Update (9/1/20): With a provocative title starting with “Enemies List?” Fox News contributor John Solomon wrote about memos allegedly released by the State Department that he says show “officials at the U.S. embassy in Kiev” having “potentially violated the Privacy Act” through use of Facebook tool CrowdTangle to monitor developing social media narratives about Ukraine, Burisma, and more. Solomon wrote that figures like Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, Donald Trump Jr., and others were targeted.
This was a preposterous attempted scandal in 2019, and it’s even more ridiculous today. Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, was running a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine with the help of Solomon. U.S. officials like Yovanovitch simply wanted to track what was being said about Ukraine on social media so that they could keep up. And now the State Department has apparently joined Fitton and others to turn right-wing figures into the victims.
As previously noted, CrowdTangle is a widely used, extremely basic social media search tool owned by Facebook. It’s bizarre and ridiculous for Solomon to frame this as illicit monitoring instead of merely a simple way to cut through the clutter of social media and find public posts from these figures that dealt with Ukraine.
Misinformation like this is why Solomon is the reigning Misinformer of the Year.
Update (10/24/19): It turns out that the list Marie Yovanovitch allegedly used to “spy” on conservatives was really a basic Facebook search on CrowdTangle, a mundane and widely-used social media tool that tracks public social media activity. Judicial Watch described CrowdTangle as a “Soros-linked media tracking tool.”
Representatives of right-wing group Judicial Watch have been claiming during appearances on conservative media shows that former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was “spying” on media figures close to President Donald Trump by monitoring public statements they made on social media regarding Ukraine.
Judicial Watch is alleging that Yovanovitch -- who recently testified to House impeachment investigators that Trump pressured the State Department to remove her over baseless allegations -- was “basically running a war room” by monitoring public statements regarding Ukraine made by figures in right-wing media like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump, Jr. The list also includes former Obama ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Judicial Watch also claims that the searches were looking for the following keywords: “Biden,” “Giuliani,” “Soros,” and “Yovanovitch.”
That Yovanovich would monitor public statements made by public figures is unsurprising given her recent testimony claiming that Giuliani had been criticizing her in the months before her ousting, and the people she allegedly monitored are connected to the smear campaign Giuliani was waging. He had accused her of privately criticizing the president and trying to protect the interests of Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The smear included accusations that Soros was funding a conspiracy to hurt Trump’s presidency and elect Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Yovanovich said she was “incredulous” about her removal and that it was based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives” -- claims that have been promoted publicly by conservative media figures.
The Washington Post reported that George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, became concerned around October 2018 that Yovanovitch was the target of a “classic disinformation operation.” NBC News indicated that the State Department was concerned over the effort to oust Yovanovich, reporting that the agency “attempted to ring alarm bells” regarding Giuliani’s efforts to smear her:
The documents also show that Giuliani, through conservative writer John Solomon’s columns in The Hill, attempted to tie former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch to the liberal donor George Soros as part of a massive conspiracy to take down Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election.
When State Department officials saw the disinformation campaign, they attempted to ring alarm bells and strategized to correct the record, the documents show.
Yovanovitch, who has over 30 years of experience in foreign diplomacy, further testified that, as The Washington Post put it, “under Trump’s leadership, U.S. foreign policy has been compromised by self-interested actors who have badly demoralized and depleted America’s diplomatic corps.” The testimony of White House aide Fiona Hill confirmed Yovanovitch’s depiction of foreign policy under the Trump administration.
Still, Judicial Watch is attempting to push the narrative that Yovanovitch nefariously spied on Trump allies among right-wing media, appearing on the radio shows of Sebastian Gorka and Sean Hannity and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs’ prime-time show to spread the message. Some Fox News figures responded with paranoia regarding their own conversations.
Judicial Watch also shared its report on Twitter, announcing that it is “investigating if prominent conservative figures/journalists & persons [with ties] to @realDonaldTrump were unlawfully monitored by the State Dept in Ukraine at the request of ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, an Obama appointee.”
Fox & Friends hosted Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who repeated that his “sourcing tells us that she was asking that folks like Rudy Giuliani, Don Trump Jr., a whole list of your colleagues there at Fox, be monitored on certain phrases.” Co-host Steve Doocy invited Fitton to “go ahead and speculate for a second” about Yovanovitch’s motives, to which Fitton replied, “It looks an awful lot like an enemy’s list to me.” Doocy noted that Yovanovitch is “keeping an eye on television, of all things,” and he called it “particularly disturbing that, you know, somebody in the federal government would be tracking people on TV.”
On America First with Sebastian Gorka, Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell described Yovanovitch as an “absolute Obama partisan.” Farrell claimed that Judicial Watch has “very reliable information” that the State Department was “basically running a war room” by “documenting, capturing, archiving all the statements, publications, tweets, social media, anything that those folks put out was ordered to be compiled and monitored.” Farrell did not reveal what the reliable information was. He then claimed Yovanovitch’s action amounted to an “abuse of power” and he described it as a “political operative using their government position as leverage against their political opponents.”
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher reported on Judicial Watch's story, who claimed that the reporting comes after “news reports that Yovanovitch had an anti-Trump bias.”
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs listed a string of conservative media figures Judicial Watch claims were being monitored, noting that “yours truly” was included. Dobbs concluded that the monitoring is “unlawful.”
Later in the same show, Dobbs repeated that Yovanovitch was “talking about monitoring me and surveilling me.” He asserted that he “take[s] that sort of as a badge of honor honestly” but expressed concern for his colleagues “who are less courageous than me.” His guest Ed Rollins agreed that the story is “absolutely unbelievable.”
On his radio show, Fox host Sean Hannity claimed that if true, the monitoring is a “constitutional violation” that “would be something that you would expect in a third-world banana republic.” He added that Judicial Watch’s reporting shows Yovanovitch may have “violated laws and government regulations by ordering subordinates to target certain U.S. persons,” suggesting at times that the State Department was listening in on personal conversations.
One America News Network’s Jack Posobiec, who pushed the Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracy theories and has ties to white nationalists, covered Judicial Watch’s reporting on the network, highlighting his inclusion. Reporter Stephanie Myers commented that Posobiec now has his “guard up” because it’s “like Big Brother watching you” and called on Yovanovitch to be “held accountable for this unlawful monitoring.”
On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham invited Fitton on to discuss his report. Ingraham claimed that Democrats' efforts to “note [Yovanitch's] deep integrity” were “a bit premature.” Fitton insisted he has it on “solid gold authority” that Yovanovitch “illegally” monitored conservative personalities.