person was “like an operative employed by the FBI to basically entrap somebody who worked with the Trump campaign in a peripheral way.” He also said that Papadopoulos “was entrapped by three people, including the person who is reputed to be the spy."

    Fox’s Sean Hannity argued that there was a spy embedded in the campaign and called the Strassel op-ed a “stunning new development” that raises “serious concerns and questions about the possibility [of] the F.B.I. planting a mole inside the Trump campaign.”

    The hosts of Fox & Friends devoted multiple segments to Strassel’s op-ed and also highlighted Limbaugh’s theory that the FBI planted a “spy” to “entrap” Trump associates. Fox’s Pete Hegseth argued that Limbaugh is “on to something,” and co-host Steve Doocy asked, “Was the FBI out to frame candidate Donald Trump?”  

    Trump sycophant and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs tweeted: “#ExposeTheMole- FBI & DOJ planted an spy in @realDonaldTrump’s 2016 campaign & didn’t tell congressional investigators.”

    During an appearance on Hannity’s radio show, Fox’s Sara Carter claimed, “It appears [the FBI] had somebody that was reporting back on information inside the Trump campaign, which would mean that they had a mole connected to people in the Trump campaign or within the Trump campaign.” Carter repeated the report on Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show, claiming, “Yes, I believe [the FBI] did have an informant, somebody that was reporting back to them.”

    The Daily Caller pushed the narrative in an article about Rep. Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) appearance on Fox News: “Ron DeSantis Says He May Know Who Was Spying On The Trump Campaign: ‘There Needs To Be Follow Up’.”

    Pro-Trump site The Gateway Pundit ran multiple articles by founder Jim Hoft that pushed the claim, including one in which Hoft claimed to know the “probable” identity of the “spy,” and another that argued there were multiple “deep state” sources.   

    Far-right fringe blog Zero Hedge posted Strassel’s op-ed with the headline, “WSJ: The FBI Hid A Mole In The Trump Campaign,” even though Strassel never claimed the “mole” was actually inside the campaign.