Jay Sekulow | Media Matters for America

Jay Sekulow

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  • Trump's war on the Lester Holt interview

    A presidential media assault on the president’s self-incriminating words

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The president and his attorneys are not subtle. Caught up in the grinding gears of the Russia investigation, they’ve apparently decided that whatever legal strategy they’ve adopted (if they have one) must be complemented by a loud, clanking, and incessant media blitz to exonerate the president in the court of public opinion. And so they go on TV -- constantly -- to proclaim Trump’s innocence and endlessly litigate the evidence that suggests otherwise.

    By watching how they communicate, you can suss out clues to which issues are causing the president and his lawyers the most grief. At the moment, for whatever reason, Trump and his team seem preoccupied with the idea that the president might have admitted to obstruction of justice when he told NBC’s Lester Holt last year that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. And so they’re trying to rewrite recent history by lying about the Holt interview and brazenly retconning Trump’s relationship with Comey.

    Earlier this week, Trump gave an interview to The Hill that touched on the Justice Department’s Russia investigation and Trump’s controversial May 2017 firing of Comey. Trump spun a nonsensical story about how he wished he had fired Comey before he became president:

    "If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries," Trump said. "I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don't want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. ... I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don't want him there when I get there.”

    Trump obviously could not have fired Comey while Barack Obama was still in office. And while Trump did attack Comey during the 2016 campaign over the decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton over her email server, he revised his opinion of the FBI director after Comey reinitiated the email investigation just days before the election. “It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” Trump said at the time. “What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”

    This week’s preposterous revisionism seems like an effort to establish a motive for Trump’s firing of Comey: specifically, that he always wanted to fire Comey, even before the FBI began investigating the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in July 2016. It probably hasn’t occurred to Trump that the fact that he didn’t fire Comey immediately is sufficient proof that this new story is bullshit. But logical inconsistency isn’t the problem he’s trying to solve -- he’s trying to unring the obstruction-of-justice bell he rang during his interview with Holt shortly after the Comey firing.

    In that May 2017 interview, Trump told Holt that he had decided to fire Comey regardless of whatever recommendation he got from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump said. “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

    Trump and his legal team have long been aware of the problem this interview presents and have employed various strategies to defuse it. The president has accused Holt of “fudging my tape” -- an incendiary and false allegation that the tape itself disproves. Trump’s lawyers have opted for a subtler, though still dishonest, strategy of arguing that Trump’s comments and the interview have been broadly misunderstood.

    Jay Sekulow, who hosts a radio program when he’s not legally representing the president, argued on CNN on Wednesday evening that it is “not correct” to say Trump fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. “You know that when there are interviews, there are edits and there is a longer transcript,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “And I will just tell you without disclosing any detail, that when you review the entire transcript, it is very clear as to what happened and I'm not going to give you information on how we provided it, but in our professional discussions with the office of special counsel, we have addressed that on multiple occasions appropriately. And the evidence, when you look at the entire evidence, you don't see it.”

    Sekulow was alluding to the Trump legal team’s communications with special counsel Robert Mueller, which specifically address the Holt interview. Trump’s lawyers argue that once you consider the entire interview transcript, “a fair reading of the president’s remarks” is that he fired Comey for incompetence and fully expected the Russia investigation to continue, perhaps even drag on longer.

    The problem with this explanation is that it is strained to begin with, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Trump would not have had to derail the entire investigation in order to obstruct it. Recall that Comey testified Trump asked for his loyalty in the months before he was fired, and Comey declined. Trump could have corrupted the probe by getting rid of Comey and installing someone friendlier who would investigate Russian election interference without investigating Trump.

    This avenue was briefly open to the president until he sabotaged it by threatening Comey over Twitter with allegedly incriminating “tapes” of their conversations. That prompted Comey to leak personal memos describing his interactions with Trump in the hope that a special counsel would be appointed -- which is exactly what happened. Since then, Trump has been threatening the Justice Department, raging about the “witch hunt” special counsel probe, and lashing out at his hand-picked attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the investigation. The president has been unambiguously clear in his view that senior Justice Department officials should be protecting him.

    Viewed in that context, the Lester Holt interview is incredibly damning of the president, which is why Trump and his attorneys are filling the airwaves with elaborate lies and misinterpretations about it. They recognize the danger of the president’s own words.

  • Trump ordered the unprecedented release of classified material after a push from Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    On September 17, President Donald Trump ordered the declassification and public release of sensitive classified documents and text messages related to the origin of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. For weeks leading up to the president’s decision, two of his informal and most-trusted cable television advisers, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, clamored for the release of the material. Hannity even appeared to have gotten some early notice of the move, saying just days before Trump’s decision to declassify the material, “We expect next week, we might get those unredacted FISA warrants.”

  • Sean Hannity turned over his radio show to Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow to undermine the Mueller probe

    Giuliani: "Even conspiracy is not a crime"

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Fox News host Sean Hannity allowed Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow to guest host the entire broadcast of Hannity’s radio show on August 10. The duo, who both work as personal lawyers for President Donald Trump, devoted substantial time to lobbing wild attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller’s "hoax" investigation into Trump and his campaign.

    Sekulow and Giuliani are regular guests on both Hannity’s Fox News show and his radio show, where they assist Hannity in pushing pro-Trump propaganda.

    Despite the ongoing prolonged back-and-forth between Trump’s legal team and Mueller about whether Trump will allow himself to be interviewed by Mueller’s team -- and the fact that Trump himself has called for Mueller’s investigation to be summarily ended -- Giuliani and Sekulow argued on Hannity’s show that the White House has given “unprecedented cooperation” to Mueller’s investigation.

    Giuliani also advanced his false claim that allowing Mueller to question Trump about his decision to fire former FBI director James Comey would be an impermissible “perjury trap.”

    As Jonathan Chait explained at New York magazine, a perjury trap “describes when prosecutors lure a witness into giving false testimony, usually for reasons other than covering up a crime, knowing they can prove the claim was false, and then nail them for perjury. … Asking Trump about his attempt to manipulate his FBI director is not a perjury trap. The question is not extraneous to a crime, it is a crime.”

    During the show, Giuliani also channeled Trump in denigrating the investigation as “illegitimate,” a “witch hunt,” and a “hoax.”

    Perhaps the most absurd moment occurred when Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett joined the show’s third hour. During a discussion where Jarrett, Sekulow, and Giuliani claimed that collusion cannot be a crime as a matter of law (they are wrong), Giuliani said, “Even conspiracy is not a crime. It’s got to be a conspiracy to commit a crime,” to which Jarrett responded, “Right, we conspire every day to have lunch, or breakfast, or whatever, that’s not a crime.”

  • Sean Hannity turns over his radio show to Trump’s lawyers

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Sean Hannity announced on Twitter that he will turn over the August 10 edition of his nationally syndicated talk radio show to two of President Donald Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani.

    Sekulow and Giuliani are regular guests on Hannity’s both Fox News show and radio show.

    Hannity has even hired Sekulow as his attorney.

    Hannity’s pro-Trump propaganda has made both his shows indistinguishable from the narrative spun by the Trump administration. His shows are widely regarded as state media for the Trump administration. White House staffers even reportedly call Hannity Trump’s “shadow” chief of staff.

    Hannity’s singular goal for months has been to protect Trump from the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Now he’s giving his show to Trump’s lawyers to do exactly that.

  • Introducing the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe, Fox’s anti-Mueller alternative reality

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservatives often bemoan liberal dominance of Hollywood. But since Donald Trump’s election, Fox News’ Sean Hannity has built the closest thing the right wing has to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the wildly successful superhero franchise. Where Marvel’s superheroes fight alien invaders, the stars of the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe (SHEU) position themselves as the last bulwark against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But while the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fight villains like Thanos on their own, Hannity and his compatriots want to go a step further and enlist their audience to support a frightening and anti-democratic response by Trump.

    Hannity has cast himself as his series’ Iron Man, the only visionary clear-sighted enough to identify an existential threat. The sprawling team assembled around him includes bankable leads, aging stars seeking new relevance, promising new faces, and ensemble players, all crossing over into each other’s storylines to build common narratives. Their overarching tale is that Mueller’s Russia probe is a “witch hunt,” the result of the fabrications of a shadowy cabal of journalists, Democrats, and “deep state” operatives. The happy ending they seek is the president saving himself by curtailing Mueller’s probe and instead ordering investigations into his political enemies. 

    For more about Hannity's conspiratorial narrative and the authoritarian endgame he's pushing, see our study reviewing his coverage of the first year of the Mueller probe.

    President Trump is simultaneously the audience for this story, the victim who needs to be saved, and, in Hannity’s telling, the potential hero. The SHEU’s proposed solution to the Mueller investigation is in line with the authoritarian model for law enforcement Trump prefers, casting the Justice Department’s function as protecting the president and punishing his enemies. Unlike Marvel fans, Trump is able not merely to watch members of the SHEU on Fox broadcasts, but to break the fourth wall and go on their shows for fawning interviews, highlight particular segments for his Twitter followers, promote their programs and books, and even call on a select few for advice.

    That might be a fanboy’s fantasy. But it has real and frightening consequences. The SHEU is reaching out from the Fox News screen and encouraging the president to act on his authoritarian impulses. Hannity and his teammates are preparing their viewers to support Trump no matter what norms he shatters. They have great power, and if Trump takes their advice, they will bear great responsibility.

    Anti-Mueller conspiracy theories have permeated nearly every corner of Fox. But only the true stalwarts merit inclusion in the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe:

    • A weekly guest spot with the Fox & Friends crew helped turn Trump into a political phenomenon, and he’s remained a loyal viewer throughout his presidency. If you see Trump angrily tweeting about the Mueller probe early in the morning, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, or one of their guests is almost certainly responsible.

    • Lou Dobbs’ cable news career seemed over when his bigoted commentary finally forced CNN to push him out in 2009, but he soon found a new home at Fox Business. Even at Fox, he’s distinguished himself as a shameless pro-Trump sycophant whose calls to not just fire but jail Mueller and the FBI and Justice Department leaders who have defied Trump are genuinely unnerving.

    • A longtime friend of Trump’s whom he considered for a senior Justice Department position, Jeanine Pirro has a Saturday night program that’s a must-watch for both White House aides and observers hoping to predict Trump’s messaging. She drew attention for her disturbing call for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ and the arrests of top officials she considers insufficiently loyal to the president.

    • Gregg Jarrett spent much of his career as a marginal legal commentator and weekend Fox anchor. But he raised his profile by becoming the go-to analyst for hosts like Dobbs and Hannity, who value having someone with a law degree claim that Trump’s associates are innocent because collusion isn’t a crime and condemn their FBI pursuers for acting like “the old KGB.”

    • Jarrett’s a hack, but at least he’s Fox’s hack. Other attorneys regularly called upon to dismiss the investigation include Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow and the husband-and-wife team of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who were briefly considered for Trump’s legal team and have represented several figures under Mueller's investigation. All three are mainstays in the right-wing legal community -- and each has done legal work for Hannity.

    • Once colleagues at the right-wing website Circa News, John Solomon has moved on to The Hill while Sara Carter is a Fox contributor who publishes her reporting at her personal blog. Their slanted reporting based on conservative sources helps fuel anti-Mueller Fox hosts eager for information confirming their dire theories, and it garners the pair regular appearances throughout the SHEU -- and Hannity’s call to award them with Pulitzer Prizes.

    • A former Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino parlayed three failed bids for federal office into a career as a mid-level right-wing pundit, a gig on the National Rifle Association's media operation NRATV, and regular appearances on Fox & Friends and Hannity. Keep an eye on this one -- someone willing to call the Russia probe “an obvious frame job” could go far in this morally bankrupt movement.

    • Sebastian Gorka, who joined Fox after being canned from his poorly defined White House job after only seven months, has argued that Clinton should be put to death for treason.

    • After spending years attacking the ethics of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton now uses his Fox appearances to urge Trump to pardon everyone implicated by the Mueller probe and describe the FBI as “a KGB-type operation.”

  • 83 times Hannity did not mention that his pro-Trump legal guests also had done legal work for him

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox host Sean Hannity has been under fire for not disclosing his legal relationship with President Donald Trump’s associate Michael Cohen. Hannity also has a legal relationship with Trump-linked attorneys Jay Sekulow, Victoria Toensing, and Joseph diGenova. Hannity hosted them (and Cohen) a total of 83 times on his Fox News show Hannity without disclosing the relationships.

    Michael Cohen

    Jay Sekulow

    Victoria Toensing

    Joseph diGenova

    Michael Cohen

    Trump connection: Michael Cohen is Donald Trump’s longtime associate, who has been described as Trump’s “personal lawyer and fixer.” He is currently under federal criminal investigation.

    Hannity connection: On April 16, Cohen’s lawyer disclosed in court that Hannity was Cohen’s client. Hannity has since attempted to downplay their relationship. Despite widespread criticism of Hannity’s actions, Fox News reportedly has no plans to hold Hannity accountable for his failure to disclose his relationship with Cohen.

    Cohen has appeared as a guest on the Fox show Hannity 15 times in the past five years. Additionally, Cohen was mentioned or discussed during Hannity’s show 11 times. Cohen has also been on Hannity’s radio show twice and has been discussed on Hannity’s radio show at least six times. While Hannity has said things such as “we’ve been friends a long time” and “we’re friends … I know you” to Cohen, giving some insight into their relationship, Media Matters found no instances on Hannity where the host disclosed his legal ties to the lawyer. Here are the times Cohen appeared or was discussed on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    4/16/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    4/12/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    4/11/18 - Fox News - Mentioned  Cohen

    4/10/18 - Fox News - Mentioned  Cohen

    4/9/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/11/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/9/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    4/28/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    4/3/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    1/18/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    1/12/17 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/11/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    1/10/17 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/5/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/19/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/4/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    4/18/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    4/8/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    3/4/16 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/4/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    10/5/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/24/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/10/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/4/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    7/28/15 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    7/24/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    Jay Sekulow

    Trump connection: Jay Sekulow announced on June 9, 2017, that he was joining Trump’s legal team. He has been on the team since then and is currently the primary attorney for Trump in regard to the Russia probe.

    Hannity connection: In April 2017, after a far-right troll suggested that the CIA “targeted” Hannity for surveillance during the election “because of his perceived ties to Julian Assange,” Hannity claimed that he had hired lawyers Jay Sekulow and Joseph diGenova to investigate and pursue a civil action. Additionally, The Atlantic reported that an Oklahoma radio station received a cease-and-desist letter on May 25, 2017, after right-wing radio host Debbie Schlussel accused Hannity of sexual harassment, that was signed by Sekulow and Victoria Toensing, listing them as “Counsel for Sean Hannity.”

    Since Hannity announced that he hired Sekulow nearly a year ago, Sekulow has been a guest on Hannity’s Fox show 53 times. Sekulow has also appeared on Hannity's radio show at least 27 times in that period. Media Matters found only one occasion throughout Sekulow’s 53 appearances on Hannity’s television show in which the host mentioned he had legal ties to Sekulow. On May 23, 2017, two days before the Oklahoma radio station received a letter from Sekulow on Hannity’s behalf, Hannity stated, “Joining us with reaction, from the American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow, by the way, who's done legal work for me in the past.” Here are the times Sekulow appeared on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    3/8/18 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    2/2/18  - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    1/23/18 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    1/22/18 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    12/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    12/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    11/14/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    10/30/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    10/26/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    10/23/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    9/21/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    9/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    9/5/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/8/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/7/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/4/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/3/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/27/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/18/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/17/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/14/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/11/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/10/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/29/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/27/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/26/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/23/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/22/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/21/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/19/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/14/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/13/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    [Sekulow joined Trump legal team]

    6/9/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/8/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/7/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/30/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    [Radio station KFAQ received letter signed by Sekulow as “Counsel for Sean Hannity”]

    5/23/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow, “who's done legal work for me in the past”

    5/22/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/19/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/18/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/16/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/10/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/9/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/3/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/2/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    4/28/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    4/19/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    4/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    Victoria Toensing

    Trump connection: Trump reportedly wanted to add Victoria Toensing and her husband diGenova to his legal team. Ultimately, neither of them did due to what Sekulow called “conflicts” that prevented them “from joining the president’s special counsel legal team.” He added: “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters.”  

    Hannity connection: Hannity has leaned on Toensing in the past to help push conspiracy theories about both Benghazi and Uranium One. Toensing represented the alleged FBI informant who made allegations about foul play by the Clintons in the Uranium One deal and who was frequently discussed on Hannity’s show. Additionally, Toensing was identified, along with Sekulow, as “Counsel for Sean Hannity” in a letter received by an Oklahoma radio station in March 2017 after right-wing radio host Debbie Schlussel accused Hannity of sexual harassment.

    Hannity has hosted Toensing on his show 11 times in the past two years. And Toensing has been discussed or mentioned on the show nine times. Hannity has previously alluded to Toensing being “one of the great attorneys” and a “friend for years,” and he has actually claimed on multiple occasions that he’d love to hire her. But a Media Matters review found no instances in which Hannity disclosed on his Fox News show that Toensing was or had been his attorney. Here are the times Toensing appeared, or was mentioned, on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    3/26/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    3/22/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    3/9/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    3/8/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    2/21/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    2/8/2018 - Fox News - Guest Mentioned Toensing

    2/7/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    1/29/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    1/4/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    12/4/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    11/28/2017 - Fox News - Guest Mentioned Toensing

    11/21/2017 - Fox News - Guest Mentioned Toensing

    11/20/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    11/13/2017 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    11/6/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/26/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/25/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/24/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/18/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    5/5/2016 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    Joseph diGenova

    Trump connection: Trump wanted to hire Joseph diGenova to his legal team after he reportedly watched diGenova’s Fox News appearances defending him and presenting the Russia probe “as a conspiracy against him.” But diGenova and his wife Toensing ultimately did not join his team because of unspecified “conflicts” related to their ability to join “the president’s special counsel legal team.” Sekulow added: “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters.”

    Hannity connection: In April 2017, after a far-right troll suggested that the CIA “targeted” Hannity for surveillance during the election “because of his perceived ties to Julian Assange,” the WikiLeaks founder, Hannity claimed that he had hired lawyers Sekulow and diGenova to investigate and pursue a civil action. Additionally, The Atlantic reported that Toensing’s signature in a May 25, 2017, cease-and-desist letter sent on behalf of Hannity to an Oklahoma radio station “sits above her name and that of her husband Joseph E. diGenova, the members of diGenova and Toensing LLP, who are identified as ‘Counsel for Sean Hannity.’”

    Since Hannity said he hired diGenova nearly a year ago, diGenova has been a guest on Hannity’s Fox News show five times. DiGenova was also discussed on Hannity’s show on one other occasion. Separately, diGenova has appeared on Hannity’s radio show at least seven times in that time period. In March of this year, while discussing diGenova and Toensing, Hannity stated on his show, “I’d hire them in a second.” But a Media Matters review of diGenova’s appearances on Hannity’s Fox News show found no instances in which Hannity disclosed that diGenova’s firm represented him. Here are the times diGenova appeared or was mentioned on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    4/16/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    4/11/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    4/4/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    3/22/18 - Fox News - Mentioned diGenova

    2/7/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    5/11/17 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    Nick Fernandez, Zach Pleat, Sanam Malik, Steve Morris, and Tyler Monroe contributed to this post.

  • Donald Trump’s new legal team comes straight from Sean Hannity’s greenroom

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference gets closer to President Donald Trump, he is shaking up his defense team. Fox News reports that as part of an ongoing shakeup that included the departure of lead lawyer John Dowd, the president’s legal team is adding Victoria Toensing. Toensing joins a group that includes her husband, Joseph diGenova, hired earlier in the week, and Jay Sekulow. All three share a common theme: Each was hired after making regular appearances on Fox News in which they vigorously defended the president and attacked the Russia probe.

    This is the legal team Fox News host Sean Hannity built. As Fox has remade itself as a pro-Trump propaganda machine, working to delegitimize Mueller’s probe and defend the president on all counts, the network has brought on several lawyers who try to put a legal gloss on its tactics. These figures are especially prevalent on Hannity’s program, which has led the charge in denouncing the special counsel. Trump appears to be tearing down his legal team and reassembling it with lawyers pulled from the Fox greenroom.

    Sekulow, a longtime fixture on right-wing TV who joined Trump’s team in June, was reportedly hired to serve as “the omnipresent TV face of Trump's defense” because the president liked the way that Sekulow, who had characterized the president as the victim of a “deep state bureaucracy” and a “shadow government,” defended Trump in cable news appearances.

    Toensing and diGenova probably have their jobs for the same reason -- both are conservative activists who regularly use Fox appearances to offer a staunch defense of the president and lash out at the president’s investigators in ways that mirror Trump’s own attacks on the FBI and special counsel. (Toensing has made at least 21 appearances on the network since mid-October, while diGenova has appeared at least 12 times over the same period, according to Media Matters data.) DiGenova has argued that Trump was framed by FBI officials and the Justice Department while Toensing has called for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate Mueller himself. Adding them to the team may signal that the president wants his lawyers to engage in a scorched-earth offensive.  

    Trump, who watches hours of cable news each day, has long had an affinity for television personalities, with several playing key roles as campaign advisers or joining the administration after his inauguration.

    Trump’s legal team shakeup is part of a broader pattern, in which Trump is becoming increasingly confident in his role, removing senior staff he believes were thrust upon him, and bringing in more cable news personalities. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster have been replaced by CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow and Fox News contributor John Bolton, whose TV hits the president reportedly enjoys, with Fox host Pete Hegseth reportedly a leading contender to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

    Some of the president’s key outside advisers are also cable news propagandists whose programs Trump regularly watches. These include Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, who was reportedly interviewed for deputy attorney general during the transition and blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions during an Oval Office meeting with Trump and top White House staff last year; Fox contributor Newt Gingrich, who was reportedly a finalist to be Trump’s running mate; and Hannity, with whom the president regularly consults. Notably, Hannity has previously retained both Sekulow and diGenova as his personal lawyers.

    But while the president has frequently hired cable news personalities, they have not found great success -- former Fox News contributors K.T. McFarland and Monica Crowley both bowed out from high-profile Trump administration roles due to scandal, while cable news fixture Sebastian Gorka was forced out of the White House in part due to a concern that he had “no clear duties.”

    Trump may think that filling his legal team with cable news personalities is a great idea, but it has one clear downside. Sekulow has “virtually no experience in law enforcement investigations or white-collar matters,” diGenova “is not expected to take a lead role” but instead to “serve as an outspoken player for the president,” and Toensing’s addition is seen as “a sign that Trump wants to flip the script and investigate his investigators.” Who is going to do the actual work of defending the president as the Mueller investigation takes the debate from the greenroom to the courtroom?

  • Study: How Sean Hannity is trying to discredit Mueller and the Russia probe

    Echoing Trump and his supporters, Hannity and his guests made hundreds of statements about Mueller's supposed "conflicts of interests"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & GRACE BENNETT

    Fox News’ Sean Hannity has used his prime-time TV show as a platform to try to discredit both the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, leading the investigation. For months, Hannity and his guests have called for Mueller to resign and brought up bogus “conflicts of interest” in an apparent attempt to undermine the “witch hunt” and save face with one of Hannity’s biggest fans, President Donald Trump.

    A Media Matters analysis found that since the beginning of the investigation in May, Hannity and his guests have repeatedly called for Mueller to recuse himself or be fired from the probe and brought up phony “conflicts of interest” in attempts to discredit him. Hannity has also repeated several other canards in an attempt to dismiss the investigation, often hyping them when the ongoing probe results in the release of damaging reports. In this study:

    Hannity has used his Fox show to call for Mueller to resign or recuse himself -- or for him to be fired -- 40 times

    Hannity has called for either Mueller to remove himself or for his firing 40 times. Since Mueller took up the investigation on May 17, Hannity has called for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation -- or for him to be forcibly removed --- 40 times on his Fox News program.

    Fox’s Gregg Jarrett has made 11 comments calling for Mueller’s firing or for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation. Gregg Jarrett, Fox legal analyst and ardent Trump defender -- especially on matters related to Russia -- made 11 statements on Hannity calling for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation or be fired.

    Other guests have made similar statements, including noted right-wing misinformers. Other guests on Hannity have made similar calls for Mueller to either step away from the investigation of his own volition or for him to be fired:

    • Right-wing radio host Larry Elder, who claimed that Clinton, the FBI, and the Democratic National Committee are the only ones who were involved in Russian collusion, called for Mueller to leave the probe twice;

    • Former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who called the bogus “unmasking” controversy regarding former national security adviser Susan Rice one of the biggest scandals ever, made two statements saying Mueller should not be involved with the probe; and

    • Benghazi conspiracy theorist Victoria Toensing called for Mueller to leave the probe once.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hannity and his guests made over 220 statements suggesting Mueller had a “conflict of interest”

    Hannity brought up Mueller’s alleged “conflicts of interest” 183 times. Since May 17, Hannity has made 183 statements that Mueller allegedly has a “conflict of interest” that would prevent him from fairly conducting the probe.

    Guests have made 45 statements asserting that Mueller has a “conflict of interest.” Apart from Hannity’s own statements, guests on Hannity, including Jarrett and other Trump defenders such as Newt Gingrich and Fox host Jeanine Pirro, have made a total of 45 statements alleging that Mueller has a “conflict of interest” surrounding the investigation.

    Two of the most popular “conflicts of interest” are not really conflicts at all. Of the over 220 statements about “conflicts” that Hannity and his guests have hyped, two of the most popular ones (cited 167 times) are not actually conflicts at all:

    • On 92 occasions, Hannity and his guests -- including Gingrich and Fox contributor Ari Fleischer -- claimed that Mueller’s team was compromised or conflicted because it included several investigators who had previously donated to Democrats. As a group of political science professors wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “According to the Justice Department’s own rules, campaign donations do not create a conflict of interest.”

    • On 75 occasions, Hannity and his guests -- including Jarrett and Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow -- suggested that Mueller is conflicted because of his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey. But, as The Associated Press (AP) pointed out, Mueller and Comey are “not known to be especially close friends.” Additionally, “Legal experts say whatever connection they do have doesn't come close to meriting Mueller's removal as special counsel.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hannity and his guests have used several other canards to attack Mueller and the investigation

    Hannity and his guests used a variety of other talking points and canards to discredit the investigation and Mueller:

    • On 22 occasions, Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt”;

    • On 17 occasions, Hannity and his guests suggested that the investigation was a political attack on Trump, his administration, and potentially even the Trump family;

    • On 36 occasions, Hannity and his guests attacked the investigation and Mueller for having too much discretion; and

    • On 40 occasions, Hannity and his guests attempted to discredit Mueller by hyping his connections to the repeatedly debunked Uranium One “scandal.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many of the show’s attacks came as reporting circulated that was damaging to Trump

    After Comey spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Hannity and his guests ticked up their attacks on Mueller. In the week following Comey’s June 8 testimony to the Senate intelligence committee, Hannity and his guests increased their attacks on the investigation and Mueller, compared to the prior week:

    • Hannity and his guests called on Mueller to resign or called for his firing 20 times;

    • Hannity and his guests brought up Mueller’s supposed “conflicts of interest” 40 times; and

    • Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” four times.

    After it was reported that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Hannity and his guests attacked Mueller’s “conflicts of interest.” In the week after The New York Times reported on July 8 that Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials had met with a Russian lawyer who had ties to the Kremlin in hopes of securing damaging information on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hannity complained about Mueller’s “conflicts of interest” 18 times.

    Following report on Trump’s attempts to discredit the investigation, Hannity launched more attacks on Mueller. In the week following a July 20 New York Times report that claimed Trump and his aides were “looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused,” Hannity and his team ratcheted up their attacks on Mueller compared to the prior week:

    • Hannity and his guests brought up Mueller’s supposed “conflicts of interest” 36 times;

    • Hannity and his guests claimed 18 times that Mueller’s investigation was compromised because some of his investigators had donated to Democratic politicians;

    • Hannity and his guests discussed Mueller’s relationship with Comey in order to discredit the investigation seven times;

    • Hannity and his guests asserted seven times that the investigation was a politically motivated attack; and

    • Hannity and his guests called the investigation a “witch hunt” four times.

    Following reports of Mueller’s use of a grand jury, Hannity and his guests attacked Mueller for his “conflicts” and wide discretion. A week after reports surfaced that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigation, Hannity and his guests made 21 statements attacking Mueller’s “conflicts of interest” and 20 statements asserting Mueller had too much discretion over the investigation.

    After the news came out that multiple Trump campaign associates had been indicted, Hannity and his guests attempted to connect Mueller to Uranium One. Between October 30 -- when it was revealed that three Trump campaign aides had been indicted due to Mueller’s investigation -- and November 3, Hannity and his guests made 18 statements attempting to link Mueller to Uranium One and 14 statements complaining about Mueller’s alleged “conflicts of interest.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of Fox News’ Hannity between May 17 and November 3 mentioning the words “Mueller” or “special counsel.” Transcripts were then coded for statements -- which in this study we defined as a sentence -- which included the following:

    • calls for Mueller to resign or recuse himself or calls that he be fired, or suggestions that he never should have been appointed as special counsel;

    • suggestions that Mueller had a conflict of interest with the investigation;

    • mentions of Mueller’s investigators who had ties to Democratic lawmakers;

    • mentions of Mueller’s alleged friendship and relationship with Comey;

    • questions as to whether Mueller should resign, recuse himself, be fired, or have never been appointed as special counsel;

    • claims that the investigation is a political attack on Trump, his administration, or his family;

    • suggestions that the investigation is a “witch hunt”;

    • claims that Mueller had been given too wide a mandate over the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein;

    • claims that Mueller had expanded his investigation too far; and

    • attempts to link Mueller to Uranium One.

    Transcripts were reviewed by two independent coders and differences were then reconciled.

  • Study: Trump officials overwhelmingly flock to Fox News

    Trump and his administration officials, family members, and lawyer are sticking to right-wing media

    ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO, LIS POWER & MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Since the beginning of August, President Donald Trump, prominent figures in his administration, members of his family, and his personal lawyer have appeared on weekday programming on Fox News far more often than on corresponding shows on CNN or MSNBC.

  • The White House is engaged in a coordinated attack on James Comey that Hannity and Trump's lawyer have been pushing for months 

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    The White House is pushing for legal action against fired FBI Director James Comey as “something that certainly should be looked at,” claiming that Comey provided “false testimony” in his appearance before Congress. On his radio show with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow as a guest, Fox News personality Sean Hannity celebrated this recent push that was indicated from the White House briefing room on September 11, saying that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated “pretty much everything I've been saying and I think [Sekulow has] been saying as it relates to Comey.” Since June, Sekulow has regularly appeared on Fox News and Hannity’s radio show to demand that legal action be taken against Comey.

  • 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 credibility 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.

  • Fox News hosts have a special grand jury rule for Donald Trump

    Grand juries are an "undemocratic farce" when it comes to Trump but an absolute necessity for Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Gregg Jarrett attacked the grand jury recently formed for the special counsel investigation into Trump, calling it “an undemocratic farce,” “one-sided,” and “the antithesis of justice” despite the fact that numerous Fox hosts and personalities previously calling for grand juries to look into Hillary Clinton. In fact, just yesterday Jarrett called for a grand jury to investigate “Clinton, Comey, Lynch and others,” writing:

    How could downloading more than a hundred classified documents onto Clinton’s private and unsecured email server not constitute crimes under the Espionage Act? Why were five people given immunity while others invoked the Fifth Amendment, yet no grand jury was empaneled?

    Other examples of the double standard include:

    Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow on Hannity: “A grand jury needs to be impaneled” to investigate Hillary Clinton.

    Fox’s Jeanine Pirro on Hannity: “A grand jury should be investigating” Hillary Clinton right now.”