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  • Minutes after being told Barr walked back his 'spying' assertion, Fox news anchors repeatedly pushed it anyways

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Within 10 minutes of Chris Wallace clarifying that Attorney General Bill Barr had walked back his claim of FBI spying on the Trump campaign, Fox News anchors Sandra Smith and Bill Hemmer both continued to push the claim that Barr said, “quote, 'there was spying on the Trump campaign.'” Smith and Hemmer are the anchors of America's Newsroom, one of the programs in Fox's ostensibly straight news division.

    Barr was testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee about the Mueller report on April 10 when, citing no evidence, he repeated the claim that the FBI conducted “spying” -- a term “typically associated with unlawful surveillance” (emphasis added) -- on the Trump campaign in 2016. Later in his testimony, Barr walked the statement back, saying: “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying that I am concerned about it and I’m looking into it.”

    On the April 12 edition of America’s Newsroom, Smith asked Wallace about the reaction to Barr’s testimony. Wallace responded that “we knew it was going to be highly charged politically” and explained why it was wrong to characterize Barr’s comments as him affirming claims of spying on the Trump campaign:

    CHRIS WALLACE (FOX NEWS SUNDAY ANCHOR): The word spy is charged. And I think that Barr realized that because at the end of his congressional hearing, he said, look, after reviewing all of the -- as he put it -- the colloquies I have had with various members of the Senate, maybe I should say surveillance and whether or not it was proper or not.

    There is an absolutely legitimate question, and a legitimate investigation in fact is already going on by the inspector general as to whether or not the surveillance of the Trump campaign, members of that campaign, was legitimate -- was based on reasonable concerns. The use of the word spy, that was charged. I mean, think of it. If you were going to talk about the Justice Department surveilling organized crime figures, would you call that spying? No, you’d call it surveillance. [CROSSTALK] And Barr was saying -- no, if I may just finish, inasmuch as Barr is saying “look, I'm going to investigate whether it was legitimate surveillance or not,” maybe use of the word spying, he got ahead of himself.

    Yet, shortly after the segment, Hemmer and Smith both stripped out the context, making the story mesh better with the Fox News party line. Hemmer teased an upcoming segment by saying: “Also, the Attorney General Bill Barr telling Congress he believes there was spying on the Trump campaign.” Smith then opened another segment minutes later, saying: “Reaction now to Attorney General Wallace Barr saying there was, quote, ‘spying on the Trump campaign.’”

    One Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, is known to have been the subject of a surveillance warrant. As the Associated Press noted (emphasis added), "The warrant was obtained after Page had left the campaign and was renewed several times." Additionally, an informant was sent to speak to two advisers to the Trump campaign, but as The New York Times explained, the move was "a typical investigative step" that came only "after agents uncovered evidence that both had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign."

  • After calls from right-wing media, Trump considers revoking the clearances of several former US officials

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During a July 23 press conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of several former high-ranking U.S. officials. Right-wing media figures -- including several people on Trump’s favorite cable network, Fox News -- have pushed the possibility of pulling the clearances of these officials in recent months, and have boosted Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) recent efforts on the matter.

    According to Sanders, Trump is taking aim at the clearances of former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former National Security Agency Director Susan Rice, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

    On April 30, conspiracy theory site The Gateway Pundit published an article complaining that “corrupt” and “Trump-hating” Brennan and Clapper still had clearances despite “working with the ‘destroy Trump media.’” Less than a month later, Fox News strategist Sebastian Gorka called for the Trump administration to revoke clearances of former officials during an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity. Gorka argued that Trump “needs to pull the clearances of Clapper, Comey, Brennan, and Hillary [Clinton].” Guest host Jeanine Pirro responded, “Hold on a second. These people are not in office anymore, and they still have security clearances?” She then agreed with Gorka, saying that Trump ought to “take their security clearance.”

    More recently, Sen. Paul has begun to champion stripping the former officials of their clearances, and right-wing media has been happy to publicize his efforts. On July 20, Fox’s Tucker Carlson hosted him to discuss the issue, calling it “terrifying” that “out-of-the-closet extremist” John Brennan still has a clearance, arguing that Brennan “is not the only reckless partisan with a history of dishonest who retains a security clearance," and complaining that James Clapper and Michael Hayden also still have clearances. 

    And just this morning, The Gateway Pundit published a post headlined "Senator Rand Paul Meeting With Trump to Request John Brennan’s Security Clearance Be Revoked."

    Despite right-wing media’s calls and the White House’s apparent interest, it is unclear whether all of these officials still have clearances at this point.

  • Fox & Friends is lying about the FISA application for surveillance on Carter Page

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox & Friends is lying about an application presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court regarding Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

    On July 21, for the first time in the history of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the Department of Justice disclosed an application to conduct surveillance of an American citizen, releasing the application to conduct surveillance of Page since 2016. After its release, Fox & Friends leapt to mischaracterize the document, saying the government did not mention that part of the evidence that supported the application “was funded by the DNC and Hillary Clinton['s]” campaign, and attacking a Yahoo News article cited in the application because a source of its information was allegedly Christopher Steele, former head of the Russia desk for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. Co-host Steve Doocy went on to complain about how much information was redacted in the publicly released application, saying, “There’s a lot of stuff here that you would think is not a method of surveillance or anything like that.” Doocy then asked, ”You think [the FISA judge is] going to read all that stuff?”

    Later in the show, Fox & Friends hosted Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton, who claimed that “there was no good reason not to inform the court that” part of the application had political origins, “other than to, again, mislead the court into providing a pretext to spy on the Trump team.”

    But, according to The New York Times, “the application shows that the F.B.I. acknowledged to the court that it believed that the person who hired Mr. Steele was looking for information to discredit Mr. Trump’s campaign.” Specific names were masked, as is standard operating procedure for such applications. The Department of Justice included Yahoo News in the application because, according to New York Times national security reporter Charlie Savage, officials wanted to inform “the court that Page had denied the allegations about” his contacts during a July 2016 trip to Moscow. Moreover, as Savage notes, “Some say the Steele dossier was the sole basis of the application. That's false. There are redacted pages of other facts + we can see [the application] cited info from a prior investigation into Russian spies who sought to recruit Americans,” including Page.

    This is not the first time right-wing media have pushed dishonest claims regarding the FISA application for surveillance on Page.

    From the July 23 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    TODD PIRO (GUEST CO-HOST): What we have to remember, in normal criminal procedures, a defendant gets to defend him or herself. In a surveillance situation, obviously secrecy is paramount. Because of that, the court and the people applying for the application need to be completely above reproach. That did not happen here, and, as a result, we’re in the situation we're now.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Well, because they used unverified information to spy on Carter Page or the Trump administration, and it was funded -- as the president tweeted over the weekend, reminding all of us -- it was funded by Hillary Clinton or by the DNC.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Right, but they never told that to the [Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court] judge.

    EARHARDT: They didn’t.

    DOOCY: The federal authorities used both the Steele dossier and the Yahoo News article that we’ve talked extensively about to convince the FISA court to grant the application. And, with the 412 pages right there, those also include the renewals. Four times the FBI told the FISA court it did not believe that Christopher Steele was the direct source for the Yahoo News story, which prompted the FISA warrants. He wasn't the source. And yet, in London court records, they show that Steele briefed Yahoo News and other reporters at the direction of Fusion GPS, which is the opposition research firm -- there’s Chris Steele right there -- behind the dossier. And they describe Steele as somebody hired by a business associate to conduct research into Trump's Russia ties, but do not mention that Fusion GPS was funded by the DNC and Hillary Clinton.

    EARHARDT: That's why those 13 Republicans wrote that letter to the president in June, and that included [Rep.] Trey Gowdy [(R-SC)], it included [Rep.] Devin Nunes [(R-CA)], and they were saying there are irregularities with the sources. The information is not consistent. They also have a problem with the FBI’s own Domestic Investigations and Operations guide, it prohibits the FBI from using unverified material to obtain FISA warrants. They’re saying that dirty dossier that the president tweeted about this weekend, he called it the dirty dossier, that was used to spy on Carter Page. It was unverified, which means that is illegal.

    DOOCY: Well, the big question is, and the Republicans have asked for a while asked for un-redacted versions, is the Republicans are now -- I think it was [Rep.] Mark Meadows [(R-NC)] of North Carolina that said keep the names, the methods, and the secrets secret. But everything else, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff here that you would think is not a method of surveillance or anything like that.

  • 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.