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  • Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Devin Nunes are feeding the Fox News conspiracy pipeline

    Congressional Republicans team up with a credulous right-wing media to undermine the FBI’s Trump investigation

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The crusade by the Republican Party and its media allies to discredit the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign is a fantastically dishonest and propagandistic farce, and the whole effort is conducted with transparent bad faith while grotesquely masquerading as an exercise in good-government oversight. The mechanism driving this disinformation campaign is a pipeline of bullshit that originates with Republicans in Congress, flows directly through Fox News, and sometimes ends up spilling out all over the president’s Twitter feed.

    To date, there have been two high-profile congressional sources for the “scandals” that have powered conservative media coverage of the FBI’s Trump investigation: Senate homeland security committee chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) and House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA). Both have been repeatedly caught lying and ginning up controversy where there is none, and both have had phenomenal success in propagating falsehoods through conservative media outlets that don’t care whether what they report is true or not.

    Late last month, Johnson went on Fox News to talk about “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI” as evidenced by a text message conversation between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that referenced a “secret society” -- presumably a cabal of powerful individuals plotting to illegitimately tar Trump’s presidency. The “secret society” talking point quickly permeated conservative media and became a focal point of outrage.

    A couple of days later, the truth about the “secret society” text came out -- it was an obvious joke between the two officials. There was no secret society, and Johnson backpedaled by acknowledging the “real possibility” that the supposedly nefarious text message he’d highlighted as proof of a conspiracy just days earlier might, in fact, be nothing more than a gag.

    Just a couple of weeks after that, Johnson was at it again. His committee released an “interim report” on the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton email scandal that once again highlighted specific texts between Strzok and Page. Among them was a September 2, 2016, text from Page regarding the creation of talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey. Page wrote that then-President Barack Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing.” According to the report, “This text raises additional questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.”

    Fueled by a credulous Fox News write-up of Johnson’s report, the text message shot like an electrical current through the conservative media, which leaped on Johnson’s suggestion that Obama might have meddled with the FBI’s investigation into Clinton. The president himself got in on the dissemination, tweeting that the “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS” not long after his favorite Fox News morning program ran a segment on the report.

    And, once again, it all turned out to be false. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the text was referring to a briefing on Russian election interference, not a Clinton matter. The FBI’s Clinton investigation was closed by the time Page sent the text.

    Devin Nunes’ contributions to the fog of disinformation include last year’s “unmasking” fiasco, in which Nunes -- acting on information fed to him by the Trump White House -- wrongly accused Obama national security officials of inappropriately exposing  the identities of Trump aides captured on wiretaps. More recently, Nunes wrote a report that all but accused the FBI of illicitly obtaining a warrant to surveil a former Trump aide. The report’s key contention -- that the FBI hid the political origins of some of the evidence in its warrant application -- was quickly debunked.

    In each of these examples, the lies spread rapidly and had ample time to become entrenched as part of a conservative media narrative before the facts undermining them could be established. Claims that former Obama officials inappropriately “unmasked” Trump associates and that an anti-Trump “secret society” exists within the FBI formed the bases of countless Fox News prime time monologues before they were debunked. After the truth came out, the lies were either quietly shelved (per a Nexis search, Sean Hannity mentioned the “secret society” in three straight Fox News shows after Johnson highlighted it on January 23, but hasn’t brought it up since) or kept alive as nefarious-sounding buzzwords (casual, unelaborated references to “unmasking” still come up regularly in Hannity rants).

    The presence and power of the conservative echo chamber means that Republicans in Congress like Johnson and Nunes don’t really have to care when the obvious lies they’re peddling get debunked. They have a receptive audience for whatever conspiratorial claim they can manufacture, and they can be confident that they’ll face no factual challenge to their nonsense so long as they limit their media appearances to Fox News and other conservative safe spaces.

  • The Nunes memo perfectly lined up with what Hannity has been hyping for weeks prior to its release

    Hannity in early January: “All this information about” alleged FISA abuses “will finally now see the light of day”

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Almost a month before Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) chose to publicly release what was a classified and partisan memo written by intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) alleging Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuses by the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ), Fox host Sean Hannity appeared to have advanced knowledge of some of the claims laid out in the Nunes memo. Almost a month prior to the memo’s public release, Hannity was hyping “shocking information … that will show systemic FISA abuse” and bragged that the media will “be forced to cover this story.”

  • Alex Jones tries and fails to pass off a publicly available document as the House GOP's secret Russia memo

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones purported to exclusively release a secret memo that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) has touted which supposedly undermines the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign in Russia. The document that Jones displayed on air during his January 23 show has actually been publicly available on a government website since at least May 2017.

    Jones tried to do damage control later in the show, claiming that forces in the government hacked a computer in his offices to try to prevent him from releasing it, but that it wouldn’t work because “Trump already published it."

    Nunes’ memo has been the subject of widespread speculation and triggered the right-wing social media campaign #releasethememo. According to Mother Jones, “The now infamous document was prepared by Republican staffers for the House Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by Nunes, and it supposedly details how the FBI and the Justice Department improperly conducted surveillance in connection with the Trump-Russia probe.”

    The Mother Jones article added that “Conservatives looking to discredit the Russia investigation have embraced the classified memo, though they haven’t seen it, and have called for its release. But Nunes has so far insisted on keeping it secret -- even from the Justice Department.”

    During his January 23 broadcast, Jones claimed that William Binney, a former National Security Agency official, provided him with “the actual memo they’re talking about.” Jones printed out a copy of the memo and called for his producers to put it on a “document cam” to show viewers, claiming that it was “tomorrow’s news, today.”

    The document shown on screen was promptly identified as as a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court memo that is publicly available on the website of the Office of Director of National Intelligence. According to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the document has been available online since at least May 2017.

    While presenting the document to viewers, Jones said, “I’ve got to go off air, this is the classified memo right here. I mean I told you I have sources and that I’d reverse engineered it, but I guess the decision has been made by whoever’s telling Binney to send this to us” and “Here it is ladies and gentlemen, the first look. You want to look at it? Got the whole thing.”

    ALEX JONES (HOST): I got to go off air because William Binney, former technical head of the National Security Agency, the main technical adviser obviously on the big film Snowden, who’s advised the president and the CIA director [Mike] Pompeo, he’s now advising the president, he’s going to be joining us next hour.

    He just said, “Hey, here, why don’t you just have the actual memo they’re talking about.” Now there’s another memo they’re writing about this memo. But here it is, just sent to us. I’ve got to go off air, this is the classified memo right here. I mean, I told you I have sources and that I’d reverse engineered it, but I guess the decision has been made by whoever’s telling Binney to send this to us. Document cam please. And it’s -- a lot more is coming up after the break, OK, this is happening right now.

    Can we do a document cam shot, please? Here it is ladies and gentlemen, the first look. You want to look at it? Got the whole thing. In fact, the rest of it’s coming out of the printer, guys, will you bring it to me please? The one by my office in the hall. Here it is, this is why I’m having trouble conducting the show here, broadcast.

    Jones’ botched exclusive was roundly mocked on Twitter:

    Later in his broadcast, perhaps aware of what he had done, Jones told a fantastical story about criminal elements in the government hacking a computer at his Infowars studio to try to stop him from publishing the document. Jones said, “I'm literally in [Infowars editor] Kit Daniels’ office. While we’re trying to post it, they grab control of the computer and turn it off and fry it right in front of us and then start jumping in -- they are inside our computers right now.”

    Jones then claimed that the “globalists” “can't stop us from publishing it” because “Trump already published it, ... we haven't told you yet,” giving a possible pretext for his embarrassingly inaccurate claims earlier in the show.

    ALEX JONES (HOST): Roger [Stone], let me interrupt you. I'm literally in [Infowars editor] Kit Daniels’ office. While we’re trying to post it, they grab control of the computer and turn it off and fry it right in front of us and then start jumping in -- they are inside our computers right now, but they can't stop us -- they can't stop us from publishing it because guess what, idiots? Trump already published it. It already got published, we haven't told you yet. You're fools. So, you're not going to stop anything, globalists. Understand that, Hillary Clinton, and all of you. Boy I tell you, I've never seen something like this, live time, in Kit Daniels' computer. Because I’m on air saying, “Post it.” Can you believe that? They have whole situation rooms probably still in our government criminally battling the American people right now, Roger.

    Update:

    Later in his broadcast, Jones hosted Binney, who had provided the memo to Jones. Acknowledging that the memo is indeed on the DNI website, Jones asked him if it was posted today and Binney responded, “Yeah, as far as I know. ... I just found it through another source that passed it to me.”

    Then Jones purported to use “deduction” to conclude that “it looks like president just declassified this,” to which a sheepish sounding Binney responded, “Well, somebody, yeah, somebody did, that’s for sure.” The document has actually been publicly available since last May.

    JONES: [Binney] contacted us a couple hours ago and said, “This might be helpful, here’s the actual memo they’re saying is classified and that Congress is saying they need authorization to release.” But then, when he sent it to us, we noticed that it was right there on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence website. We’re going to show that to you. So, yes, Infowars is breaking it, the media doesn't even know what to do or how to respond to this. It's simply crazy. So Mr. Binney, thank you for joining us. We’ll get into this whole conspiracy against the republic that’s clearly coming into view here and from your expertise where do you think this is going. But just briefly -- it’s incredible -- when did this get put on the National -- Director of National Intelligence website? And it’s wild that there’s no coverage of it. Was this just today and then you sent it to us?

    BINNEY: Yeah, as far as I know that's -- it's just got on the website today. And I just found it through another source that passed it to me.

    JONES: Of course. Well clearly, deduction, the president -- Pompeo’s met with you, you’re advising the president, the president has the authorization to do this, Congress has been asking for it. So it looks like president just declassified this.

    BINNEY: Well, somebody, yeah, somebody did, that’s for sure.