Andrew Napolitano | Media Matters for America

Andrew Napolitano

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  • Fox News and Trump are trying to discredit the DOJ's IG report about the Clinton email investigation

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News is laying the groundwork to discredit a Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general’s report regarding the department’s handling of the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

    According to a leaked portion of the report, first reported on June 6 by ABC News, the DOJ inspector general “concluded that James Comey defied authority at times during his tenure as FBI director” by “ignoring objections from the Justice Department when he disclosed in a letter to Congress just days before the 2016 presidential election that FBI agents had reopened the Clinton probe.” Political analysts and polls point to Comey’s decision to inform Congress of the reopening of the Clinton email investigation as a critical episode in Trump’s eventual victory.

    Early this week, a number of Fox hosts -- including the Fox & Friends hosts, Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs, all of whom also act as unofficial Trump advisers -- suggested that the report, which has yet to be fully released, is beset by corruption. On June 5, the president chimed in, saying that he hoped the report wasn’t being “changed and made weaker.” Since Trump’s tweet, Fox News has continued attempting to discredit the review by baselessly asserting that it’s being “scrubbed” by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who was appointed by Trump himself), even after having hyped the report for months. In fact, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano (who is known to spread baseless conspiracy theories) repeated Trump’s sentiment regarding the inspector general report when he took to the president’s favorite morning show on June 7 to push an unsubstantiated claim that the DOJ report “might not be a truthful document.”

    From the June 7 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): OK, so the leaks were -- because this is circulating, where people can essentially make a rebuttal and try to get them fix it.

    ANDREW NAPOLITANO (FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST): Yes.

    DOOCY: Joe diGenova was on our air in the last 24 hours, and he said that he thinks that Rod Rosenstein, who’s the number two guy at the DOJ, might be actually scrubbing this report to try to get all the bad stuff out of it.

    NAPOLITANO: If Joe is correct -- and I have great respect for him -- if Joe is correct, this is an outrage and it is a neutering of a very highly respected inspector general who was appointed by George W. Bush and by Barack Obama.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): So, judge, here’s the thing: You can do whatever you want to the report. But when you put him, the inspector general, in front of Congress, any committee, he’s going to answer about his conclusions. Not what's been scrubbed, correct?

    NAPOLITANO: Well, I don't know, Brian. If he gives -- that's fascinating. Because, if he gives a different version under oath than he gave in writing, then the scrubbing is going to become the issue. Wait a minute, you found this about Jim Comey? You’re telling us about it now but you didn't put it in the report?

    DOOCY: Why’d you change it?

    NAPOLITANO: Was it in the report and did you take it out? And if you took it out, did somebody tell you to take it out? Now we have another compounded error here.

    KILMEADE: Because [DOJ Inspector General Michael] Horowitz is not compromised -- he’s the inspector general.

    NAPOLITANO: I don’t know where this is going to go. I'm glad we have these leaks -- some leaks are good leaks -- but I’m glad we have these leaks, because the public needs to know that this might not be a truthful document.

  • Right-wing media praise, justify Trump's decision to pardon Dinesh D'Souza

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Right-wing media figures were quick to defend and rejoice over President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon conservative author and pundit Dinesh D’Souza for his felony conviction for violating campaign finance law.

    On the morning of May 31, Trump tweeted:

    D’Souza was indicted in 2014 for violating campaign finance laws, and right-wing media figures also jumped to defend him then, portraying him as a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration, which D’Souza had criticized in a lie-filled book attempting to trace Obama’s liberal policy motivations and later in a lie-filled movie. But D’Souza pleaded guilty to the charges against him five years ago. His more recent missives have included tweets mocking students who survived the February school shooting in Parkland, FL and likening Democrats to Nazis.

    Following Trump’s announcement that he will give a full pardon to D’Souza, right-wing media figures celebrated the decision and claimed that D’Souza was indeed treated unfairly:

    Fox News host Jeanine Pirro: “Fantastic news @DineshDSouza to be pardoned by @POTUS. Obama’s political prosecution null and void.”

    Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano: Trump’s pardon of D’Souza is “a marvelous act of justice. Not mercy, justice.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “It’s about time”; pardon “was long overdue.”

    Right-wing troll Mike Flynn Jr.: “WOW! Incredible! @DineshDSouza totally deserves this! CONGRATS!”

    Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones: “Good to see Trump using that power” to correct “a lot of these travesties of justice that are taking place.”

    Wash. Examiner’s Byron York and Ingraham agree D’Souza sentencing was a “travesty” and “outrage.”

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh: D’Souza was sentenced “so that Obama could flex his muscles and show what a tough guy he was.”

    Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth: “I thought that was great.”

    Right-wing blogger Jim Hoft: D’Souza’s prosecution was an “Obama political hit job and “an obvious witch hunt.”

  • Fox doesn’t know how to react to Giuliani’s Stormy Daniels bombshell

    On Hannity, Giuliani revealed that Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the hush money payment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and current member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, revealed on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen through retainer fees for a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. After Giuliani’s bombshell revelation, Fox hosts and personalities scrambled to respond to the news with reactions ranging from downplaying Giuliani’s disclosure to saying that the idea that Trump did not know what he was reimbursing his lawyer for “is unworthy of belief.”

    Sean Hannity was noticeably startled after Giuliani’s revelation.

    Laura Ingraham, host of Fox’s Ingraham Angle: “I love Rudy, but they better have an explanation for that. ”

    Fox’s Brit Hume: “Is that what we’re down to? A dubious campaign finance reporting violation?”

    Fox & Friends hosts: “No one cares about Stormy Daniels.”

    Fox News chief judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano: “If Rudy wants the public to believe that Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen $135,000 and didn’t know what it was for, … that is unworthy of belief.”

    Maria Bartiromo, host of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria : “CNN was reporting this as such a bombshell. I don’t know, James, are you surprised? Is this -- I mean, I sort of knew that the president knew it and paid it back. ... I assumed.”

  • For once, Andrew Napolitano admitted his baseless speculation about Trump was wrong

    According to Napolitano, Trump is usually the victim of others’ misconduct

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano did a rare thing today: He apologized for a claim he made on air. Napolitano had previously suggested that former FBI Director James Comey had committed a crime by sharing memos detailing his meetings with President Donald Trump with a friend. Fox has now confirmed that the friend had the necessary clearance to view the materials, which prompted Napolitano to apologize. But Napolitano’s (wrong) accusation follows a pattern; much of his recent “legal analysis” has involved baselessly speculating about misconduct by various current and former government officials, most of which ultimately somehow victimizes Trump.

    On April 24, Fox News reported that Daniel Richman, the recipient of Comey’s memos who then shared some of their contents with the media, confirmed to its reporters that he was a special government employee (SGE) and that he had clearance to view classified materials. The next day on Fox’s Outnumbered, Napolitano apologized for previous speculation that Comey had committed a crime:

    ANDREW NAPOLITANO: It appeared when the memos were released, these are the seven memos that Jim Comey wrote about his interactions with the president, some of which had blacked out, that turns out that they had classified materials in them and I owe Jim Comey an apology because I said if this stuff had classified materials in it and he gave it to the professor, that is a crime, to fail to secure state secrets if they were properly classified. Now it turns out that the professor had a security clearance. So there was no crime, Mr. Comey, and I apologize. I was wrong.

    But for at least a year, Napolitano’s specialty has been to cherry-pick facts or take advantage of partially reported stories with incomplete information to argue that Trump is actually the victim of misconduct from other current and former government officials. While law enforcement and government officials certainly are not infallible, the baseless -- and often demonstrably incorrect -- way that Napolitano tosses out his accusations has been, for lack of a better word, absurd.

    • In March 2017, Napolitano stated that former President Barack Obama “went outside the chain of command” and asked Government Communications Headquarters, Britain's spy agency, for surveillance of Trump. His claims were later repeated by then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer and ultimately resulted in an international incident between the U.S. and Britain. Media Matters found that the source of this claim was a discredited former CIA analyst who had floated the conspiracy theory on the Russian state-sponsored news network RT. Napolitano’s claim was later debunked by Comey, numerous other British and American government officials, and even Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). Napolitano was kept off of Fox News for a period of time following this incident.
    • In May 2017, Napolitano said "it appears that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was aware" that information about former national security adviser Michael Flynn was given to The Washington Post "in an attempt to destabilize a validly elected administration, Donald Trump.
    • In June, Napolitano suggested former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had “made law enforcement decisions for political purposes.” According to the story that claim was based on, Comey showed Lynch a “highly sensitive piece of evidence … that suggested Lynch had agreed to put the kibosh on any prosecution of Clinton.” The evidence cited was a Russian intelligence document “viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake,” according to The Washington Post.
    • In August, Napolitano speculated that a rule change by Lynch "probably triggered the unmasking of then-President Elect Trump and General Flynn" and that “the unmasking goes back deep into the Obama administration in an effort to embarrass President Trump and his allies in Congress.” In the segment, he noted that unmasking for national security reasons is lawful, but “if it's done for a political purpose, it's a felony.” Napolitano offered no evidence that Trump was in fact unmasked or that any unmasking would have been politically motivated.
    • In December, Napolitano claimed that the General Services Administration (GSA) acted unlawfully by not informing Trump transition team of special counsel Robert Mueller's request for its emails. BuzzFeed News reported that the GSA in fact had informed the Trump transition team that "materials ‘would not be held back in any law enforcement’ actions.”
    • In February, Napolitano speculated that Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray could have been involved with the missing text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, saying that he doesn’t know if Wray’s “hands are clean on this.” The text messages were ultimately recovered.
    • Also in February, Napolitano questioned the timing of an email that Obama national security adviser Susan Rice wrote to herself on January 20, 2017, about a January 5 meeting with senior administration officials. He argued the memo was an an attempt to "rewrite history" and "make it look as if something happened that didn't happen." The memo reportedly documented Obama's concern that "intelligence officials be cautious about sharing information about the Russia investigation with the Trump transition team, 'particularly' incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn." Rice's attorney later explained that she wrote the email on January 20 on the advice of the White House counsel's office.

    Of course, even as Napolitano levies charges at anyone in sight, he’s excused any potential evidence suggesting wrongdoing on Trump’s part. Just in the last few months, he’s dismissed reports that Trump may have improperly influenced then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe by asking how he voted in the 2016 presidential election and reports that Trump may be tampering with witnesses in the investigation of his campaign by asking them about their testimony.

  • The right-wing media figures defending Sean Hannity’s relationship with Michael Cohen

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing media figures are jumping to defend Fox News host Sean Hannity after it was revealed that Hannity has been a client of longtime lawyer to President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen. Hannity’s defenders are suggesting that he has “been victimized” by the revelation of his name, claiming that he “wasn’t engaging” Cohen “as a lawyer,” and even arguing that Hannity possibly “did not know he was a client of Michael Cohen."

  • Fox & Friends is banging the drum for another special counsel

    Fox’s Jason Chaffetz: “The real investigation should be into the investigators”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    In three separate segments today, Fox & Friends suggested the appointment of a “second special counsel to look into” the Department of Justice’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and “into the investigators” on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Former congressman and current Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz appeared on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite cable news program, alongside Fox’s Pete Hegseth to push for an investigation of the Department of Justice employing “a special prosecutor and the IG at the same,” something the president’s legal team has endorsed.

    Chaffetz’s call for a second special counsel followed two other segments in which the hosts hyped the possibility of an appointment of a second special counsel as “a debate being had right now.” Trump’s attorney general has so far resisted similar calls from Republican lawmakers. From the March 29 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): I know you have called and some others have called for the need, potentially, for a second special counsel to look into this FISA abuse. The attorney general is now saying the [Department of Justice] inspector general will be looking into it. Is this a good development, and is it sufficient?

    JASON CHAFFETZ (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Well, it means that they’re following the facts and that -- the inspectors general, they don't just go on fishing trips. He’s completing an investigation, nearly a year long. And what this indicates to me is he’s actually got some real evidence out there and he’s warning a second investigation.

    That should be coupled with a special prosecutor, because there are a number of people that have left the employment of the government and [Department of Justice Inspector General] Michael Horowitz, as good and as talented as he and his staff are, they don't have the jurisdiction to go talk to people who, like Mr. [former Deputy FBI Director Andrew] McCabe, for instance, who’s now left. If you couple a special prosecutor, then they have the investigative tools in place to go interview those people and to prosecute those people if they find anything where people have broken the law.

    HEGSETH: So this inspector general was looking into the email server abuse potentially and the investigation into the Hillary Clinton. It seems the facts have broadened into the reality, the real investigation should be into the investigators themselves and the abuse of the FISA process. But you say they should be coupled together, need a special prosecutor and the IG at the same time?

    CHAFFETZ: This is also critical because [Former FBI Director and Special Counsel Robert] Mueller is evidently not doing his job based on the one-page directive that he was given. Not only was he supposed to look at directly at the Donald Trump and any collusion, even though we don't see any evidence of it, that was the directive that [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein put in place, but point number two on that one page was to follow the evidence of anything else that he might’ve seen about meddling in the election. And there is a lot of evidence about the Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign coordinating and spending money overseas on this fake dossier. But it does not appear that Mueller is pursuing any of that, that’s why I think the inspector general coupled with a yet-to-be-named appointment of a special prosecutor, is going to have to go do that job.

  • Misinterpreting a judge’s order, right-wing media have convinced themselves that Michael Flynn is about to reverse his guilty plea

    The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.

    Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.

    That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”

    Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”

    In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.

    National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.

    Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.

    I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.

    Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.

    The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”

    Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”

    It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.

    As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.

    The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.

    Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.

    “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”

    That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.

    Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.

    van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.