National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • On foreign trip, media figures praise Trump as “presidential” for not acting like a child

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Media figures praised President Donald Trump as “presidential” for not yet causing an international controversy on this week’s five-country trip, his first venture out of the country since the inauguration. They said the trip was “uncharacteristically normal” and praised Trump for not sounding “like the guy at the end of the bar popping off.”

  • Report: Congressional Trump/Russia Probe Looking Into Breitbart And Cambridge Analytica

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Time magazine reported that congressional investigators looking into Russia’s role in the 2016 election are investigating both Breitbart and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

    Breitbart, which was formerly headed by current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for Russian bots allegedly pushing pro-Trump stories from the website. The website has also repeatedly tried to delegitimize stories of ties between Russia and President Donald Trump. Cambridge Analytica is primarily owned by major Trump donor Robert Mercer. Breitbart and Mercer have a symbiotic relationship; he finances the website, and Breitbart regularly promotes the Mercer family’s interests. Bannon also reportedly had a financial stake in Cambridge Analytica, and Federal Election Commission reports have indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to the firm were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The Trump campaign also hired the firm and reportedly paid it millions of dollars at the urging of Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

    Time, in a May 18 report titled “Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America,” reported that “congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role” in the 2016 election, “but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign.” The investigators, according to Time, are focusing on “two Trump-linked organizations,” Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart. It added that investigators were specifically “looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts.” From the report:

    Russia plays in every social media space. The intelligence officials have found that Moscow's agents bought ads on Facebook to target specific populations with propaganda. "They buy the ads, where it says sponsored by--they do that just as much as anybody else does," says the senior intelligence official. (A Facebook official says the company has no evidence of that occurring.) The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, has said he is looking into why, for example, four of the top five Google search results the day the U.S. released a report on the 2016 operation were links to Russia's TV propaganda arm, RT. (Google says it saw no meddling in this case.) Researchers at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, found that nearly 20% of political tweets in 2016 between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21 were generated by bots of unknown origin; investigators are trying to figure out how many were Russian.

    As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics company hired by the campaign that is partly owned by deep-pocketed Trump backer Robert Mercer; and Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly run by Trump's top political adviser Stephen Bannon.

    The congressional investigators are looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts, a source familiar with the investigations tells TIME. "Nobody can prove it yet," the source says. In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were probing whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.

    There are plenty of people who are skeptical of such a conspiracy, if one existed. Cambridge Analytica touts its ability to use algorithms to microtarget voters, but veteran political operatives have found them ineffective political influencers. Ted Cruz first used their methods during the primary, and his staff ended up concluding they had wasted their money. Mercer, Bannon, Breitbart News and the White House did not answer questions about the congressional probes. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica says the company has no ties to Russia or individuals acting as fronts for Moscow and that it is unaware of the probe.

  • “Alt-Right” Outlets And Fake News Purveyors Hype Fox Analyst's Claim That Obama Wiretapped The Supreme Court

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    “Alt-right” fringe outlets and fake news purveyors are hyping an unsubstantiated suggestion from Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thought former President Barack Obama spied on the Supreme Court. Napolitano previously pushed the false claim that British intelligence spied on President Donald Trump on behalf of Obama.

  • HuffPost: Data Analytics Firm Tied To Trump And Bannon Threatening To Sue Guardian After Paper Investigated Links To Brexit

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On May 17, HuffPost reported that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica -- principally owned by Republican Party megadonor Robert Mercer -- has threatened to sue U.K. newspaper The Guardian for publishing “a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.” Mercer is also an ally of President Donald Trump and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

    The Washington Post reported in October 2016 that Cambridge Analytica was paid “millions of dollars by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” for its data analytics program. The program used “a psychological model for identifying voters that can ‘determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America’” by using “up to 5,000 pieces of data” per adult. According to at least three Republican strategists, the Trump campaign brought the firm onboard at the urging of Robert Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

    Bannon was vice president of Cambridge Analytica’s board at the time, and The New York Times reported in March that he “had a stake in the company that he valued at $1 million to $5 million, which he plans to sell.” Federal Election Commission reports also indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to Cambridge Analytica were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The firm has no publicly listed address in California.

    According to HuffPost’s May 17 report, Cambridge Analytica’s attorneys sent The Guardian a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation” after writer Carole Cadwalladr reported that the firm and its British affiliate “tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns … hadn’t disclosed a partnership” and potentially violated British election law. According to The Guardian’s Sunday edition, The Observer, Cambridge Analytica said that the reporting “contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients,” also alleging that the newspaper was “conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage.” From the report:

    Cambridge Analytica, a U.S. data analytics firm backed by Robert Mercer, and its British affiliate, SCL Elections Limited, have threatened to sue The Guardian following a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

    On Wednesday, The Guardian informed staff that the firms had threatened legal action and it added a disclaimer to more than a half-dozen articles and editorials, including “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media” and “Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit” from February and this month’s “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked.” 

    “These articles are the subject of a legal complaint on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited,” the disclaimer reads.

    [...]

    The aforementioned articles were written by Carole Cadwalladr, who reported Sunday that two data firms tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns, Cambridge Analytica and Canada’s AggregateIQ, hadn’t disclosed a partnership, a possible violation of British election law. The firms denied such a relationship.

    That most recent line of inquiry appeared to especially rankle Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, as Cadwalladr tweeted that the firms’ lawyers approached the paper on Saturday.

    Cadwalladr said the firms’ attorneys, Squire, Patton & Boggs, sent the paper a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation.”

    And the firms’ displeasure with Cadwalladr’s reporting was made clear in the article, which was published in The Observer, The Guardian’s Sunday newspaper.

    Lawyers for Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections wrote to the Observer on Saturday to complain about our previous stories, which they said contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients. They said we were conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage. They said their clients have done no wrong, broken no laws and breached no one’s rights and had not been part of a ‘shadowy’ or unlawful campaign to subvert British democracy or dupe the British public.

  • Sebastian Gorka Was The Only Trump Official On Cable News Last Night

    Have Trump's Media Defenders Finally Had Enough?

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Barely any Republican lawmakers or administration officials defended President Donald Trump on TV news shows after The New York Times reported on a memo from former FBI Director James Comey saying that Trump asked him to halt the ongoing probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    According to the Times’ May 16 report, Comey wrote a memo “shortly after” meeting with Trump in February, saying that the president asked Comey to “shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser.” According to the Times, Trump said to Comey, “I hope you can let this go.”

    Following the release of the report, barely any Republican lawmakers or officials from Trump’s administration could be found defending the president on cable news. One exception was embattled Trump aide Sebastian Gorka, who appeared on the May 16 edition of Fox News’ Hannity claiming that the “fake news” had now turned into “dishonest news” and the press was engaged in “politics above national security.”

    A few elected Republican officials did appear on cable news, but many of the appearances seemed prescheduled. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) was the lone Republican lawmaker bent on defending Trump on cable news, lamenting to MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren that Trump “is not cut a break by anybody” and that the media is “dead set on discrediting” him.

    Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich made a prescheduled appearance at a CNN town hall on May 16. When asked about the new report, Kasich used it to explain why he didn’t vote for Trump in the election.

    Republicans were still scarce on morning news shows the next day. No Republican lawmakers or Trump administration officials appeared on the May 17 editions of the broadcast morning shows. As CBS’ Charlie Rose explained, CBS This Morning “reached out to 20 Republicans senators and representatives to appear on this broadcast. We also reported and requested that someone from the White House join us at any point during our two-hour broadcast to respond to the latest news. All declined our invitation.”

    Similarly, no Republican appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. CNN’s New Day hosted moderates Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). And Fox News hosted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, although Pruitt was not asked about the Times report.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts and SnapStream for elected Republican officials or members of Trump’s administration who appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News on May 16 from 5-11 p.m. and May 17 from 6-9 a.m.

    Media Matters also used SnapStream to search for elected Republican officials or members of the Trump administration on the May 17 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today.

    Dina Radtke contributed research to this piece.

  • Here Are The Excuses Right-Wing Media Are Using To Defend Trump Asking Comey To Drop Investigation Into Flynn

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media figures -- particularly the hosts of Fox & Friends -- defended President Donald Trump after revelations that he asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Conservative figures attacked Comey, even suggesting he broke the law, cast doubt on the accuracy of Comey’s memo quoting Trump, and parsed Trump’s words to suggest that he did not request an end to the investigation.