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David Ignatius

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  • The media’s “civility” game helps Trump

    The Red Hen reaction shows how Trump benefits from backward media accountability

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Gage Skidmore / Media Matters

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, VA, this past weekend because the owner was unwilling to serve a senior Trump administration official who defends (among other things) the cruel and inhumane separation of migrant families and internment of immigrant children. This act of protest -- the most recent example of a senior Trump official being heckled or protested over the family-separation policy -- galvanized certain pundits who voiced a moral objection to what they viewed as a grave injustice: “uncivil” behavior by ordinary people toward perpetrators of a despicable government policy.

    This ridiculous crusade was led by the Washington Post editorial board, which published a profoundly silly piece urging all of America to “Let the Trump team eat in peace.” Per the Post:

    OVER THE WEEKEND there was a fair bit of argument about the decision by a small restaurant in Lexington, Va., not to serve dinner to President Trump’s press secretary. It wasn’t the first time recently that strong political feelings have spilled into what used to be considered the private sphere. We understand the strength of the feelings, but we don’t think the spilling is a healthy development.

    I agree completely with The Week’s Ryan Cooper, who writes that this reaction is counterproductive and morally backward: “If there is any main wellspring of ‘incivility’ … it comes from the monstrously evil actions of the Trump regime.” Diverting the focus from the evils of the White House to the “uncivil” protest actions they inspire does the evildoers a tremendous favor.

    The civility game does nothing but privilege the people whose views and actions are horrific. When the president does contemptible, anti-democratic things like ordering the separation of migrant mothers from infants and demanding that due process be eliminated, he and his lackeys follow a poisonous process in which the White House enthusiastically demonizes its adversaries -- Democrats, immigrants, journalists, anyone who objects to toddler internment -- while rigorously and woundedly demanding that everyone else follow the rules of polite discourse. The idea is that the president and his cronies deserve respect and deference no matter what they say or do simply because of the offices they hold.

    This cynical posturing gets helped along by journalists and pundits who acknowledge that the president’s policies and beliefs are abhorrent but nonetheless self-righteously cluck their tongues at the “incivility” of the White House’s critics. The Washington Post editorial board writes that the Red Hen’s defenders are correct on the merits when they say that the child internment scandal is “no ordinary policy dispute” and that President Donald Trump “has ordered terrible violations of human rights at the border.” But even in the face of what the paper recognizes as a uniquely appalling violation of rights and norms, the Post still takes a swipe at those who are “justifying incivility” and asks us to imagine a world in which abortion rights advocates are harassed for their (constitutionally protected) views -- something that happens literally all the time and too often has deadly consequences.

    This vapid argument was perfectly crystallized in a chiding tweet from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius:

    “However troubling her views.” Her “troubling" views are the story! The despicable arguments and actions of the administration are driving this public backlash against senior officials. But elite members of the media are busily doing the White House a favor by prioritizing “civility” over accountability -- forget about the fact that she’s the mouthpiece for an administration perpetrating a deliberate evil against a vulnerable population; this senior government official deserves respect and steak tartare.

    The endurance of this worldview in the face of broadly recognized illegal and immoral behavior does not portend well for the immediate post-Trump era. The end of Trump’s administration should be met with a vigorous and thorough accounting of all its misdeeds and criminality. Standing athwart that effort will be a coalition of bad-faith Republicans, badly misguided pundits, and calculatedly centrist Democrats who will argue that any attempt to investigate Trump abuses will be too “political” and contrary to the more important task of “healing” or “bringing Americans together” or some other nonsense. That was the mindset that helped shield the people responsible for the George W. Bush-era torture program from any sort of official accountability; in 2009, the same David Ignatius snidely dismissed people who backed “retrospective investigations of wrongdoing by the CIA” as “liberal score-settlers.”

    The Trump administration’s aberrant and illegal behaviors are driven in part by the faith that the political and media establishment will be too cowardly and too self-absorbed to impose any real accountability. Given that official Washington can’t stomach an act of “uncivil” protest by a local eatery, it’s hard to argue that the White House’s faith is misplaced.

  • The Media Aren't Buying Trump’s Claim That Intelligence Officials Criticized Obama During Confidential Briefing

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Media figures immediately denounced Donald Trump’s claim during NBC’s Commander-In-Chief Forum that during an intelligence briefing, CIA officials expressed disappointment in President Obama and his handling of foreign affairs.

    In August, Trump began receiving intelligence briefings, which NBC News described as a description of “how US intelligence agencies see a variety of global issues.”

    During the forum, moderator Matt Lauer asked Trump if he had learned anything about strategy to combat ISIS or anything that would make him reconsider his promise to defeat the terror organization quickly. Trump replied that he did not learn anything like that during the briefing but he did learn that President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry are “total disaster[s]” and that Obama “did not follow … what our experts said to do.”:

     

    MATT LAUER (MODERATOR): Did anything in that briefing, without going into specifics, shock or alarm you?

    DONALD TRUMP: Yes, very much so.

    LAUER: Did you learn new things in that briefing?

    TRUMP: First of all, I have great respect for the people that gave us the briefings. They were terrific people. They were experts on Iraq and Iran and different parts of -- and Russia. But yes, there was one thing that shocked me. And it just seems to me that what they said, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, who is another total disaster, did exactly the opposite.

    LAUER: Did you learn anything in that briefing, again, not going into specifics, that makes you reconsider some of the things you say you can accomplish like defeating ISIS quickly?

    TRUMP: No. I didn't learn anything from that standpoint. What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly -- when they call it intelligence, it's there for a reason. What our experts said to do.

    Trump’s claim was met with immediate skepticism. On MSNBC, former CIA Director Leon Panetta said he would be “very surprised” if the interaction Trump described took place and said it would be a “violation of [intelligence officials] responsibility.” Media figures described it as “untruthful,” and “hard to believe.” Furthermore, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius said the intelligence community would not make policy recommendations and that they would be “deeply upset” by Trump’s comments.

  • FBI Memo Confirms Clinton Email Classification Story Has Little To Do With Her Private Server

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Media have frequently sought to scandalize Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state by connecting the server to retroactively classified emails she sent or received. But recently released FBI documents regarding the department’s investigation into Clinton’s use of the private server conclusively show that the interagency classification dispute would have occurred regardless of whether she had used a State Department email account and resulted in large part from career State Department officials sending information in good faith that was later deemed classified.

  • Fox News Is Wrong: Trump Is A Terrorist Recruiting Tool

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News is attempting to downplay Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s remarks that President Obama is a founder of ISIS by likening them to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s comment that Trump “is being used to essentially be a recruiter” for terrorists. However, numerous national security experts have explained that Trump’s rhetoric is “the best thing the Islamic State has going for it” and Trump’s rhetoric has actually been featured in terrorist propaganda.

  • Right-Wing Media Run With Another Baseless Comparison With Clinton Emails

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media spuriously likened Hillary Clinton’s email use to the case of Bryan Nishimura -- who was criminally charged with mishandling classified information -- after FBI Director James Comey announced the bureau would not recommend criminal charges against Clinton. Media figures seized on Nishimura’s 2015 charges to erroneously characterize Comey’s announcement as a double standard, but, as with the debunked comparisons of Clinton’s email use to David Petraeus’ and John Deutch’s cases, legal experts note that unlike Clinton, Nishimura knowingly mishandled classified information.

  • A Comprehensive Guide To Benghazi Myths And Facts

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & OLIVIA KITTEL

    After nearly four years of right-wing myths about the September 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, and as Republicans and Democrats on the House Select Committee on the attacks release their reports, Media Matters has compiled a list of more than 50 myths and facts regarding the origin of the attack, the security surrounding the compounds, the Obama administration’s handling of the attack during and after its occurrence, attacks on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other lies and misinformation regarding the Benghazi attack.

  • MSNBC's Morning Joe Edits Out David Ignatius' Debunking Of Clinton Email "Scandal"

    Ignatius: "I Couldn't Find A Case Where This Kind Of Activity Had Been Prosecuted... Legally There Is No Difference Between [Clinton] Using Her Private Server And If She'd Used State.gov"

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Morning Joe Is Desperate For A Clinton Scandal

    During an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius thoroughly debunked arguments that Hillary Clinton should be charged with a crime as a result of her use of a private email system while serving as secretary of state. When MSNBC re-aired the first hour of its program later in the morning, the bulk of Ignatius' debunking had been edited out.

    On the September 4 edition of Morning Joe, co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski continued their efforts to stoke controversy around Hillary Clinton's email practices while serving as secretary of state. Both Scarborough and Brzezinski suggested that guest David Ignatius was simply "getting tired" of the wall-to-wall media coverage directed at Clinton after the columnist authored an August 28 op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that "this 'scandal' is overstated." Ignatius responded by explaining that experts he spoke with dismissed as far-fetched claims Clinton committed a criminal offense.

    But during the rebroadcast of the segment, Morning Joe cut away from Ignatius' explanation mid-sentence. During the initial broadcast, Ignatius said (emphasis added), "As I talked to a half dozen of lawyers who do nothing but this kind of work, they said they couldn't remember a case like this, where people informally and inadvertently draw classified information into their phone conversations or their unclassified server conversations, where there had been a prosecution."

    When the segment re-aired, Ignatius is heard saying, "As I talked to a half dozen of lawyers who do nothing but this kind of work, they said they couldn't remember a case like this," before the show skipped forward to a remark by co-host Mika Brzezinski about Clinton aide Cheryl Mills.

    Significantly, the rebroadcast failed to include the conclusion of Ignatius' thought, which is that Clinton's email practices do not amount to a prosecutable offense, according to several expert attorneys he talked to. Here are Ignatius' unedited remarks (emphasis added):

    JOE SCARBOROUGH: David, so you have over the past week or two turned a bit in some of your editorial, in some of your op-eds, you've said you would rather hear Hillary's policy positions than more talk about the servers, you said you don't think she faces any criminal prosecution. You haven't exactly said nothing is here, move along, move along, but you've certainly --

    MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Getting tired of it, which is what they're hoping.

    SCARBOROUGH: -- Yeah, I mean aren't you playing into what the Clinton sort of scandal response team wants, which is so much stuff comes at you that at some point you just say, "Come on, let's just move on."

    DAVID IGNATIUS: Joe, I've tried to respond as a journalist but in particular I've tried to look at what is a real prosecutable offense here. There are violations clearly both of administrative procedure and probably technically of law and how classified information was handled. As I talked to a half dozen of lawyers who do nothing but this kind of work, they said they couldn't remember a case like this, where people informally and inadvertently draw classified information into their phone conversations or their unclassified server conversations, where there had been a prosecution.

    [CROSS TALK]

    SCARBOROUGH: But this isn't happenstance. This is a very calculated move to say if you want to communicate with the Secretary of State, as Edwards Snowden said, whether you are a foreign diplomat or a spy chief from another country or a leader of another country, which they all did, you've got to come to this unsecured server, whether it is in Colorado or wherever it is, and there is a standard in the U.S. Code under prosecutions for this sort of thing which is gross negligence. It's not a know or should have known -

    [...]

    IGNATIUS: This issue comes up surprisingly often because there is an administrative problem where people do these things and their security officers summon them and warn them and issue reprimands and it goes in their file and it's a serious personnel administrative problem. My only point is I couldn't find a case where this kind of activity had been prosecuted and that's just worth noting as we assemble our Clinton e-mail - and more thing, Joe, legally there is no difference between her using her private server and if she'd used State.gov, which is also not a classified system. The idea that, oh this would have been fine if she used State.gov, not legally, no difference.

    Here is how Morning Joe re-aired the segment:

    Scarborough, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, has a long history of hyping the supposed Clinton email "scandal" despite all evidence to the contrary. He recently claimed that Clinton intentionally timed a press conference to coincide with a mass-shooting in Virginia and falsely claimed that Clinton whitewashed a foreign country's ties to international terrorism in exchange for a charitable donation to her family foundation.

    A reader tip contributed to this story. Thank you for your support and keep them coming.

  • Media Debunk False Comparison Of Hillary Clinton's Emails To Former CIA Director's Improper Access Of Classified Materials

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    News outlets are calling out a misleading conservative media claim that Hillary Clinton's email use mirrors the improper acts of former CIA Director John Deutch, who intentionally created and stored top secret material on unsecure systems. By contrast, "State Department officials say they don't believe that emails [Clinton] sent or received included material classified at the time," which is why experts conclude the Deutch case does not "fit[] the fact pattern with the Clinton e-mails."

  • Media Debunk Misinformation Surrounding Clinton's Use Of Private Email

    ››› ››› LIS POWER

    More media outlets are debunking misinformation surrounding Hillary Clinton's use of private email, dismantling three main talking points used to accuse Clinton of malfeasance by highlighting that Clinton used her email in a "common" manner, that her situation isn't criminal, and that her handling of email is not comparable to what retired Gen. David Petraeus was convicted of.

  • Wash. Post's David Ignatius Explains The "Scandal" Missing From Clinton's Email Use

    Blog ››› ››› ALEXANDREA BOGUHN

    Washington Post opinion writer David Ignatius checked the "overstated" uproar over Hillary Clinton's email use as secretary of state, citing national security legal experts who roundly dismiss the idea that any criminal mishandling of classified information occurred.

    In an August 28 post describing "The Hillary Clinton e-mail 'scandal' that isn't," Ignatius cited legal experts and agency officials to explain how Clinton's use of a private server is "not something a prosecutor would take to court" and how transmitting unmarked, then retroactively classified emails does "almost certainly not" constitute a crime:  

    Does Hillary Clinton have a serious legal problem because she may have transmitted classified information on her private e-mail server? After talking with a half-dozen knowledgeable lawyers, I think this "scandal" is overstated. Using the server was a self-inflicted wound by Clinton, but it's not something a prosecutor would take to court.

    "It's common" that people end up using unclassified systems to transmit classified information, said Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel who's now a partner at Arnold & Porter, where he often represents defendants suspected of misusing classified information.

    [...]

    Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state has been a nagging campaign issue for months. Critics have argued that the most serious problem is possible transmission of classified information through that server. Many of her former top aides have sought legal counsel. But experts in national-security law say there may be less here than it might appear.

    First, experts say, there's no legal difference whether Clinton and her aides passed sensitive information using her private server or the official "state.gov" account that many now argue should have been used. Neither system is authorized for transmitting classified information. Second, prosecution of such violations is extremely rare. Lax security procedures are taken seriously, but they're generally seen as administrative matters.

    [...]

    Informal back channels existed long before e-mail. One former State Department official recalled the days when most embassies overseas had only a few phones authorized for secret communications. Rather than go to the executive office to make such a call, officers would use their regular phones, bypassing any truly sensitive details. "Did we cross red lines? No doubt. Did it put information at risk? Maybe. But, if you weren't in Moscow or Beijing, you didn't worry much," this former official said.

    Back channels are used because the official ones are so encrusted by classification and bureaucracy. State had the "Roger Channel," named after former official Roger Hilsman, for sending secret messages directly to the secretary. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had a similar private channel. CIA station chiefs could send communications known as "Aardwolves" straight to the director.

    Are these channels misused sometimes? Most definitely. Is there a crime here? Almost certainly not.

    Ignatius also knocked down conservative media's oft-repeated refrain that Clinton's email use was akin to David Petraeus' crimes, noting how intent to mishandle classified information is central to culpability:

    Potential criminal violations arise when officials knowingly disseminate documents marked as classified to unauthorized officials or on unclassified systems, or otherwise misuse classified materials. That happened in two cases involving former CIA directors that are cited as parallels for the Clinton e-mail issue, but are quite different. John Deutch was pardoned in 2001 for using an unsecured CIA computer at his home to improperly access classified material; he reportedly had been prepared to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. David Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in April for "knowingly" removing classified documents from authorized locations and retaining them at "unauthorized locations." Neither case fits the fact pattern with the Clinton e-mails.