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  • Iraq War cheerleaders are still driving foreign policy discussions, Iran tweet edition

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Sunday, July 22, President Donald Trump tweeted another bellicose threat of war, this time against Iran. In discussions about the president’s tweets, some media outlets prominently featured Iraq War boosters.

    Though, collectively, these figures were hardly as pro-military action as they were in 2003 in their support for the Iraq War (some even harshly criticized the president’s posturing), the prominence of such boosters in the conversation betrays one of the media’s long-running, barely-acknowledged failures: The same voices that helped the Bush administration lie its way into the "the single worst foreign policy decision in American history" are still, for some reason, considered important voices on foreign policy.

    • Former press secretary for President George W. Bush Ari Fleischer appeared on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to urge the United States to destabilize Iranian society in order to trigger regime change.

    • Steve Doocy, co-host of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, said that the Iranian “people are really hacked (sic) off, they don’t really like the corruption, they don’t like the leadership, they want something new, and now this,” referring to Trump’s tweet.  

    • On Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, senior strategic analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane, who was the a strong advocate of Bush’s troop “surge” strategy in Iraq, hailed Trump for having “absolutely reset the table [away] from coddling Iran” as soon as he was inaugurated and framed the tweet -- which he called a “policy decision” -- as a continuation of this trend.

    • On CNN’s New Day, global affairs analyst Max Boot commented that Trump “belongs in a padded cell” for his tweet and was “predictable” for “gin[ning] up a threat of war with Iran” to shield himself from embarrassment over the Helsinki summit.

    • On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough commented that Trump was “screaming about the Republican (sic) Guard and his threat to wipe out Iran,” and suggested that the threat against Iran was a tactic to distract from the news that, among others, the FBI possessed recordings of the president talking with his former attorney Michael Cohen about payments to a former playboy model.

    • Fox’s senior political analyst Brit Hume predicted that Trump’s broader posture against Iran, from exiting the nuclear deal to Sunday’s tweet, indicated that his administration “is attempting to overthrow the government or attempting to get regime change” in Iran, even though Trump officials “will not say” so.

    • Disgraced ex-Fox host Bill O’Reilly promised to “analyze the Iran threats made by Mr. Trump” on the Monday edition of his web-based show.

    • On CNN Newsroom, military analyst Rick Francona, who was previously part of a military analyst program set up by the Pentagon to sell the Iraq War, warned that “if you start poking the eye of the Iranians” as Trump’s tweet did, “they’re liable to push back,” and the resulting situation “will ratchet out of control very quickly.”

    • National security adviser John Bolton, hired directly off of Fox News, underlined the president's threat with a statement that said: “If Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”

  • 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.

  • Russian senator and right-wing media agree: Trump is just trying to avoid a war with Russia

    Russian Sen. Alexei Pushkov: “I am amazed at the desire of the US media and a large part of Congress to portray Moscow as an enemy of the US. What do they want? Do they want a war with a nuclear power?”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media and at least one Russian official are singing from the same song sheet after President Donald Trump’s humiliating press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. As condemnation for Trump’s absurd performance builds, right-wing pundits, administration officials and, now, representatives of the Russian government are suggesting critics of the president are trying to foment war with Russia.

    In an attempt to provide cover for a president of the United States slandering American law enforcement and intelligence agencies while standing on foreign soil next to a despotic kleptocrat who has repeatedly attempted to destabilize western democracies and American allies, some in right-wing media suggested that the president was simply attempting to “avoid war with” the world’s largest nuclear power. Some have even argued that “Democrats” and “establishment media [want] war with Russia,” an argument that was presented by prominent Putin apologist Stephen Cohen (who has regularly been featured on Fox host Tucker Carlson’s show to discuss the relationship between the U.S. and Russia) on the state-run outlet, RT.

    Now, according to BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, a Russian senator is making the same argument.

    Of course, there are a number of options short of armed conflict that the United States and its western allies could take up to counter Russian aggression, but this is not the first time Russian and U.S., pro-Trump media talking points have been in sync. In 2017, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, claimed that former President Barack Obama asked the British Government Communications Headquarters to eavesdrop on Trump during the 2016 campaign and the transition period, and to provide the former president with transcripts of Trump's conversations. Media Matters traced the assertion back to an interview on the state-sponsored Russian network RT with a former CIA official who has accused John Kerry of war crimes, spread the 2008 rumor about a supposed recording of former first lady Michelle Obama “railing against ‘whitey,’” and now is floating "sedition" charges against former Obama officials. Also in 2017, Russian state-run media and American pro-Trump media messaging converged after former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation.