Mainstream media figures adopt Trump’s narrative that House Judiciary Committee investigation into him is a “fishing expedition”

Mainstream media figures are discussing the House Judiciary Committee document requests -- which the committee sent to 81 figures and entities connected to President Donald Trump and his administration -- within the framework of the White House’s narrative that the move is a “fishing expedition.”

On March 4, the Judiciary Committee issued a press release announcing an investigation “into the alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration.” As committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) explained, “Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee. We have seen the damage done to our democratic institutions in the two years that the Congress refused to conduct responsible oversight. Congress must provide a check on abuses of power.”

Both Trump and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders have responded to the request by denouncing it as a “fishing expedition.” And many mainstream media figures are -- unwittingly or otherwise -- adopting the same narrative, in some cases even using the same language as Trump and his top flack by calling the investigation a “fishing expedition” and in other cases advancing the narrative that the document requests are an “overreach.”

To be clear, Congress has extremely broad investigative authority, with the Supreme Court repeatedly ruling that investigatory powers are central to the legislative branch’s function. And the individuals and entities that are receiving the requests were selected for a reason. As HuffPost noted, “The letters piggyback off the preexisting investigations being run by Robert Mueller’s special counsel office as well as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.” The letters also “inform recipients that, in the interest of speeding up the process, they can limit their production to documents they already turned over in response to those investigations.” And there is ample evidence that the president and many of his associates are deeply corrupt, warranting a large-scale investigation.

The public is also in favor of investigating Trump. A March 5 Quinnipiac University poll found that 64 percent of Americans think Trump committed crimes before becoming president, and 45 percent believe he has committed crimes while president. And by a 58-35 margin, Americans think Congress should investigate former Trump lawyer “Michael Cohen's claims about President Trump's unethical and illegal behavior.”

As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted, those findings are contrary to the mainstream media narrative currently forming around the investigation:

Here are some examples of mainstream media figures and outlets acting as stenographers for the Trump administration’s pushback to the investigation:

  • CNN political analyst David Gregory said of the various investigations of Trump, “I do think the president is potentially strengthened by all of this, by it being overly broad, by looking like Democrats are simply after the president.”
  • CNN political analyst Rachael Bade said on New Day, “This is so expansive and so broad that it just -- it raises questions of what are they going to do, where are they going to go, and does this actually hurt their own investigation because they are asking for so much?”
  • CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota told Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), who serves on the Judiciary Committee, that “the debate is oversight or overreach, and do you really need documents from 81 people and entities to get to the bottom of something?”
  • CNN anchor Erica Hill called some of the document requests “somewhat dramatic” and asked her guest, “Do they risk, perhaps, in some instances going too far on this?”
  • While discussing the document requests on MSNBC, Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski said, “There is a real, if you’re a Democrat, concern about overreach.”
  • MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell adopted the White House’s frame, asking Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) whether Democrats are “going too far? Are they getting into the realm where they’re going to give the president a lot of ammunition to play the victim?”
  • NBC and MSNBC Senior Politics Editor Beth Fouhy said, “I’m very puzzled by the politics of this,” adding, “We were assured when Democrats took the control of the House that they were not going to do a quote-unquote ‘fishing expedition’ to bring Trump down, that their investigations would be very targeted, very focused -- they wanted to do the work of the American people. … I can understand the reason to go after 81 people from the legal perspective, I don’t see it from the political perspective; this looks like it’s a fishing expedition. It’s certainly something that Fox News and the president’s supporters can define as a fishing expedition.”
  • Los Angeles Times opinion writer Michael McGough published an op-ed with the headline “House Democrats are going on a Trump fishing expedition,” arguing that the “timing of Nadler’s announcement raises the question of whether the Democrats already have concluded that Mueller won’t deliver the goods” and that “will play into arguments by Trump supporters that Democrats are moving the goal posts.”
  • CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod wrote on Twitter, “Maybe I’m missing something, but the hazard of an omnibus document demand by House judiciary versus discreet, serial ones is that, however legitimate the areas of inquiry, the wide-ranging nature of it is too easily plays into the ‘witch-hunt’ meme.”
  • The Washington Post’s write-up of the document requests included the line “The extensive scope could bolster claims by Trump and Republicans that congressional Democrats are seeking to undermine the president and cripple his 2020 reelection effort rather than conduct a disciplined, fact-finding inquiry.”

Cydney Hargis and Alex Walker contributed research to this post.