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Donald Trump Jr.

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  • 22 ways Sean Hannity has tried to undermine the Russia probes

    And counting...

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News host Sean Hannity has been one of President Donald Trump’s biggest propagandists and defenders, lashing out at the president’s perceived enemies and critics to defend his actions and policies.

    But Hannity has not defended Trump on any issue more staunchly than on the ongoing controversy surrounding Trump and his administration’s possible ties to Russia, which the Justice Department and both chambers of Congress are investigating. Hannity has sunk to unprecedented levels to undermine these investigations. He has made up often inconsistent conspiracy theories about who actually was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, has hyped dubious scandals involving former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, has attacked former FBI Director James Comey and the special counsel for the Russia probe, Robert Mueller, and has even suggested that collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is fine. Here are 22 examples of Hannity ignoring facts, promoting falsehoods and conspiracies, and attempting to cast blame on others in order to defend, deflect, and downplay accusations that Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the U.S election.

    1. Hannity has repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich, and not Russia, was involved in the hacking of DNC emails and that he was murdered as retribution for providing the emails to WikiLeaks. Even after Rich’s family asked him to stop, Hannity continued to push the conspiracy theory and even promoted dubious figure Kim Dotcom’s conspiracy theories about Rich, which were picked up by multiple fringe media outlets and Reddit users. A recent lawsuit from a Fox contributor, who was quoted pushing the conspiracy theory in a since-retracted FoxNews.com article, alleged that some of the talking points used by Hannity about Rich were crafted by a GOP donor in order to undermine allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election.

    2. In June, Hannity said that even if the Trump campaign had “talked to somebody in Russia” about releasing hacked Clinton emails, “Is that a crime?”

    3. In March, Hannity suggested that the CIA framed Russia for 2016 election interference, a conspiracy theory pushed by Breitbart.

    4. After former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before the Senate that she warned the Trump administration about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn and his contacts with Russian officials, Hannity tried to downplay it by claiming the Obama administration had unlawfully “unmasked” Flynn and other officials caught in surveillance.

    5. Hannity has repeatedly brought up so-called “Clinton scandals” to distract his viewers from issues surrounding the Trump administration. Hannity has falsely claimed that Clinton committed multiple felonies, that the Clinton Foundation got millions of dollars due to a uranium deal with Russia (a falsehood which Trump has since pushed), and has wildly speculated about how "damning" FBI documents about the probe into Clinton’s private email server must have been.

    6. After Trump fired Comey, Hannity immediately defended the move, smearing Comey as “very lucky that President Trump kept him around this long because of his now unhinged and very erratic behavior.” A week later, as Trump was being scrutinized for his decision, Hannity again called Comey “a national embarrassment” and “an utter and complete failure” who “deserved to be fired.”

    7. When Trump issued a threat on Twitter suggesting that he may have recorded tapes of his conversations with Comey, Hannity called it one of the “most brilliant … tweets in the history of mankind.”

    8. In May, Hannity promoted a highly dubious claim from far-right troll Jack Posobiec that Comey leaked classified information to the media and dropped a supposed probe into former national security adviser Susan Rice because it would have implicated him too, saying Comey “did nothing about the violation of fourth amendment privacy rights, and of course, leaking of classified information, which is a crime.”

    9. After the revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting during the presidential campaign with Russians to get supposedly damaging information on Clinton, Hannity pushed a false claim originating from pro-Trump fringe media (and which Trump’s legal team encouraged) saying the meeting was some kind of a Democratic set-up against the Trumps and that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was somehow involved in the plot.

    10. Hannity tried to downplay the Trump Jr. meeting by falsely claiming that Clinton’s presidential campaign and the DNC had colluded more closely with the Ukrainian government than Trump had with Russia.

    11. Hannity dubiously claimed that “the Russian lawyer” in the Trump Jr. meeting “didn't give the Trump organization any information whatsoever,” and allowed Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow to claim Trump Jr. could have been the victim of “a blackmail job.”

    12. Hannity has repeatedly claimed that the so-called “deep state” is out to get Trump, even saying that “a soft coup is underway" against Trump with "sinister forces quickly aligning in what is becoming now, in my mind, a clear and present danger” to Trump.

    13. In June, Hannity promoted another false talking point from Posobiec, spread by fake news purveyors and other figures in the far-right fringe, that Comey said in May that Trump never asked him to halt any FBI probe.

    14. After Comey testified before the Senate about Trump firing him and the release of memos describing his interactions with the president, Hannity invited Trump Jr. on his radio show to smear Comey as "weak and feckless."

    15. When The Washington Post reported on June 14 that Mueller was investigating Trump for potential obstruction of justice, Hannity called it the "biggest act ... of retribution we have ever seen from the deep state in the history of this country."

    16. As the meeting between Trump Jr. and Russian officials was under scrutiny, Hannity asked Vice President Mike Pence on his radio show to get Clinton investigated rather than “Russia, Russia, Russia.”

    17. On July 24, Hannity urged his viewers to harass journalists who had been reporting Trump-Russia stories, saying to “write a message to their bosses” and “take to the social media.”

    18. Two days after pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit and multiple fake news purveyors claimed in July that a “mysterious IT specialist” published a report proving Russia did not hack the DNC, Hannity said on his radio show that “there are reports out there that” the hacking of the DNC emails “was all done domestically.”

    19. In July, Hannity gave credulity to Fox correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera’s conspiracy theory that a former IT staffer for former DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) could have been the source of the DNC emails Wikileaks published, asking, “Doesn’t that blow the whole [Russia narrative] out of water?”

    20. Hannity has repeatedly hosted reporters from pro-Trump outlet Circa News, owned by conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcasting, who have discussed supposed “improprieties by former President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice and fired FBI Director James Comey, and [have cast] doubt on rival media reports of possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia,” according to The Daily Beast. Most recently, Hannity hosted a Circa reporter on his show who dubiously hyped supposed wrongdoing by former Obama aide Ben Rhodes.

    21. Hannity has called for Mueller’s investigation to be shut down, claiming that “there is no way that this investigation can be fair or objective” because Mueller will “side with” Comey. He has also alleged that the investigation is biased because some members on Mueller’s team have donated to Democrats (Trump and his family have also donated thousands of dollars to Democrats.)

    22. Hannity has suggested Mueller is engaging in criminal acts.

  • How Trump's lawyers, Sean Hannity, and a Sinclair outlet tried to cover up Trump Jr.'s Russia meeting

    Trump's legal team suggested giving Trump Jr. meeting details to Circa, spinning meeting as "setup” by Democrats

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump’s legal team proposed using the Trump-friendly media outlet Circa to promote the evidence-free claim that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential election was a Democratic “setup.” Not only did Circa run with the story on July 8, two days later, Fox News host Sean Hannity was more than happy to further the story with Circa’s Sara Carter and John Solomon, frequent guests on Hannity’s shows.

    On July 31, The Washington Post reported that when Trump’s legal team recently discovered incriminating details about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a possible Russian agent, the lawyers proposed an alternate version of the encounter “be given to Circa, an online news organization that the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump.” The Post additionally noted that “the president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr.”

    Circa’s Carter wrote about Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian in a July 8 article which included a statement from a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, as well as the assertion that “the president’s legal team said Saturday they believe the entire meeting may have been part of a larger election-year opposition effort aimed at creating the appearance of improper connections between Trump family members and Russia.”

    On July 10, Fox host Sean Hannity invited Carter and then-fellow Circa reporter John Solomon to discuss whether “this whole meeting with Donald Trump Jr” was “possibly a setup” (emphasis added):

    HANNITY: All right, Sara Carter, let's go to you and your reporting along with John. Good to have you both back, by the way. Let's start with your reports about was this possibly a setup? In other words, this whole meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. -- is this a very different story than the American people are being told?

    SARA CARTER: Yes, I think there's a story here that people aren't getting from the mainstream media. And one is this. Natalia Veselnitskaya -- she was the attorney that Donald Trump, Jr., met with -- was actually connected to a company called Presevan Holding, which was run by a Russian named Dennis Katzik . And Dennis Katzik actually hired Fusion GPS. Remember, this was the security investigative firm behind the Christopher Steele dossier. So the Christopher Steele dossier, which has been disreputable, which people have not been able to prove anything, that tried to connect, you know, Donald Trump to the Russians, was actually the company that this woman was working for.

    So it makes sense. And I know that congressional investigators are looking into this. What was her connection to Fusion GPS? And how does that play out with the meeting that she held with Donald Trump, Jr., which he said he did not know prior to that meeting exactly who she was and what she was representing. So that is a very, very important part of this story.

    [...]

    HANNITY: Do you believe that this was a setup by the DNC and this Fusion group that we're talking about?

    JOHN SOLOMON: You know, there's not enough facts and evidence to assume that yet. I think there is clearly a lot of people that were working at once, and what overlays they have and what intersections they have, we don't know in part because Fusion GPS hasn't answered a lot of the questions that the Senate has put to them. Until we find out who was funding the dossier, until we find out who brought Natalia into the country, until we learn those sort of questions, we're not going to know the full picture, and I think it's too soon to make any assumptions. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/10/17]

    The Trump team narrative, with the help of Hannity and Circa, was quickly picked up and spread throughout right-wing media and fake news purveyors.

    Circa is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is known for its conservative bias and connections to Trump associates. During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair made a deal with Trump’s team to push stories favorable to the future president. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Carter and Solomon have used Hannity’s platform to do just that.

  • No, colluding with a hostile foreign power is not normal "opposition research"

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump and members of his administration have spent months describing as fake news reports on his ties to Russia and the allegations that the Russian government acted to aid his presidential campaign. They have remained steadfast amid a drumbeat of stories and even U.S. intelligence community findings about Russia, the election, and Trump’s staff. His right-wing media allies have been a key force in this endeavor, consistently finding ways to minimize or explain away damning new revelations and blaming them not on Trump, but on a shadowy nexus of Democrats, the “deep state,” and the press. This aid is essential to maintaining the president’s political position: The vast majority of Republicans have continued to support Trump in part because of the efforts of his loyal propagandists.

    Over the last week, new information has emerged that should change the trajectory of the Russia story. As The New York Times reported, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., as well as top Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, met during the 2016 presidential campaign with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer. Emails that Trump Jr. released reveal that the meeting came about after Trump Jr. was told the lawyer had damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was provided by a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Trump Jr. has effectively admitted to trying to collude with a hostile government. The debate should now move to how deep that collusion went, and who was involved.

    But this damning new information has moved few minds among the president’s core media supporters. Instead, faced with the devastating revelation that the president’s campaign was trying to collude with the Russian government, they have followed the president’s lead by offering the risible argument that anyone would have done the same thing if given the opportunity. Faced with evidence that the president’s team serves no morality but that which benefits itself, they have declared that everyone else shares this twisted worldview.

    As Newt Gingrich put it to The Atlantic, “If somebody in the middle of the campaign walks in the door and says ‘I have information that will harm your opponent,’ virtually every campaign in the world will say show me, what do you have.” “Let me tell you, if my father was running for president of the United States,” Kimberly Guilfoyle said on Fox, “I would sit down and take a meeting and find out if there was information against an opponent.” Yesterday, the president himself adopted this argument, telling Reuters, "Many people, and many political pros, said everybody would do” what his son did; he reiterated the point this afternoon.

    It is obviously, flagrantly false that Trump Jr.’s actions were typical and proper. The media has said so: As The New York Times put it, “while opposition research is part of modern presidential campaigns, it normally does not come from representatives of a hostile foreign power.” Top Republican campaign operatives have said so, claiming that the incident was extremely unusual, that they wouldn’t have taken the meeting, and that the Trump team should have reported it to law enforcement. Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee to become FBI director, has said so, stating that politicians in that situation should call the bureau. And history says so: When a top aide to Al Gore’s presidential campaign received George W. Bush’s debate preparation materials in the mail, he turned them over to the FBI. (And Trump ally claims that Clinton’s campaign similarly colluded with Ukraine are specious nonsense.)

    At this point, it seems foolish to imagine that Trump’s media allies will change their opinion of the story, regardless of what new information comes forward. They are in too deep at this point, having sacrificed their credibility and independence too many times to turn back now. He expressed unchecked bigotry and they were fine with it; audio bragging about sexual assault was explained away as “locker room talk”; his campaign viciously attacked and even physically battered reporters and was cheered. At a certain point, they went too far, and now have little choice but to tell one another that colluding with a hostile foreign power is not just acceptable, but necessary.

    The president’s media allies have decided to believe the president instead of their own lying eyes. The result is a series of arguments that have the country not only unmoored from a common view of reality, but of anything approaching a common morality. The propagandists have moved the goalposts from a question of whether a presidential campaign colluded with a hostile foreign government, to whether such collusion is actually a good thing. The nagging remaining question is whether their audience will ever decide that they’ve seen enough of this farce.

  • Fox News' go-to collusion expert is Trump's shill on all matters Russia

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett has been making legally dubious claims and shilling for President Donald Trump during his commentary on the ongoing probe into possible collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government, an investigation he repeatedly dismisses when he argues, "You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election."

  • Debunking right-wing media's bogus Ukrainian collusion narrative

    Wash. Post report shows why Hannity's defense for Trump Jr. is nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A report from The Washington Post debunked a prominent right-wing media claim that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign worked with the Ukrainian government during the 2016 election cycle.

    In response to reports that Donald Trump Jr. welcomed potential information from the Russian government that would have been harmful to Clinton, right-wing media have suggested that Clinton, her campaign, and the Democratic Party colluded with Ukraine in a similar manner. Besides Trump propagandist Sean Hannity, prominent right-wing media outlets and figures, such as The Daily Caller, The Gateway Pundit, The Daily Wire, Fox’s Eric Bolling, and far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, pushed the claim. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart editor, also appeared on news outlets and repeated the claim.

    In a July 11 report, the Post’s Philip Bump wrote that the claim that Clinton’s campaign colluded with Ukraine, which originates from a Politico article from January, relies specifically on “one person who was researching [former Trump campaign chairman Paul] Manafort with help from inside the Ukrainian Embassy and who, at some undetermined point, provided info to the Clinton campaign.” As Bump wrote, the “Ukrainian plot that’s been revealed” is, in reality, “a weak link to the Ukrainians and a weaker link to the Clinton campaign.” By contrast, “U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his intelligence agencies to hack into and release private information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.” According to the article, “American intelligence agencies saw signs that people allied with Trump’s campaign may have been aiding the Russians in that effort.” Bump also spoke with a legal expert about the Clinton-Ukraine narrative, who said, “The difference is that there is not clear evidence of the Clinton campaign coordinating with a foreign national or encouraging or accepting their help.” From the article:

    It centers on a woman named Alexandra Chalupa, who worked as a consultant for the Democratic Party throughout the 2016 cycle through her firm, Chalupa & Associates. Her role with the party was outreach to ethnic communities, but, a Ukrainian American herself, Chalupa had been researching Paul Manafort’s work in that country even before he was tapped to serve as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in March of last year. Chalupa, Politico said, “occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and [Hillary] Clinton’s campaign” — though the timing on this sharing isn’t clear.

    [...]

    While the Politico story does detail apparent willingness among embassy staffers to help Chalupa and also more broadly documents ways in which Ukrainian officials appeared to prefer Clinton’s candidacy, what’s missing is evidence of a concerted effort driven by Kiev.

    U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his intelligence agencies to hack into and release private information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. That effort included hackers from two different intelligence agencies which spent months inside the DNC network before releasing thousands of pages of documents to the public.

    What’s more, they coordinated a widespread campaign to amplifying unflattering stories about Clinton and promote Trump. Russia also repeatedly probed American election systems, prompting an unusual warning to states from the federal government.

    American intelligence agencies saw signs that people allied with Trump’s campaign may have been aiding the Russians in that effort. That’s why this is all being discussed right now, of course, since Trump Jr.’s emails draw the clearest line between the Russians and the campaign we’ve yet seen. The FBI began a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling a year ago.

    By contrast, Politico’s report details the work of one person who was researching Manafort with help from inside the Ukrainian Embassy and who, at some undetermined point, provided info to the Clinton campaign, though she worked for the DNC as a consultant until shortly before the party conventions. That, coupled with the Manafort ledger revelation, is the full scope of the Ukrainian plot that’s been revealed. A weak link to the Ukrainians and a weaker link to the Clinton campaign.

    [...]

    Lawrence Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, spoke with The Washington Post on Tuesday about how Trump Jr.’s emails might pose a legal risk to him. Over email, he weighed in on the Politico story as well.

    “I think the article raises some troubling questions about Ukraine involvement in our elections,” Noble said. “The difference is that there is not clear evidence of the Clinton campaign coordinating with a foreign national or encouraging or accepting their help.”

  • Trump Jr., Russian collusion, and the pro-Trump media’s bad-faith attack on the press

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump media outlets are attacking the mainstream press in response to the devastating news that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met during the 2016 presidential campaign with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer after he was promised she would provide information that would damage Hillary Clinton as part of a pro-Trump effort by the Russian government. More than any other incident in recent memory, this eagerness to hide from reality within the comfort of anti-media rhetoric shows that the right-wing’s media critique is not offered in good faith, but instead is an effort to undermine journalists in the public eye in order to maintain political power.

    Over a four-day period, The New York Times’ journalists painstakingly reported out the story. While their initial stories piecing together the meeting and how it came about were based on anonymous sources, yesterday the reporters produced the actual email chain between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked associate. The messages confirmed the accuracy of their previous reports, as well as Trump Jr.’s eagerness to collude with the Russian government in order to influence the election.

    Meanwhile, Trump Jr. repeatedly changed his story, coming up with new rationales and explanations for the meeting every time the Times reporters came back to him with more evidence that his previous stories were false. Yesterday, he even released the email chain on Twitter, which he claimed was an effort to be “totally transparent.” That, too, was a lie -- he released the emails after being informed that the Times had obtained them and was about to publish a story about them. At this point, it should be impossible for an impartial observer to believe anything Trump Jr. says.

    But President Donald Trump’s media allies love his son and hate journalists, so it didn’t take them long to find a way to turn Trump Jr. literally confessing to an attempt to collude with the Russian government into an attack on the press. Trump’s “alt-right” supporters immediately claimed that Trump Jr.’s email release was a brilliant tactic showing that the “lying NY Times fabricated another fake story!” This argument requires either a startling level of stupidity or a willingness to say literally anything in order to achieve a political end. I’d say no one could be that stupid, but Jim Hoft is involved.

    When they aren’t attacking media outlets for the content of their reporting, the president’s friends are lashing out at them for spending too much time on the Russian collusion story. On Fox News last night, before his predictably sycophantic interview with Trump Jr., chief Fox News propagandist Sean Hannity was declaring that the “mainstream media are right now hysterical over the story” and attacking journalists as “overpaid, lazy, rigid left-wing ideologues.” “Russia, Russia, Russia,” Steve Doocy said this morning on Fox & Friends. “The mainstream media's obsession continues.”

    Breitbart.com’s face plant was perhaps the most embarrasing. On Monday, after the Times reported that three sources had told its reporters that Trump Jr. “was informed in an email that the [anti-Clinton] material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy,” Senior Editor-at-Large Joel Pollak criticized the paper for reporting on emails it had not seen, calling it “the latest effort by the Times to bring down President Donald Trump that relies on documents it has not seen and verified.” That was a bad hill to decide to die on, as the emails ended up backing up the story to the hilt. After the emails were released, Pollak reported that they did not “refer to any cooperation, coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” which is an egregious and obvious misreading of the plain language of the emails.

    This morning, after being noticeably silent on the story over the past several days, President Trump praised his son on Twitter for being “transparent” in the face of “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history.” He added, “Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.” (Trump frequently makes this claim, but, as with many of his lies, he has never provided any examples of such an event occurring. Journalists who are found to have fabricated stories lose their jobs and become cautionary tales for future generations of reporters.)

    The willingness of Trump’s media allies to attack journalists even when those journalists are obviously right demonstrates that there is no piece of information that will shake the pro-Trump media from their mainstream media attacks. The criticisms are not made in good faith -- they are part of a deliberate effort to delegitimize the press in order to undermine its credibility with the public. The pro-Trump critics cannot be satisfied by any action journalists take short of becoming Hannity-style propagandists, and they should thus be ignored.

    The next phase of this assault on the free press, according to The Washington Post, is “an extensive campaign” by pro-Trump Republican operatives to “try to discredit some of the journalists who have been reporting on” the Trump Jr. story. They are combing through reporters’ past work for “mistakes or perceived biases” and routing that information to pro-Trump outlets like Fox News, which will be eager to use the information to bolster its anti-media attacks.

    Reporters make mistakes, and they should be called out when they fail. But it seems significant that the campaign is being rolled out to attack reporters who covered Trump Jr.’s attempt at Russian collusion, given that White House aides, in anonymous comments to reporters, have been frantic about the public relations disaster and unanswered questions surrounding that story (“This is sum of all fears stuff. It’s what we’ve all been dreading,” one White House official told The Daily Beast). They know this is a real problem involving the actions of the president’s son, his former campaign manager, a top White House aide, and God knows who else. But they’re going to blame the media anyway because they want to retain power.

    It’s an incredibly cynical strategy. Which doesn’t mean it won’t work.