National Security & Foreign Policy | Media Matters for America

National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • Fox News conveniently overlooks Mitch McConnell's refusal to alert Americans to Russian interference before the 2016 election

    McConnell refused to sign onto a bipartisan effort made by Obama to publicly call out Russian interference and respond to the attack

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Following the indictment of 13 Russian nationals who were allegedly involved in interfering in the 2016 presidential election campaign, Fox News is attempting to cast blame on the Obama administration and deflect scrutiny from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for his role in blocking the administration from alerting the country prior to the election.

    On Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to McConnell, sought to blame former President Barack Obama for not stopping the Russian influence campaign, asking, “What in the world [was Obama] doing for the last two years” he was in office to prevent the Russian interference during the 2016 campaign.

    But Holmes seems to have conveniently forgotten that his former boss shot down Obama’s efforts to “generate bipartisan support for an American response to a foreign attack” and refused to sign a bipartisan letter in August 2016 that would have explicitly warned the American public about the Russian influence efforts during the ongoing campaign. Former Vice President Joe Biden recently (though not newly) explained that the Obama administration specifically sought a bipartisan, "united front to dispel concerns that going public with such accusations would be seen as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the election." According to The Washington Post, McConnell even “voic[ed] skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims” of Russian interference. While McConnell’s office claims that McConnell signed onto a bipartisan letter that was sent to the National Association of State Election Directors to warn the state officials about possible hacking attempts, according to Politico, “That missive ... did not address Russia specifically, or the larger topic of influence beyond voting systems.”

    Despite McConnell’s refusal to cooperate with Obama's efforts to call out Russian influence efforts before the elections, Fox anchor Bill Hemmer attacked the Obama administration, saying it “didn't get around to even acknowledging [the Russian interference] until October of 2016.” From the February 20 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

    BILL HEMMER (HOST): So, Josh, we’re having a bit of a redo, yet again, on this. There are questions about [former CIA Director] John Brennan. There are questions about what the CIA, what the [the office of Director of National Intelligence] DNI, what everybody was doing back in 2014, ‘15, and ‘16. Now, how’s the Obama team going to address that?

    JOSH HOLMES (FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF OF SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL): Well, what I think is particularly galling here is that, if you were to listen to some of those players that you just named over the last six, eight months, they would have you believe that the entire Russian, quote unquote, “collusion investigation” started, and began, and ended within the confines of the Trump campaign. And what we've now come to find out through the Mueller indictments over the last month is this has been going on from 2014. So I think it's a legitimate question, beyond a legitimate question, to ask what in the world they were doing for the last two years?

    [...]

    MARIE HARF (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): The bigger point here is, Bill, we can have a legitimate debate about why [the Obama administration] didn't do more. And there were good reasons. We were concerned about Russian escalation, we were concerned about being partisan.

    [...]

    HOLMES:  Everybody has sort of conflated the election with this Russian interference. The election itself, there is absolutely no evidence that any votes were changed, as you said, Bill. But the Russian interference is real and it dates back to 2014, and it’s something that we’ve really got to get a hold on. What is extremely concerning to me is that for two years we went through a basic understanding that they were trying to do what they were going to do, and the Obama administration didn't get around to even acknowledging it until October of 2016.

  • Trump parties with a birther who floated protecting schools from mass shooters with armed drones 

    Wayne Allyn Root spent a “magical evening” with Trump, alongside Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, from whom Trump already echoed a talking point

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On February 17, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL that left at least 17 students and adults dead, far-right Trump supporter, birther, and conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root tweeted at President Trump that it is “time to consider armed drones at every school in USA”:

    Hours later, Root tweeted about the “amazing night” he had with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

    Wayne Allyn Root is a talk show host and columnist for the Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review-Journal who regularly pushes bizarre conspiracy theories. He helped spread fabricated reports of Puerto Rican truck drivers striking in the wake of Hurricane Maria in an attempt to make Trump look bad, claimed that Trump was “being victimized” by violence at his campaign rallies (and claimed media was blaming the victim), and fabricated a Seinfeld quote to attack President Obama, whom he called the “Marxist-in-Chief” and swore was a “foreign exchange student” at Columbia University. Root also pushes racist viewpoints. He claimed that “there’s no difference in when you call someone old versus when you call someone the N-word” and dismissed the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA as “paid actors & infiltrators hired by Soros.” 

    Regarding mass shootings, Root is no better: he claimed a real estate developer’s fine was a bigger story than the Parkland shooting and has repeatedly blamed the Las Vegas massacre on ISIS and/or antifa

    Joining Trump and Root at the “magical evening” at Mar-a-Lago was Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera. As CNN’s Brian Stelter noted on Reliable Sources, Rivera appeared on Fox News on Saturday morning to suggest that the FBI missed tips about the Parkland shooter because of an obsession with the Russia probe. Stelter pointed out that, according to The Washington Post, Rivera “had dinner with President Trump,” and that at 11:00 that same night, Trump tweeted the claim Rivera had shared earlier on Fox News. The claim is, of course, “nonsensical,” as Stelter explained:

    It's clear the president is feeling the heat of Robert Mueller's special counsel, and he's lashing out, implying that the FBI might have failed to stop the shooting because it's too obsessed with Russia. Let's be clear: The president is insulting your intelligence. Let's pull up FBI.gov, it says right there, "The FBI employs 35,000 people." 

    There are a small number of FBI agents working on the Mueller probe, but they have nothing to do with the investigation of tips like the one that was missed before the Parkland shooting.

  • Fox publishes senator's leaked text messages less than two weeks after Julian Assange promised “news about Warner” to Hannity

    Assange promised "news about Warner” to a fake Sean Hannity account via "other channels" just weeks ago

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Less than two weeks after The Daily Beast reported WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange contacted a fake Sean Hannity account on Twitter discussing “other channels” for Assange to send information about Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Fox News hyped “brand new text messages” that revealed “questionable relationship between [Warner] and a lobbyist representing a Russian oligarch.”

    On January 29, The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins reported that, after Fox News host Sean Hannity’s Twitter account briefly “disappeared,” Julian Assange unknowingly messaged an account posing as Hannity, presumably under the impression that the account was authentic. In the direct messages, Assange suggested the parody Hannity account send messages “on other channels” because, according to a screenshot of the conversation, Assange had “some news about Warner” to discuss with Hannity.

    On the February 8 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, host Martha MacCallum reported “brand new text messages” from Sen. Warner that were “obtained exclusively by Fox News” from, according to Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry, “a Republican source.” MacCallum claimed the text messages “puts a little bit of a wrinkle in” the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. Soon after MacCallum’s exclusive report, Hannity promoted Henry’s report about the leaked Warner texts. President Trump weighed in as well, writing, "Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch."

    MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): We have some breaking news for you this evening on The Story. There are brand new text messages obtained exclusively by Fox News that reveal a questionable relationship between the top Democrat in the Senate's Russia investigation and a lobbyist representing a Russian oligarch. Good evening, everybody, I'm Martha MacCallum and this is The Story for tonight. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who held numerous press conferences over the past year promising a fair and bipartisan investigation into President Trump's supposed ties to Russia, was apparently trying to gain access through the Russians to Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier. Writing in part in these text messages that are just being revealed for the first time, "we have so much to discuss. You need to be careful, but we can help our country."

    [...]

    It's potentially at least a stream to follow up on that the Russians, perhaps, were trying to lay groundwork on both sides of the fence here.

    ED HENRY (FOX NEWS CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): No doubt about it.

    [..]

    The bottom line is Democrats have spent a lot of time talking about the president's ties to Russians, what kind of conversations he and his aides have had. Now these text messages that I got from a Republican source close to the committee is clearly an attempt by Republicans to say hang on a second, the top Democrat on this committee also had some questionable conversations about trying to keep some of this secret. And again, I want to stress, Warner’s office was very direct with me in saying they realize that this doesn’t look good out of context, as they say, but they insist the Republican chairman was in the loop.

    [...]

    MACCALLUM: Both sides have sort of pointed fingers at each other from the House side and Senate side that the House Intel Committee has all this friction between the Republicans and the Democrats and that on the Senate side, the gentlemen are working everything out with no problems. This sort of puts a little bit of a wrinkle in that.

    Soon after the report, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) acknowledged that “Sen.Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago,” adding that this disclosure, “has had zero impact on our work." 

    Fox News has waged a months-long campaign attempting to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. 

  • 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.”

  • The big #ReleaseTheMemo flop

    The same people who loudly demanded the Nunes memo be released won’t be bothered by its underwhelming “revelations”

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After far more drama and tension than should have been necessary, the infamous House intelligence committee memo on alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI against President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was released. And it was, predictably, a hilarious and self-defeating flop, but that fact won’t discourage Trump’s most slavish acolytes from claiming the Russia “hoax” has been exposed.

    This was actually a bit sad for me. I was holding out an irrational hope that House intelligence chair Rep. Devin Nunes, in the course of his day-to-day duties of abusing the committee’s oversight role to shield the president from political damage, might have accidentally stumbled into some real FBI malfeasance. After all, the government has granted itself vast surveillance powers and shielded itself from public accountability through secrecy and classification, making it extraordinarily difficult to know if and when abuses of those powers occur.

    But, alas, the memo was a bust. It didn’t really tell us anything that hadn’t already been leaked or guessed, and it actually undermined a critical point Donald Trump and his defenders hoped the memo would bolster.

    Nunes’ document alleges that FBI investigators relied in part on a dossier compiled by ex-MI6 officer Christopher Steele to obtain a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and that the government failed to “accurately provide an accounting of the relevant facts” about the dossier when applying for and reauthorizing the warrant. Those “relevant facts” do not have anything to do with the accuracy of the information contained within the dossier, which Nunes’ memo doesn’t address.

    Rather, the memo complains that the government did not disclose the “political origins” of the dossier -- specifically the fact that Democratic groups helped fund it and that Steele himself showed “clear evidence” of bias against Trump -- when presenting its case before a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge. The memo doesn’t actually make any allegations, but it strongly implies that Justice Department officials deliberately withheld this information to illicitly obtain and reauthorize surveillance of Page.

    None of us have any way of knowing how legally significant these claims of bias would have been, however, because Nunes’ memo doesn’t lay out the government’s case against Page in any detail. Nor does it provide the name of the FISC judge who heard the evidence. In fact, it doesn’t provide any information one would need to gauge the validity of its implications. Instead, the memo strongly suggests that the Steele dossier was the critical component to the case against Page (while it conveniently omits the fact that he was on the radar of counterintelligence officials as far back as 2013).

    This is important because Trump and his defenders are heavily invested in the notion that the whole Russia investigation originated from the Steele dossier, which they loudly insist is discredited and total bunk. The memo, however, accidentally disproves that allegation. In a sloppy attempt to gild what is already an unimpressive lily, Nunes’ memo vaguely alleges bias by noting that investigators mentioned a different Trump associate, George Papadopoulos, in its warrant application for Page. “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016,” the memo notes, thus corroborating a New York Times report that the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts began with Papadopoulos, not the Steele dossier.

    But all of this is immaterial to the people who had already decided what the memo would say before they even saw it. Nunes, with allies in the conservative media, mounted an effective PR campaign around this document while it was still under wraps and advertised it as an earth-shaking and world-historic revelation of anti-Trump corruption and bias at the highest levels of government. Sean Hannity (who is denying reports that he advised Trump to approve the memo’s release) hyped the memo earlier this week by saying “this makes Watergate like stealing a Snickers bar from a drug store.” Former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka grandiloquently declared that the memo’s revelations would be “100 times bigger” than the abuses that precipitated the American Revolution.

    The memo, of course, comes nowhere close to matching that absurd hyperbole; it’s impossible to assert that the memo even points to a minor scandal at this point. So, now, these same Trump lackeys will set about to loudly exaggerating or flat-out lying about the memo’s contents so that it fits their pre-formed conclusion. It's already happening: right-wing pundits are saying the "devastating" memo undermines special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump. The same people who spent weeks loudly demanding that the memo be released won’t be bothered by what the memo actually says. All they’re interested in his how they can use it to discredit the intensifying federal investigation into the president and his associates.