Gregg Jarrett

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  • Donald Trump's ideal attorney general is this random Fox News anchor

    Fox's Gregg Jarrett fits the model the president seems to be seeking

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III may be on his way out. The former senator who was one of the first converts to President Donald Trump’s cause has lost his favor after properly recusing himself over the Russia investigation. And the president isn’t shy about it -- he’s been publicly demeaning Sessions on Twitter for not prosecuting Hillary Clinton for her “crimes” and sending out incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci to suggest that the president wants him gone.

    The possible removal of the nation’s top law enforcement officer because he has not prosecuted the president’s former political rival is deeply troubling and points to Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. But it also shows that the president is trapped in a right-wing media feedback loop.

    As has been the case with many of the president’s Twitter rages, his most recent attack on the attorney general seems to have come in response to a Fox News segment, in this case one defending the president over the Russia investigation. The president constantly consumes the network’s propagandistic defenses of his conduct. That seems to inexorably push him to behave as if the alternate reality Fox is depicting is the real one. And then Fox has to scramble to find a way to defend the new indiscretion.

    The president has come to believe the legal arguments that Fox has been making to defend him -- that he has done nothing wrong with regard to Russia, that Clinton is the true criminal, that special counsel Robert Mueller has conflicts of interest and should be fired. With Trump’s behavior already scaring off potential Sessions successors, it would be plausible -- and consistent with his TV-based rationale for recent hires -- for him to nominate as attorney general someone he has watched make those arguments on television.

    If Trump wants an attorney general who will defend every aspect of his behavior with regard to Russia while using the power of the Department of Justice to persecute his political foes, he should look no further than Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett. While it’s unlikely that Jarrett would actually be the pick, he has been providing a model for the type of behavior Trump would want from an attorney general.

    A former attorney who spent years as an anchor for COURT TV, Jarrett has been an anchor for Fox since 2002. Usually a low-profile news anchor, Jarrett has in recent days emerged as the network’s leading legal defender of the president regarding the Russia probe. Jarrett makes regular appearances on Hannity and other programs to put forward legally dubious explanations of why the Trump team’s actions have been legally acceptable while the president’s opponents and investigators have broken the law.

    Jarrett’s defenses of the president have ticked all the boxes. He’s repeatedly said that even if the president or his team colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, they wouldn’t have broken any laws. That’s false, but as far as Trump is concerned, it’s an improvement from Sessions, who has said such collusion would be “improper and illegal.” When news broke that the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. had set up a meeting with Russians interested in influencing the election, Jarrett scoffed.

    After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, many legal experts said it appeared to be textbook obstruction of justice. Not Jarrett, who claimed that Comey “deserved to be fired” and that “it should have happened a long time ago.” After it emerged that Trump had asked Comey to shut down the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Jarrett found a way to defend that too.

    But Trump doesn’t just want an attorney general who will defend his actions -- he wants one who will attack his enemies. Here, too, Jarrett’s spin has been exceptional. Hillary Clinton? Jarrett wants a special prosecutor to review the emails case. James Comey? Jarrett wrote that his interactions with the president showed that Comey had obstructed justice. Robert Mueller? Jarrett wrote that Mueller’s relationship with Comey is a disqualifying conflict of interest and called for his removal. Jarrett has even said that Mueller and Comey “may be acting in collusion to get the president” and called for the president to get an injunction to stop the special counsel investigation if it starts to pursue his finances.

    There are, of course, some downsides to a Jarrett pick. He has never served as a prosecutor or in public service, nor has he ever led a large bureaucracy, of course, but since when has Trump cared about typical qualifications? The bigger problem is that Sessions’ bigotry and his anti-immigrant stance have made him a beloved figure among a big chunk of Trump’s base. His efforts to punish immigrants have led to some of the administration’s few policy accomplishments. Jarrett claiming that he frequently experiences microaggressions as a white man doesn’t really rate, though his attacks on sanctuary cities are promising. And pushing through a nominee who is on the record making these claims might be too much for even Senate Republicans to stomach.

    While Jarrett probably won’t be Trump’s pick if he dynamites convention and fires Sessions, it is clear that the president expects this sort of behavior from an attorney general. Just as the obsequious support of Sean Hannity and the hosts of Fox & Friends represent Trump’s model for how journalists should behave, people like Jarrett are what he expects from a government lawyer. When all you know about the government comes from watching Fox News, Fox News becomes your model for how the government should work.

  • Trump is reportedly considering fulfilling a months-long right-wing media fantasy to fire Robert Mueller

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump and his legal team “are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest,” according to a Washington Post report. The president’s right-wing media allies have waged a months-long campaign against Mueller and his team, calling for Mueller to be fired or his investigation “to be shut down,” and citing supposed “conflicts of interest” among members of Mueller’s investigative team and even of Mueller himself.

  • 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."

  • New right-wing media talking point: It's no big deal if Trump colluded with the Russians

    Legal experts and Trump’s attorney general agree it would be “improper and illegal”

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media figures have repeatedly downplayed possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government, suggesting that “it’s not a crime” to collude with a foreign government to influence U.S. elections. Legal experts and Trump’s own attorney general, however, agree that such collusion would be “improper and illegal.”

  • Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia probably would have been illegal, contrary to conservative claims

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    PolitiFact rated Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett’s claim that collusion with a foreign government in an election isn’t a crime “false,” citing three election law experts who named four statutes that could have been violated. Amid an FBI probe into whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, various conservative media figures have piled on to make similar claims that such actions -- if they occurred -- are not illegal.

    On May 10, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera was among the first to say that collusion with the Russian government in an election wouldn’t be a crime. Fox host Sean Hannity said on his radio show on May 22, “Let’s say they did [collude], they said to Vladimir Putin, ‘Hey Vladimir, release everything you got.’ And Vladimir released it to Julian Assange. You know, is that a crime?” On May 30, Fox’s Jarrett asserted on air that “collusion is not a crime. … You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election. There is no such statute.” Jarrett made a similar argument in a FoxNews.com op-ed. And on May 31, conservative author Michael Reagan claimed on CNN, “Collusion is not breaking the law,” and repeatedly asked “what law” collusion breaks.

    In a June 1 fact check, PolitiFact, responding to Jarrett, wrote, “We ran Jarrett’s argument by three election law professors, and they all said that while the word ‘collusion’ might not appear in key statutes (they couldn’t say for sure that it was totally absent), working with the Russians could violate criminal laws”:

    Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School said one relevant statute is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

    "A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime," Persily said. "And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime."

    Persily pointed to a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling based on the 2002 law. The judges said that the law bans foreign nationals "from making expenditures to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate."

    Another election law specialist, John Coates at Harvard University Law School, said if Russians aimed to shape the outcome of the presidential election, that would meet the definition of an expenditure.

    "The related funds could also be viewed as an illegal contribution to any candidate who coordinates (colludes) with the foreign speaker," Coates said.

    To be sure, no one is saying that coordination took place. What’s in doubt is whether the word "collusion" is as pivotal as Jarrett makes it out to be.

    Coates said discussions between a campaign and a foreigner could violate the law against fraud.

    "Under that statute, it is a federal crime to conspire with anyone, including a foreign government, to ‘deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,’ " Coates said. "That would include fixing a fraudulent election, in my view, within the plain meaning of the statute."

    Josh Douglas at the University of Kentucky Law School offered two other possible relevant statutes.

    "Collusion in a federal election with a foreign entity could potentially fall under other crimes, such as against public corruption," Douglas said. "There's also a general anti-coercion federal election law."

  • Lawfare Debunks Fox News' "Bogus Argument" That James Comey Broke The Law

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Lawfare’s Robert Chesney, a legal expert on national security, debunked a claim from Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett that former FBI Director James Comey may have broken the law by not reporting that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Chesney called Jarrett’s op-ed “nonsense,” explaining that, of the two statutes he cited, one “does not apply” and the other “is not a criminal law at all.”

    The New York Times broke the news on May 16 that Comey wrote a memo after a February meeting with the president in which he recounted that Trump had asked him to end the investigation into Flynn. Right-wing media leapt to Trump’s defense. That day, Jarrett wrote that Comey may actually be the one facing criminal charges, claiming, “Comey is required to immediately inform the Department of Justice of any attempt to obstruct justice by any person, even the President of the United States.” Several other conservative media figures quickly picked up this line of attack.

    In a May 17 Lawfare post, Chesney roundly debunked Jarrett’s assertion. Chesney noted that Jarrett overlooked a statute requirement that “affirmative steps to conceal [the obstruction] are required” for Comey’s actions to be criminal and that he did not take such steps. Furthermore, Jarrett incorrectly implied that the recipient of such a report would be Justice Department prosecutors; Chesney wrote that “the more obvious recipients for any such notificiations (sic) would be...the FBI. Jim Comey was, of course, FBI Director at all relevant times, and deeply engaged” in the investigation he would report to himself. Finally, Chesney observed that Jarrett also cited “28 USC 1361,” which “is not a criminal law at all” and “makes no sense [to cite] in this context”:

    First, note the word "concealment." This is a stand-alone element of the offense, not just a superfluous verbal flourish restating the point that one must report.  Just look at any federal pattern jury instruction: affirmative steps to conceal are required, not just the fact of failing to report the crime.  See, e.g., Lancey v. United States, 356 F.2d 407, 4010 (9th Cir. 1966) (silence alone, without affirmative act of concealment, is insufficient).  There is no basis for claiming that Jim Comey took affirmative steps to conceal any alleged obstruction by Donald Trump.  To argue that Comey somehow affirmatively concealed something by taking care with who got to see his memo entirely collapses this distinction, and would extend liability for misprision to just about every criminal investigator and prosecutor in this country (given how routine it is for both investigators and prosecutors to create but limit circulation of documents with evidentiary content in this sense). 

    Second, and more fundamentally, Jarrett's op-ed implies that the obligation to report runs specifically to Justice Department prosecutors.  That's not what the statute says, however, and of course the more obvious recipients for any such notificiations (sic) would be...the FBI.  Jim Comey was, of course, FBI Director at all relevant times, and deeply engaged in supervision of existing, related criminal (and probably also counterintelligence) investigations.  It's more than a stretch to suggest that the misprision statute somehow creates a "two-person" requirement for knowledge of possible federal crimes, such that it is not enough for one FBI person to be aware of the possible criminal behavior. A "crooked cop" scenario would of course be different, but no one is alleging (nor could they) that Jim Comey was in cahoots with a plan to obstruct the Flynn investigation.

    Third, even if misprision concerns required Jim Comey to convey knowledge of Trump's actions to others at FBI, it remains quite possible that he did exactly this.

    Well, enough about misprision.  It's a bogus argument.  What about the other statute Jarrett cites?

    I'm at a loss here.  The statute—28 USC 1361—provides federal courts with jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus.  All lawyers in the U.S. will recall the writ of mandamus from good ol' Marbury v. Madison: it is a name for an order that obliges a government official to perform some non-discretionary act.  Needless to say this is not a criminal law at all, and its application here is a bit of a mystery to me.  I suppose he has in mind some notion that the FBI Director has a non-discretionary obligation to contact DOJ prosecutors when there is evidence of obstruction or any other crime, posthaste, and thus one might in theory follow the path of William Marbury, filing a petition for a writ of mandamus to make the Director do so.  You can see that this makes no sense in this context. 

  • Conservatives Deflect From Trump's Cover-Up By Calling Comey A Criminal

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & JARED HOLT

    President Donald Trump’s conservative media allies are attacking former FBI Director James Comey and accusing him of wrongdoing for writing and keeping a memo about a February meeting with Trump. The memo reportedly revealed that Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Despite the outrage aimed at Comey by conservative media figures for not divulging the memo earlier, experts have explained that doing so could have interfered with the FBI’s investigation.