Fox "hard news" anchor Bret Baier calls the difference between spying and a FISA-approved wiretap rhetorical "hair splitting"
Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
On April 3, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) asked the Internal Revenue Service to deliver the last six years of President Donald Trump’s tax returns to the committee. Trump’s personal lawyer William S. Consovoy and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney have both forcefully responded to the committee’s request, claiming Democrats have no right to the documents -- and Fox News seems to agree.
Hosts, contributors, and guests on the network suggested that Democrats’ efforts to view the documents are a politically motivated “fishing expedition” and claimed that congressional Democrats are weaponizing the IRS and abusing their power.
But in reality, there are plenty of good reasons for seeking a president’s tax returns. And while the law Neal is relying on to request them has not previously been used for that purpose, it also hasn’t ever been needed; Trump is the first president in 40 years to forgo releasing his tax returns. Additionally, Republicans used the same law in 2014 to access the returns from several partisan groups and then made the documents public.
Fox figures also argued that the public likely doesn’t care about the returns. But a recent poll found that the majority of Americans -- 56% -- want Trump to release his returns to the public.
Here are some of Fox’s reactions:
After special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report to the attorney general about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Fox Business host Stuart Varney argued that Democrats are asking for Trump’s returns to “sow doubt in the public mind [and] undermine Mueller’s conclusion” by “implying a coverup” on his tax returns.
Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs hosted frequent Fox guest Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who argued that requesting Trump’s tax returns is an “effort by Democrats to distract us from how corrupt the DNC and Clinton campaign were.”
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy argued that Democrats have moved on from collusion and “changed the narrative now to the taxes.” Fox contributor Dan Bongino agreed that Democrats “switched the narrative,” saying, “Now that obstruction isn't working, they are going to move on to some kind of financial collusion with the Trump tax returns.”
Kayleigh McEnany, frequent Fox guest and national press secretary for Trump’s 2020 campaign, claimed Democrats are “so upset that the Mueller report turned up no collusion, no obstruction. So they’re returning back to the old tactic of let’s go after the tax returns.”
Fox regular and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the request as “a political fishing expedition” and complained that Democrats “are not going after him because of some particular reason. They want to go in a fishing expedition and find something that they can hang over his head.”
Fox contributor Byron York claimed on multiple Fox programs that the IRS request is a “fishing expedition.” On Fox Business, Dobbs told York that he didn’t use the phrase “fishing expedition” himself because he believes “that nomenclature trivializes what is a venal, venomous, ignorant assault against a sitting president.” Dobbs also claimed that the request is “absolutely beyond the proper bounds of the intent of the Constitution or the statutory authority of the United States Congress.”
Fox hosts Sandra Smith and Bill Hemmer hosted White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley and failed to push back when he asserted that if the government “gave the Mueller report to the entire press corps” along with Trump’s tax returns, “they’d come up with something else. It is never good enough.”
Fox contributor Karl Rove claimed that “every American, Republican or Democrat, ought to be concerned about weaponizing the IRS in this manner,” and he said that Democrats are looking for “anything they can find in order to bring [Trump] down.”
Fox guest and Tea Party Patriots founder Mark Meckler argued that Democrats are doing “exactly what the IRS did to the Tea Parties -- they targeted people based on their political affiliation.”
Frequent Fox guest and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said the IRS will “have to resist” the Democrats’ request “because it would be totally illegal.”
On America’s Newsroom, McEnany accused Democrats of “using the IRS as a political weapon.”
After Fox contributor Jessica Tarlov claimed that “people want to know how rich is the president actually,” Outnumbered co-host Harris Faulkner suggested that those people don’t actually exist. She asked Tarlov, “Have you talked to these people?” and, “Are they in the electorate? Where are these people?” Faulkner added that “America voted,” suggesting that Americans must not care about the returns since Trump won an election without releasing them.
Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed that "the majority" of "America doesn't care about seeing" Trump's tax returns.
Loading the player reg...
In an unusual development, many right-wing media figures have criticized President Donald Trump for throwing the U.S. intelligence community under the bus during a July 16 appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin by refusing to affirm its conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. While it’s uncommon to see typically sycophantic figures rebuking the president, this criticism is particularly surprising given right-wing media’s own history of encouraging Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community for just that finding.
During the press conference in Helsinki after his one-on-one meeting with the Russian president, Trump touted Putin’s denial of interfering in the U.S. elections and claimed he doesn’t “see any reason why” Russia would have meddled. Many right-wing media figures were displeased with this response and rebuked the president’s behavior:
Fox’s Newt Gingrich: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.”
Fox News analyst Jack Keane: “That’s alarming that the president would not stand behind that entire intelligence community and judicial process and back them up a hundred percent.” Keane also stated: “To stand there on a world stage and appease Russia in disfavor to our intelligence community was a thing that shocked me."
Fox’s Trish Regan: “This was clearly not [President Trump's] best performance. ... He should have defended us. He should have defended his own intelligence community."
Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera tweeted: Trump “seems to distrust & despise @HillaryClinton & #SpecialCounsel more than he distrusts& despises #Russia & #GRU He also didn’t embrace our own intelligence community, which says Russia is guilty of meddling.”
Fox News analyst Brit Hume: “Trump, finally asked whom he believes on Russia interference, gives a vague and rambling non-answer, with renewed complaints about Hillary’s server. Says he trusts US intel but made clear he takes Putin’s denials seriously. Lame response, to say the least.”
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: said that “When Newt Gingrich, when Gen. Jack Keane, when [Chairman of American Conservative Union] Matt Schlapp say the president fell short and made our intelligence apparatus look bad, I think it’s time to pay attention.” He also claimed that Trump “fell short” in Helsinki.
Townhall’s Guy Benson: Trump’s response to the question if he believes U.S. intel or Putin was an “atrocious, humiliating answer.”
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York: “Concerning Trump's newser remarks specifically on Trump-Russia affair: Appalling.”
Right-wing media’s apparent shock at the president’s actions, however, is itself laughable, given Trump’s history of attacking the U.S. intelligence community over the Russia investigation, and right-wing media’s own war against intelligence officials. Right-wing media have spent years besmirching the intelligence community to protect Trump and undermine the Russia investigation, often pushing outlandish conspiracy theories about a “secret society” and attempted “coups,” or else aggressively targeting individual officials in order to delegitimize intelligence findings that might hurt Trump. There is plenty to scrutinize the intelligence community over, but it is wildly hypocritical that right-wing media are finding Trump’s rhetoric about the Russia investigation “appalling.” After all, he probably got it from them.
Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media have attempted to downplay the odds that, if confirmed, Kavanaugh would cast a deciding vote on abortion rights. In reality, Kavanaugh’s background demonstrates that he will most likely be key to overturning or further gutting Roe v. Wade -- and such an outcome would have devastating consequences for abortion access in the United States.
On July 9, Trump nominated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy left after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in late June. Kavanaugh’s name was included on a list put out by the White House that was “preapproved by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.” According to New York magazine, this list was “extremely important to Trump’s relationship with the conservative movement and particularly with conservative Christian leaders.” Subsequently, anti-abortion groups praised Kavanaugh’s nomination as an opportunity to finally overturn Roe v. Wade and put an end legal abortion. And despite right-wing media’s gaslighting, Kavanaugh's record demonstrates that he will likely do just that.
In 2017, Kavanaugh dissented in a case involving an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen (called Jane Doe) who was in federal custody and wanted to have an abortion. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement was prohibiting Doe from leaving the facility to have an abortion because the agency did not want to “facilitate” the practice.
Beyond the substance of his opinion in the Jane Doe case, others have pointed to Kavanaugh’s reliance on “coded language” as evidence of his underlying intentions about abortion rights.
Kavanaugh’s decision in Doe’s case, as well as his previous comments on abortion-related matters, also demonstrate that he might leave Roe on the books while still obliterating abortion rights.
Even before Kavanaugh was officially nominated, right-wing media were already claiming that a Trump-nominated justice wouldn’t be that bad for abortion access. However, with Kavanaugh on the court, a decision gutting or overturning of Roe is likely and would have devastating consequences.
Although some (including Trump) have argued that overturning Roe will only return abortion regulations “back to the states,” this would functionally outlaw abortion across large parts of the country.
Independent of how abortion is regulated, economic and logistical barriers that already impede access will only grow worse in a world without Roe. As Carole Joffe, a professor in the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California, San Francisco, explained:
Geographic areas without access to abortion place an extreme burden on the disproportionate number of abortion patients who are poor (50 percent are below the official poverty line and another 25 percent are classified as low income). Besides having to pay for the procedure, they need the funds to pay for lodging (some states have waiting periods of 24 hours or more, necessitating overnight stays), child care (about 60 percent of abortion patients are already parents) and of course for the travel itself. And this journey also involves confronting one or more days of lost wages as well.
Regardless of state regulations, conservatives have recently attempted to push federal regulation on abortion. As author and lecturer Scott Lemieux explained for Vox, “a Republican government with slightly larger Senate majorities than it has now would be able to pass national abortion regulations” that could outright or effectively ban abortion.
Despite the threat that Kavanaugh poses to abortion rights, right-wing media have been busy gaslighting viewers in an apparent attempt to paint Kavanaugh as a “moderate” or otherwise suggest he wouldn’t overturn Roe:
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
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:
Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2018
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!”
— 🇺🇸MFLYNNJR🇺🇸 (@mflynnJR) May 31, 2018
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.”
Loading the player reg...
The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo
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.
Loading the player reg...
In response to the news that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted for, among other things, money laundering and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, Trump tweeted a Fox News talking point that Manafort’s alleged criminal activity occurred before he joined the campaign. But the first page of the indictment states that in an attempt to hide payments he received from Ukraine, Manafort was laundering money at least through the election year; Manafort served as Trump’s campaign manager between March and August 2016.
The first page of the indictment reads (emphasis added):
MANAFORT and GATES generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work. In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, MANAFORT and GATES laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.
Trump falsely claimed on Twitter that Manafort’s alleged criminal actions didn’t occur during his time with the campaign:
Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
Fox News had repeated this false talking point several times prior to Trump’s tweet. On Fox & Friends earlier this morning, co-host Steve Doocy commented that Manafort had “some suspicious wire transfers back in 2012, 2013, many years before he joined Trump.” Doocy later seemed to suggest the White House adopt the talking point that Trump eventually tweeted: “But ultimately, I would imagine the people in the White House are going to start talking later today about, ‘Well, if that's all they've got, something -- the guy who ran the campaign last year, something he did 5, 10 years earlier, we're OK.’”
It’s been well documented that Trump regularly watches Fox’s morning programming. Even this morning, before details of Manafort’s indictment were reported, Trump tweeted his thanks to a guest on Fox & Friends for his performance on the show.
The same talking point was repeated later on Fox News, before Trump’s tweet. On America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor Byron York said, “These are all alleged crimes that, if they took place, took place years before he joined the Trump campaign.” A few minutes later, Fox guest David Hoppe said the indictment “is for things that happened well before Paul Manafort was ever involved with the Trump campaign.”
Some Fox personalities also shared this talking point on Twitter prior to Trump’s tweet:
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) October 30, 2017
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) October 30, 2017
Here’s the Manafort indictment. Charges appear to predate Trump campaign, which is never mentioned in it. https://t.co/5oIwjcAdLG
— Brit Hume (@brithume) October 30, 2017
On August 25, President Donald Trump exercised his pardon power for the first time, choosing to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court in July. Fox News’ varied responses to the president’s decision have included calling the judicial process a “persecution,” dubiously comparing the pardon to past pardons and commutations issued by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and complaining about Republican members of Congress who “are not backing the president” on his decision.
Loading the player reg...
Right-wing media and fake news purveyors are attacking Robert Mueller, special counsel to the FBI’s Russia probe, claiming he is biased because he has connections to former FBI Director James Comey and that he is “the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation” by Comey.