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  • How becoming a Fox News hack is paying off for Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow

    Washington Post: Jay Sekulow’s family is personally profiting from his charities 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow is using his conservative media exposure and close relationship with President Trump for his family’s personal financial gain.

    According to a report from The Washington Post, Sekulow, who is a radio host and the Chief Counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), is using his position to gain millions from charities he and his family controls. The report details how his charities “brought in nearly $230 million in charitable donations from 2011 to 2015 — and millions of those dollars ended up going to the members of the Sekulow family or their companies.” According to the Post’s research into the business records and tax filings of Sekulow’s charities, $5.5 million has gone to Sekulow’s family with another $23 million going to his firms.

    A large part of Sekulow’s success can be traced back to his media exposure and his close ties to the president. The report found that as “Sekulow’s exposure on television increased,” his fundraising for the organization run by he and his wife increased by ten million dollars over a two-year period. His fundraising “jumped another $10 million” as Sekulow’s role as an anti-Obama “legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach.” Sekulow’s new position as Trump’s personal lawyer could also boost his fundraising and income even further. From the Post:

    As Sekulow’s exposure on television increased, CASE’s annual fundraising jumped from $14 million to $24 million over a period of about two years.

    Then, during the term of President Barack Obama, Sekulow’s role as a legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach. As Sekulow questioned whether Obama’s IRS had unfairly targeted conservative nonprofit and tea party groups, revenue for CASE jumped another $10 million, eclipsing that of the ACLJ.

    At the same time, the work of the ACLJ increasingly moved in step with causes of the political right.

    The group joined legal challenges to Affordable Care Act mandates and Obama’s executive order on immigration. It defended an antiabortion activist who was sued in California over undercover videos at a Planned Parenthood clinic. It also argued that the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, should be overturned.

    Gregory M. Lipper, a partner in private practice and former senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he saw the change in cases he fought against the ACLJ.

    “We litigated against a number of religious organizations, and they all, generally, have similar or slightly different angles. But the ACLJ seemed to become much more like a movement right-wing organization,” Lipper said. “They were very noisy on Islamic terrorism . . . and they started to sound more like Fox News than focusing specifically on free speech or religious liberty issues.”

    On May 9, when Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Sekulow was one of the president’s first and most vocal supporters, both in television appearances and on social media.

    Sekulow tweeted that Trump had made “the right decision” — and a similar assessment later came from the ACLJ’s Twitter account. “There is NO evidence of collusion between Pres #Trump and #Russia. Trump says it’s ‘a total hoax’ ” read a tweet from the nonprofit.

    On June 9, a day after Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sekulow announced to his radio listeners that he had accepted a position on Trump’s personal legal team, calling it his patriotic duty to defend against “an attack on the presidency.”

    Borochoff, of CharityWatch, said Sekulow’s proximity to Trump could boost fundraising.

    “He has far more attention than he normally would have to raise money — so there is the question of profiting from his relation to the president,” Borochoff said. “Are people listening to his radio program because he’s the president’s adviser? Then they get hit on to donate.”

    Sekulow has regularly pushed false stories and conspiracy theories to defend Trump and attack his opponents. Sekulow has defended Trump’s lie that he may have recorded conversations with former FBI Director James Come, hyped conspiracies that a “shadow government” and “deep state” operatives are out to destroy the Trump administration, and pushed the discredited conspiracy theory that a former Democratic National Committee staffer was assassinated in retaliation for allegedly being the source of leaked DNC emails. Fox News was forced to retract the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

  • Donald Trump is fundraising off CNN "sting" video the White House admitted may not be accurate

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Donald Trump is fundraising off of the latest “sting” video from dishonest conservative activist James O’Keefe. In a fundraising email from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, the fundraising committee claims the video “raises questions” about “phony news stories” from CNN and that the network was attempting to “rile up their rabid liberal viewers, and take us down.”

    The video in question highlights comments made by a CNN staffer with no involvement in CNN’s political coverage engaged in a casual conversation in which he says a “smoking gun” has not been uncovered yet in the numerous investigations into allegations that Trump’s presidential campaign possibly coordinated with Russia's attempt to sway the election.

    The video, as well as a Russia story that CNN published and later retracted, was seized by the White House and their allies in an attempt to prove “the media can’t be trusted.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders urged Americans “to take a look at” O’Keefe’s video despite admitting that she didn’t know if “it’s accurate or not.”

    In May 2015 the Trump Foundation, Donald Trump’s charitable organization, donated $10,000 to James O’Keefe and his organization, Project Veritas. Trump routinely used O’Keefe’s dishonest videos on the campaign trail, even mentioning the videos during a debate with Hillary Clinton.

    O’Keefe has been arrested for the illegal methods he uses to obtain his videos and he was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine to the subject of one of his videos after O’Keefe’s deceptively edited video smearing a former ACORN employee led to his firing. This is not the first time O’Keefe has attempted to sting CNN, as he also once tried to embarrass a CNN correspondent by luring her to a “palace of pleasure,” and planning to then videotaping her in the boat with sex props strewn about.

  • Trump lawyer and Hannity regular Jay Sekulow regularly pushes false claims and conspiracies

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Jay Sekulow, a member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, is a regular Fox News guest, particularly on staunch Trump ally Sean Hannity’s TV and radio shows (which Sekulow has also sometimes guest-hosted). Fox and Hannity have repeatedly given Sekulow a platform to push misinformation; in fact, Sekulow made at least seven misleading or dubious allegations on Hannity’s shows between late May and June, some of which Hannity encouraged.

  • Media need to be extremely careful to not repeat their mistakes with Trump and Syria

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s administration may launch another military strike in Syria if the Syrian government carries out another chemical attack. If Trump does attack Syria, media must be cautious in their coverage and not repeat the fawning approach much of them adopted after Trump launched an April strike in the country.

    On June 26, the Trump administration issued a statement saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad was possibly preparing for another chemical attack and warning that Assad would “pay a heavy price” if he actually carried one out. The New York Times also noted that military officials were “caught off guard” by the statement.

    If there’s another chemical attack and Trump carries out his threat and launches military action in response, it could be a repeat of what happened just a few months ago. On April 7, in response to the Assad government’s reported chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town, Trump ordered the military to fire missiles at the Syrian airbase that launched that attack. Many in media lauded Trump in an over-the-top fashion, calling the strike “beautiful” and “an emotional act by a man suddenly aware that the world’s problems were now his,” saying the strike was the moment “Donald Trump became President of the United States,” and claiming that he had “nailed” his “first test,” that he “made Americans proud,” and that he showed “a level of decisiveness that we have not seen in these past eight years.” Yet that same Syrian base was back in operation less than 48 hours after the attack, and now the administration is claiming it could be the source of another possible attack.

    Thus far, cable news coverage, in particular, has generally been restrained, expressing caution in their interpretation of the administration’s action while also suggesting that it could be a “deterrent” and a “red line” threat against the Syrian regime. (Fox News, perhaps unsurprisingly, used it to criticize former President Barack Obama.) If Trump follows through on his threat, this continued level of cautious analysis will be crucial.

    The commentary about military action does not exist in a vacuum. After Trump’s missile strikes in April, some pundits linked their praise of the strikes to the threat North Korea poses to the U.S. Trump, a huge consumer of cable news, could potentially have felt incentivized to increase tensions with that country as a result, given the positive coverage he has received for taking military action.

    Further, the possible military action could yet again revive the Trump-is-finally-pivoting narrative, a claim that has repeatedly popped up since Trump announced his presidential campaign but that has consistently been incorrect. With Trump’s threats against Syria, media are being given another chance not to repeat the "pivot" mistake that many of them have made time and time again.

  • These are the right-wing/fringe media figures Trump supposedly communicates with

    Based on reporting and the people themselves, Trump is on the phone with right-wing media and fringe figures a lot

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alex Jones, Infowars host:

    “Trump gave me a call, and I told him, ‘Mr. President-elect, you’re too busy, we don’t need to talk.’ But we still spent over five minutes -- he said, 'Listen, Alex, I just talked to the kings and queens of the world -- world leaders, you name it.' But he said, 'It doesn’t matter, I wanted to talk to you to thank your audience, and I’ll be on in the next few weeks to thank them.'” Jones added that Trump indicated it was not a “private call” and told him, “I want to thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic. We know what you did early on and throughout this campaign to stand up for what’s right.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 11/14/16]

    “As I said in one speech, ‘I’m sorry I missed Trump’s call.’ I know the numbers. I know when he calls. He calls like three times in a row. I was on air. He gets confused. He called me and I missed the calls and I just feel guilty because who knows what it was about. And I know Trump doesn’t -- I’ll tell the enemy this because Trump knows it’s true. They need to know this. Trump just wants to connect with a spirit that is good. He needs that energy.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 2/24/17]

    “You and others have reached out and said, “If you talk to Trump, tell him this.” Half the time I’ve missed the calls and other ones, early on, calls were like 15 minutes long. We really talk. Now it’s like, “Alex. Lot of folks watching.” He knows everything he’s saying is being recorded. “Keep it up, great job. How’s the family? Just keep it up, you know I’m delivering. Are you happy?” It’s mainly a pat on the head, and I get that -- but then I talk to folks that have to go have private meetings with him and he’s just literally just like -- and I can’t get into it.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 4/5/17]

    “You know why the FBI admits a month ago in Congress that I’m under investigation and that I’m being wiretapped? Because I talk to the president and I talk to people that talk to the president every day. And they want to be able to say, ‘Mr. President, he’s under investigation -- you can’t talk to Alex Jones.’” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 4/12/17]

    Sean Hannity, Fox News host:

    “But the fact is I know from the White House that no one in media talks to President [Donald] Trump more than Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity talks to President Trump two or three times a day, sometimes at length, and I'll just tell you right now, Sean Hannity is currently the main leader of the resistance against the globalists outside of Trump and then, of course, myself.” -- Alex Jones [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 6/22/17]

    Chris Ruddy, Newsmax CEO:

    “Ruddy has been a ubiquitous presence in Trump’s sphere over the past several months, the ‘Zelig’ of the administration, as the Atlantic’s Rosie Gray wrote. He converses regularly with Trump and White House officials, and says he has given the president advice on everything from health care to Chinese relations to fake news.” [The Washington Post, 6/15/17]

    Corey Lewandowski, One America News Network commentator, and David Bossie, Fox contributor:

    “President Donald Trump personally reached out to two of his former campaign aides – his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie – to sound them out about working with the administration as crisis managers, according to two people familiar with the situation.” [Politico, 5/22/17]

    Kimberly Guilfoyle, Fox News host:

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): I don't think this is a deal that anybody should be crying about. Like we said, it's nonbinding, and the United States is already a clean energy, oil and gas leader. So, we can keep doing what we're doing, we can keep reducing our emissions. Why would we in fact put ourselves at an economic disadvantage, giving and subsidizing an economic windfall to other countries, in sort of a climate redistribution of wealth scheme? It makes no sense to me. I think he did the brave and courageous thing, and in fact, I told him that this morning at 8 a.m., when he called. And I spoke to him about it, and this was something very much so on his mind, but he seemed like--

    GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): Wait a second, who called you?

    GUILFOYLE: The president.

    GUTFELD: Why?

    DANA PERINO (CO-HOST): To ask about climate change?

    GUTFELD: Why did he call you?

    GUILFOYLE: Climate change, taxes. The Five. [Fox News, The Five, 6/1/17]

    Roger Stone, Infowars contributor:

    GUEST CO-HOST: When was the last time you talked to him?

    ROGER STONE: Been a little while now. I would say -- I don’t want to characterize it, but less than a week ago.

    GUEST CO-HOST: Good talk?

    STONE: From time to time. He’s easier to find on the weekends. He’s got more time on his hands. But I’m happy to say after I was on with George Stephanopoulos, he called. After I was on with Chuck Todd, he called. After the Netflix document trailer was released, he called.

    GUEST CO-HOST: What’d he say?

    STONE: Well, I mean, he was certainly pleased with those appearances because, of course, I was happy to defend Donald Trump. [SiriusXM Patriot, The David Webb Show, 5/5/17]

    “On May 11th Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again political adviser for several decades, had just wrapped up a pair of morning television appearances when, according to two sources with direct knowledge, he received a call from the President. ... As Stone left the studio on May 11th, the President, who the evening before had essentially pretended not to know him anymore, had a simple message: good job.” [The New Yorker, 5/31/17]

    Eric Bolling, Fox News host:

    “Fox News host Eric Bolling said he’s talked to President Donald Trump about how to best go about “draining the swamp” — one of Trump’s top campaign promises and the central topic of the cable-news star’s latest book. [...] Bolling said the president has read his book, and he’s had several discussions with him about how to best go about fighting corruption.” [The Daily Caller, 6/26/17]

    Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, CEO of Fox News:

    “The president’s relationship with Mr. Murdoch is deeper and more enduring than most in his life, and the two commiserate and plot strategy in their phone calls, according to people close to both.” [The New York Times, 4/22/17]

  • New right-wing media talking point: It's no big deal if Trump colluded with the Russians

    Legal experts and Trump’s attorney general agree it would be “improper and illegal”

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media figures have repeatedly downplayed possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government, suggesting that “it’s not a crime” to collude with a foreign government to influence U.S. elections. Legal experts and Trump’s own attorney general, however, agree that such collusion would be “improper and illegal.”

  • How conservative, far-right, and fringe media figures are defending Trump’s "tapes" threat to Comey

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After President Donald Trump admitted in a June 22 tweet that “I did not make, and do not have” any “‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with [FBI Director] James Comey,” conservative and pro-Trump media figures and outlets tried to defend his original threat that claimed, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” The media figures and outlets insisted the move was “brilliant,” “impressive,” and “a victory” and said it was a “smart way to make sure [Comey] stayed honest” in his congressional testimony.