National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • Donald Trump's ideal attorney general is this random Fox News anchor

    Fox's Gregg Jarrett fits the model the president seems to be seeking

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III may be on his way out. The former senator who was one of the first converts to President Donald Trump’s cause has lost his favor after properly recusing himself over the Russia investigation. And the president isn’t shy about it -- he’s been publicly demeaning Sessions on Twitter for not prosecuting Hillary Clinton for her “crimes” and sending out incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci to suggest that the president wants him gone.

    The possible removal of the nation’s top law enforcement officer because he has not prosecuted the president’s former political rival is deeply troubling and points to Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. But it also shows that the president is trapped in a right-wing media feedback loop.

    As has been the case with many of the president’s Twitter rages, his most recent attack on the attorney general seems to have come in response to a Fox News segment, in this case one defending the president over the Russia investigation. The president constantly consumes the network’s propagandistic defenses of his conduct. That seems to inexorably push him to behave as if the alternate reality Fox is depicting is the real one. And then Fox has to scramble to find a way to defend the new indiscretion.

    The president has come to believe the legal arguments that Fox has been making to defend him -- that he has done nothing wrong with regard to Russia, that Clinton is the true criminal, that special counsel Robert Mueller has conflicts of interest and should be fired. With Trump’s behavior already scaring off potential Sessions successors, it would be plausible -- and consistent with his TV-based rationale for recent hires -- for him to nominate as attorney general someone he has watched make those arguments on television.

    If Trump wants an attorney general who will defend every aspect of his behavior with regard to Russia while using the power of the Department of Justice to persecute his political foes, he should look no further than Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett. While it’s unlikely that Jarrett would actually be the pick, he has been providing a model for the type of behavior Trump would want from an attorney general.

    A former attorney who spent years as an anchor for COURT TV, Jarrett has been an anchor for Fox since 2002. Usually a low-profile news anchor, Jarrett has in recent days emerged as the network’s leading legal defender of the president regarding the Russia probe. Jarrett makes regular appearances on Hannity and other programs to put forward legally dubious explanations of why the Trump team’s actions have been legally acceptable while the president’s opponents and investigators have broken the law.

    Jarrett’s defenses of the president have ticked all the boxes. He’s repeatedly said that even if the president or his team colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, they wouldn’t have broken any laws. That’s false, but as far as Trump is concerned, it’s an improvement from Sessions, who has said such collusion would be “improper and illegal.” When news broke that the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. had set up a meeting with Russians interested in influencing the election, Jarrett scoffed.

    After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, many legal experts said it appeared to be textbook obstruction of justice. Not Jarrett, who claimed that Comey “deserved to be fired” and that “it should have happened a long time ago.” After it emerged that Trump had asked Comey to shut down the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Jarrett found a way to defend that too.

    But Trump doesn’t just want an attorney general who will defend his actions -- he wants one who will attack his enemies. Here, too, Jarrett’s spin has been exceptional. Hillary Clinton? Jarrett wants a special prosecutor to review the emails case. James Comey? Jarrett wrote that his interactions with the president showed that Comey had obstructed justice. Robert Mueller? Jarrett wrote that Mueller’s relationship with Comey is a disqualifying conflict of interest and called for his removal. Jarrett has even said that Mueller and Comey “may be acting in collusion to get the president” and called for the president to get an injunction to stop the special counsel investigation if it starts to pursue his finances.

    There are, of course, some downsides to a Jarrett pick. He has never served as a prosecutor or in public service, nor has he ever led a large bureaucracy, of course, but since when has Trump cared about typical qualifications? The bigger problem is that Sessions’ bigotry and his anti-immigrant stance have made him a beloved figure among a big chunk of Trump’s base. His efforts to punish immigrants have led to some of the administration’s few policy accomplishments. Jarrett claiming that he frequently experiences microaggressions as a white man doesn’t really rate, though his attacks on sanctuary cities are promising. And pushing through a nominee who is on the record making these claims might be too much for even Senate Republicans to stomach.

    While Jarrett probably won’t be Trump’s pick if he dynamites convention and fires Sessions, it is clear that the president expects this sort of behavior from an attorney general. Just as the obsequious support of Sean Hannity and the hosts of Fox & Friends represent Trump’s model for how journalists should behave, people like Jarrett are what he expects from a government lawyer. When all you know about the government comes from watching Fox News, Fox News becomes your model for how the government should work.

  • NY Times details how “reverence for Putin” in right-wing media helps Trump run from his Russia scandal

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report from The New York Times highlighted how an ongoing, years-long trend of right-wing media figures praising Russian President Vladimir Putin has helped President Donald Trump downplay the fast-growing Russian scandal surrounding himself, his family, and his administration.

    Right-wing media has long been obsessed with Putin’s masculinity and authoritarian tendencies. In 2013, Fox News analyst Ralph Peters, when speaking about Putin said, “I respect that guy,” adding “he presents himself as a real He-Man.” The same year, Matt Drudge tweeted “Putin is the leader of the free world.” FoxNews.com previously published a “must watch” video of "Putin doing macho things." And Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle once said she wanted Putin to be US president for 48 hours in order to defeat ISIS.

    Essentially, right-wing media effectively built a normalization machine working to sanitize Putin, and it had results.

    In a July 14 New York Times article, Jeremy Peters noted that while “such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream” previously it became a widely held sentiment in the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015.” Peters wrote that “the veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election ... and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone added that the mythologizing of Putin by right-wing media has led to him enjoying “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.” From the July 14 article:

    Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

    “Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

    Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

    “A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

    Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

    The veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election — including recent reports that members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle set up a meeting at which they expected a representative of the Russian government to give them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton — and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.

    [...]

    In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.

    [...]

    The unflattering comparisons with Mr. Obama became especially personal in 2014 after Mr. Putin invaded Crimea, an act of aggression that was widely condemned by the United States and its allies but praised as a display of brawn and guts by many on the right.

    Sarah Palin, for one, questioned Mr. Obama’s “potency” and added that no one had any such doubts about Mr. Putin. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” she told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

    “He’s looking like a real man,” Mr. Limbaugh declared approvingly in 2014.

    Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, which has tracked the conservative media’s depiction of the Russian president, described Mr. Putin as taking on “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.”

    Mr. Putin’s mystique for conservatives resembles in many ways the image that Mr. Trump has cultivated for himself.

  • No, colluding with a hostile foreign power is not normal "opposition research"

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump and members of his administration have spent months describing as fake news reports on his ties to Russia and the allegations that the Russian government acted to aid his presidential campaign. They have remained steadfast amid a drumbeat of stories and even U.S. intelligence community findings about Russia, the election, and Trump’s staff. His right-wing media allies have been a key force in this endeavor, consistently finding ways to minimize or explain away damning new revelations and blaming them not on Trump, but on a shadowy nexus of Democrats, the “deep state,” and the press. This aid is essential to maintaining the president’s political position: The vast majority of Republicans have continued to support Trump in part because of the efforts of his loyal propagandists.

    Over the last week, new information has emerged that should change the trajectory of the Russia story. As The New York Times reported, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., as well as top Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, met during the 2016 presidential campaign with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer. Emails that Trump Jr. released reveal that the meeting came about after Trump Jr. was told the lawyer had damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was provided by a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Trump Jr. has effectively admitted to trying to collude with a hostile government. The debate should now move to how deep that collusion went, and who was involved.

    But this damning new information has moved few minds among the president’s core media supporters. Instead, faced with the devastating revelation that the president’s campaign was trying to collude with the Russian government, they have followed the president’s lead by offering the risible argument that anyone would have done the same thing if given the opportunity. Faced with evidence that the president’s team serves no morality but that which benefits itself, they have declared that everyone else shares this twisted worldview.

    As Newt Gingrich put it to The Atlantic, “If somebody in the middle of the campaign walks in the door and says ‘I have information that will harm your opponent,’ virtually every campaign in the world will say show me, what do you have.” “Let me tell you, if my father was running for president of the United States,” Kimberly Guilfoyle said on Fox, “I would sit down and take a meeting and find out if there was information against an opponent.” Yesterday, the president himself adopted this argument, telling Reuters, "Many people, and many political pros, said everybody would do” what his son did; he reiterated the point this afternoon.

    It is obviously, flagrantly false that Trump Jr.’s actions were typical and proper. The media has said so: As The New York Times put it, “while opposition research is part of modern presidential campaigns, it normally does not come from representatives of a hostile foreign power.” Top Republican campaign operatives have said so, claiming that the incident was extremely unusual, that they wouldn’t have taken the meeting, and that the Trump team should have reported it to law enforcement. Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee to become FBI director, has said so, stating that politicians in that situation should call the bureau. And history says so: When a top aide to Al Gore’s presidential campaign received George W. Bush’s debate preparation materials in the mail, he turned them over to the FBI. (And Trump ally claims that Clinton’s campaign similarly colluded with Ukraine are specious nonsense.)

    At this point, it seems foolish to imagine that Trump’s media allies will change their opinion of the story, regardless of what new information comes forward. They are in too deep at this point, having sacrificed their credibility and independence too many times to turn back now. He expressed unchecked bigotry and they were fine with it; audio bragging about sexual assault was explained away as “locker room talk”; his campaign viciously attacked and even physically battered reporters and was cheered. At a certain point, they went too far, and now have little choice but to tell one another that colluding with a hostile foreign power is not just acceptable, but necessary.

    The president’s media allies have decided to believe the president instead of their own lying eyes. The result is a series of arguments that have the country not only unmoored from a common view of reality, but of anything approaching a common morality. The propagandists have moved the goalposts from a question of whether a presidential campaign colluded with a hostile foreign government, to whether such collusion is actually a good thing. The nagging remaining question is whether their audience will ever decide that they’ve seen enough of this farce.