Jeanine Pirro | Media Matters for America

Jeanine Pirro

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  • Right-wing media figures have led Trump's purge of Department of Justice officials they perceive as threatening

    Here’s who they have left

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & GRACE BENNETT

    Right-wing media have consistently lined up behind Donald Trump to defend him against any and all allegations regarding Russian interference in the presidential election. Led primarily by Fox News and primetime host Sean Hannity, right-wing media figures have denounced, undermined, or maligned Department of Justice and FBI officials involved in the broader Russia investigation since it began. 

  • The Fox propagandists urging Trump to criminally investigate Robert Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    NBC News reported today that President Donald Trump has been “talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting” special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team on unstated charges as part of the administration’s effort to discredit and defang the Russia investigation. One Trump adviser explained to the network, “Here's how it would work: 'We're sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won't be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury.’"

    Several of Trump’s closest media allies, similarly seeking to protect the president by undermining the Mueller probe, have been declaring Mueller guilty of crimes and calling for his arrest and prosecution for months.

    On May 19, 2017 -- just two days after Mueller was announced as special counsel -- Fox judicial analyst Gregg Jarrett wrote that Mueller should resign because he had a conflict of interest in violation of the law governing the special counsel. The conflict, per Jarrett, was that “He and [former FBI director James] Comey are good friends and former colleagues who worked hand-in-hand at the FBI and Department of Justice. Agents will tell you they were joined at the hip.”

    This is apparently nonsense -- Mueller and Comey were longtime colleagues but not personally close, and experts say the relationship does not rise to the level of an illegal conflict of interest.

    Nonetheless, Jarrett’s claims found a ready audience with Fox News host Sean Hannity, who repeatedly cited his theory while arguing that Mueller had broken “not one, but two laws” and needed to resign or be fired. The Fox host has also regularly denounced Mueller’s team as a “Democratic hit squad,” suggesting the team members have a multitude of conflicts of interest of their own.

    Hannity -- who has spent much of the past year defending Trump from the Russia probe and denouncing his foes in increasingly vitriolic terms -- has the ear of the president, who regularly calls Hannity after his nightly broadcast.

    Then there’s Jeanine Pirro, a former district attorney and current Fox host who is a friend of the president and was interviewed for the deputy attorney general slot during Trump’s transition. During a November meeting with the president and his top aides in the Oval Office, she reportedly blasted Sessions for not investigating the Uranium One pseudoscandal, urging the appointment of a special counsel to handle the matter.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has claimed that a Uranium One special counsel would be the key to ending the Mueller investigation, because the incident occurred while he was the head of the FBI and Mueller “can’t be a special prosecutor when he himself is under investigation.” Experts say this doesn’t really make sense -- unless Mueller was the target of the second special counsel’s probe.

    Pirro has repeatedly called for a criminal investigation of Mueller on Fox. Discussing Uranium One during an October appearance on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning show, she said that Sessions “needs to do a grand jury” because Mueller “is totally conflicted.” She also criticized Mueller during a December rant in which she asserted: “There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but need to be taken out in handcuffs."

    Then there’s the Fox Business host the president calls “the great Lou Dobbs.” “A call for the firing of Robert Mueller no longer really truly satisfies any call for accountability,” Dobbs said on December 4, adding that Mueller and a few others “should be the subjects of criminal investigations and held fully accountable for crimes against the sitting president and the voters who supported them.”

    The president’s media allies have also urged him to fire Mueller, and demanded the firing or imprisonment of key Justice Department and FBI leaders.

    A presidential demand for a criminal investigation into a prosecutor investigating his own conduct would be a step down the dark path toward authoritarianism. It would also fly in the face of long-standing protocols that seek to ensure the rule of law by firewalling the Justice Department’s investigations from White House dictates.

    But given Trump’s reported inability to “understand why he cannot simply give orders to ‘my guys’ at what he sometimes calls the ‘Trump Justice Department,’” and his past attempts to pressure senior law enforcement officials to do his bidding and fire those who refuse, the sanctity of those protocols can no longer be guaranteed.

    Tonight, the president will reportedly address the need to “see our country united” during the State of the Union speech. His media allies will be cheering him on -- and hoping that the next day brings a renewed push to purge the law enforcement apparatus of those insufficiently loyal to the president.

  • Amid reports Trump may fire Rosenstein over Mueller inquiry, a Fox News drumbeat urges him on

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump is newly frustrated with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to several recent reports, some of which suggest the president is contemplating firing him. While the president fumes, an array of his closest allies at Fox News are encouraging him to remove or even imprison the Republican longtime federal prosecutor who currently oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

    The pro-Trump media’s attacks on Rosenstein are not new -- his appointment of Mueller last May and his refusal to countenance removing the special counsel has made him a regular target. Sean Hannity called for Rosenstein's resignation as early as June, while other network figures have described him as part of a Justice Department “cartel, the equivalent of the mob” engaged in “what essentially amounts to a coup d'etat against Trump.

    But the tempo of the criticisms has dramatically increased over the past 10 days, as Trump’s propagandists have focused on the need to release a memo drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. GOP members claim the memo shows the FBI and DOJ were biased against the president during the early phases of their investigation into improper communications between Trump associates and Russia, while Democratic members call it a cherry-picked weapon aimed at dismantling Mueller’s investigation.

    According to The New York Times, the memo focuses in part on Rosenstein’s actions, which the paper reports “indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry.” That could give Trump cover to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone more amenable to either ending or curbing the special counsel’s investigation.

    Since Republican members of Congress first began discussing the memo on January 18, the president’s friends at Fox have engaged in a withering drumbeat of Rosenstein criticism, at times calling for his firing or even his arrest.

    Hannity, a sometime presidential adviser who has turned his show into a nightly assault on the rule of law in an effort to protect Trump from the Russia investigation, said the night after the memo story first gained credence: “Rod Rosenstein, you need to explain your role in all of this and specifically if you were involved in extending this FISA warrant. And, frankly, Rod Rosenstein needs to be fired.” Hannity again called for Rosenstein to be “fired and investigated” on January 22. He has described the deputy attorney general as “corrupt,” suggesting he was part of a “rogue group of Obama administration holdovers that despise Donald Trump” that were “abus[ing] the powerful, unmatched tools of intelligence that we give our government to protect us” in order to “influence first the election and then undermine the choice of the American people.” He also questioned whether Rosenstein might be part of a non-existent anti-Trump “secret society.”

    Gregg Jarrett, a low-profile Fox News anchor who emerged last year as the network’s leading legal defender of the president, told Hannity on Wednesday night that Rosenstein had approved an “illegal investigation.” In an appearance on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show the same evening, he claimed that Rosenstein has “serious political bias” and may have committed a federal crime that carries a 10-year prison sentence. Dobbs, who frequently suggests that various people have broken the law by not being sufficiently supportive of the president, replied, “So when do the arrests start?” After Jarrett said that should have happened long ago but “it was hidden for a long time,” Dobbs replied, “I hope that’s also a federal crime.”

    Discussing the memo on Justice with Jeanine Pirro on Saturday, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton claimed that there needs to be “pressure on the FBI to clean out its ranks at the leadership level,” adding, “If Rod Rosenstein isn’t going to do it, they should find someone who will.” Pirro, who has repeatedly called for the arrests of DOJ and FBI leaders and met with Trump in the White House in November, responded, “I got to tell you I couldn’t agree with you more. That place is dirty.”

    And in an appearance on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, former Trump adviser Roger Stone said that Rosenstein “is not on the level” and should be fired.

    Is Trump angry at Rosenstein and contemplating firing him because of Fox’s coverage? Is Fox providing so much negative coverage about Rosenstein because its hosts know the president wants him out? Are the two efforts happening entirely in parallel? Fox’s dual role as the president’s news source and the propaganda megaphone trumpeting his message to his base, as well as the propensity of several Fox figures to advise him privately, makes it difficult to draw causality arrows. But what’s clear is that if Trump does move against Rosenstein, his most loyal followers will already be primed to accept the effort as the logical response to a purportedly disloyal Justice Department official.

  • "Secret society," "missing texts," and other salvos from the pro-Trump media's conspiracy war

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A pair of interconnected conspiracy theories designed to undermine the FBI and the special counsel’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s administration were concocted by the president’s Republican congressional allies, championed by the pro-Trump media, and then promptly fell apart this week.

    The conservative hysteria revolved around text messages during the 2016 presidential campaign between high-ranking FBI agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead federal investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the links between Russia and Trump’s campaign, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was reportedly having an extramarital affair. Some of those messages included criticism of Trump (leading to Strzok’s removal from the special counsel’s investigation over the summer). The president’s allies have seized on newly released texts as part of their effort to undermine the Mueller investigation, baselessly citing them as evidence of improper “deep state” bias against the president. Meanwhile, they have largely ignored other texts that dramatically undermine that conspiracy theory.

    In this latest salvo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reported on Monday that while more than 50,000 text messages had been exchanged between the two officials, the FBI’s system had not retained the messages for the period between December 14, 2016, and May 17, 2017. The same day, Republican members of Congress claimed in interviews with Fox News that one of the available text messages included a reference to “the first meeting of the secret society.”

    Armed with those two facts,Trump’s media allies went wild, suggesting that an FBI “secret society” was targeting the president and that the missing messages had been deliberately deleted to cover up the effort. “People at the highest level in the DOJ and the FBI ... must be investigated, they must be indicted, and probably many of them thrown in jail,” Sean Hannity said on Tuesday night. “There needs to be serious ramifications if we are going to save our country.” Fox Business host Lou Dobbs argued that it “may be time to declare war outright against the deep state, and clear out the rot in the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.” “I’ve said it before - THEY NEED TO BE TAKEN OUT IN CUFFS,” Fox’s Jeanine Pirro tweeted.

    The stories became a leading fixation on Fox News throughout the day on Tuesday and Wednesday:

    Even the president got into the game, live-tweeting a Fox & Friends segment and driving the story into the mainstream press.

    And then, just as swiftly as they had arisen, the stories collapsed. Federal law enforcement officials explained that, rather than being specifically deleted as part of a nefarious cover-up, the technical glitch that prevented the archiving of five months of Page-Strzok texts had actually affected almost one in ten FBI employees.  And the actual text message, obtained by ABC, that the president’s Republican and media allies were citing showed that the comment appeared to be a joke (which was always the most plausible explanation):

    It was an embarrassing moment for the Republican congressmen who were exposed pushing obvious nonsense to protect the president by damaging the FBI, and the Fox commentators and other pro-Trump media figures who helped the story along. But of course, none of these people have any shame:

    The pro-Trump media can’t back down now. They have spent months declaring in increasingly dire terms that the “deep state” had engaged in a “coup” against the president and needed to be purged.

    The heightened intensity of that counter-narrative becomes all the more important as new reports indicate that the special counsel’s investigation is getting ever-closer to Trump himself -- and as more evidence mounts that the president has repeatedly sought to obstruct that effort and purge the Justice Department of people he considers disloyal to him.  

    But thanks to the right-wing alternative media bubble, the pro-Trump audience is existing in a parallel news universe, constantly hearing that the president did nothing wrong and that extreme actions are needed to protect him from his foes.

    The Trump allies’ latest salvos have failed. But have you heard about “the memo”? It’s going to change everything.

  • More than a dozen Fox personalities have been headlining GOP fundraisers during Trump era

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    More than a dozen Fox hosts and contributors have been raising funds for Republican Party organizations around the country since Donald Trump was elected president, according to a Media Matters review.

    Fox hosts and contributors have been some of President Trump’s loudest supporters, using the network to push his agenda and attack his critics. Trump, in turn, has rewarded the network with regular interviews and praise.

    While Fox personalities’ on-air support for Trump and his party is open and well-documented, many of those same hosts and contributors have also been working off-air to raise critical funds for state and local GOP organizations. In addition to aligning themselves with Trump, those organizations provide backing and resources to Republican candidates when they run for office.

    The Fox personalities include hosts Lou Dobbs (​Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight), Greg Gutfeld (Fox News' The Five and The Greg Gutfeld Show), Pete Hegseth (Fox News' Fox & Friends Weekend), and Jeanine Pirro (Justice with Judge Jeanine), and Fox News contributors John Bolton, David Bossie, Rachel Campos-DuffyJason Chaffetz, Sebastian Gorka, Mike Huckabee, Alveda King, Ed Rollins, Karl Rove, and Allen West.

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham also headlined an October fundraiser for Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward. The New York Times reported at the time that “Fox News hosts are not usually allowed to stump for candidates, but Ms. Ingraham was granted an exception because her show had not yet begun” (Ingraham was a Fox News contributor and frequent guest host prior to starting The Ingraham Angle). But Fox's reported prohibition against hosts stumping for candidates is meaningless given that they're allowed to raise funds for political parties that help those very same candidates. 

    Keynoting fundraisers can be potentially lucrative for media personalities, according to available campaign finance data. The Larimer County Republican Party in Colorado paid Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Pete Hegseth, a total of $5,000 in speaking fees around the time of the event Hegseth was headlining. Jeanine Pirro has received fees ranging from roughly $5,000 to $15,000 from state and local branches of the GOP. The Manatee County GOP paid a $25,000 “fee” to Washington Speakers Bureau, which exclusively represents Dobbs, a few months before its event with the pro-Trump host. It also paid roughly $2,300 for travel expenses to the bureau shortly after the event.

    A common theme among the Republican fundraisers is the use of Fox News’ branding and notoriety to sell tickets.

    Here is how the Washington State Republican Party promoted its event with Greg Gutfeld:

    Here are two flyers for events featuring Pete Hegseth:

    And here are two event pages for fundraisers with Jeanine Pirro:

    Fox considers these personalities as part of the network’s opinion side as opposed to its “news” side -- a largely meaningless distinction given how often the two sides blur together on the network. Trump himself treats Fox & Friends as a leading source of information. And Fox's opinion-side personalities have gotten numerous interviews with the president. For instance, both Hegseth and Pirro have interviewed Trump on their Fox News programs. Lou Dobbs also conducted a softball interview with the president. (Huckabee interviewed Trump though their talk aired on the former Republican governor's Trinity Broadcasting Network program.)  

    Media Matters has documented over the years how Fox News hosts and commentators actively help Republican-aligned groups grow their coffers at partisan events. In 2010, for instance, Sean Hannity keynoted a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner that “raised over $7 million.”

    The following is a non-comprehensive list of Fox News personalities who have headlined or have been scheduled to headline 2017-2018 fundraisers for Republican Party organizations.

    John Bolton

    Flagler County Republican Party (FL); San Francisco Republican Party (CA);​ Smith County Republican Club (TX).  

    David Bossie

    Republican Central Committee of Harford County (MD); St. Mary's County Republican Central Committee (MD); Washington County Republican Central Committee (MD); Wicomico County Republican Central Committee and the Salisbury University College Republicans (MD).

    Rachel Campos Duffy 

    Republican Party of Wood County (WI).

    Jason Chaffetz

    Gallatin and Madison County Republican Central Committees (MT).

    Lou Dobbs

    Manatee County Republican Executive Committee (FL). 

    Sebastian Gorka

    St. Lucie County Republican Club (FL).  

    Greg Gutfeld

    Washington State Republican Party.

    Pete Hegseth

    Larimer County Republican Party (CO);​ Powhatan County Republican Committee (VA);  Republican Party of Brazos County (TX); Snohomish County Republican Party (WA).

    Mike Huckabee

    Hawaii Republican PartyOkaloosa County Republican Party (FL).  

    Alveda King

    Cape Girardeau County Republican Women’s Club (MO).

    Jeanine Pirro

    See here.

    Ed Rollins

    New Canaan Republican Town Committee (CT).

    Karl Rove

    Allen County Republican Party (OH); Williamson County Republican Party (TX).

    Allen West

    Broward Republican Executive Committee (FL); Montgomery County Republican Party (TX); Republican Party of Coryell County (TX).

  • As multiple Fox News figures suggest the FBI is corrupt, Chris Wallace says that no one is attacking the FBI as an institution

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News anchor Chris Wallace claimed that recent criticism regarding the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was not against the agency in general. Yet multiple figures at his own network have criticized the FBI in broad terms, suggesting the agency was “like the old KGB,” that it was participating in “a coup,” and acted as if it was in “a third world country.”

  • Why the anti-Mueller sentiment on Fox keeps getting worse

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News’ coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is growing ever-darker, as my colleague Simon Maloy noted last week, with the network’s Trump-loving commentators offering up increasingly hysterical warnings that Mueller needs to be fired before he destroys the rule of law and the republic.

    Eight nights ago, for example, Sean Hannity declared Mueller a “direct threat to you, the American people and our American republic.” Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett chimed in, claiming that “Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon,” turning the bureau into “America's secret police” just like “the old KGB.”

    This discussion was irresponsible and dangerous. But it also set a new bar for fearmongering about the Mueller investigation. And so the president’s lackeys, who are eager to kill Mueller’s probe before its completion, have spent the last week going on Fox and trying to clear it.

    They are on an invective escalator. Every new development in the Russia probe requires ever-more-inflammatory rhetoric -- for Jarrett and Hannity, the false KGB comparison was just the logical next step from comparing the Mueller team to the Mob. The tenor of the criticism only becomes more hysterical. A new, baseless “conflict of interest” for a member of Mueller’s team raises the bar. But so does a former Trump aide copping a plea in exchange for working with the special counsel’s office -- it gets presented not as evidence Mueller’s probe is on the level, but evidence that it is not.

    Meanwhile, their audience -- which at times includes the president -- receives increasingly dire warnings that a professional probe run by a Republican who was appointed FBI director by a president of each party is actually a corrupt effort at a deep state coup.

    But how do you top comparing the FBI to the KGB?

    Jeanine Pirro calls for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ

    Here’s how Fox News host Jeanine Pirro opened her show on Saturday night:

    Over a seven-plus-minute monologue, she specifically called for “handcuffs” for FBI agent Peter Strzok and Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, and piled on criticism for Mueller, James Comey, senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr, and current FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The stench coming out of the Justice Department and the FBI is like that of a Third World country, where money and bullies and clubs decide elections. It all started when ‘Cardinal’ Comey destroyed our FBI with political hacks to set events in motion to destroy the republic because they didn’t like the man we chose to be our president. Well, it’s time to take them out, in cuffs,” she concluded.

    Pirro is a friend and sometime adviser to the president, who regularly tunes in to her program. She reportedly took her conspiracy theories to the White House last month, denouncing Comey and Mueller in an Oval Office meeting with the president and his top aides. Pirro may be angling to join the administration so she can carry out this purge of the law enforcement apparatus; she reportedly interviewed to be deputy attorney general during the transition

    Tom Fitton asks if the FBI needs to be shut down because it is now a “KGB-type operation”

    For Tom Fitton, head of the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch, those who are simply calling for Mueller’s firing haven’t gone far enough:

    Fitton’s comments last night are an obvious one-up on last week’s KGB comparison -- the situation may now be so dire that it requires destroying the entire bureau in order to save it.

    Lou Dobbs: Trump should be exonerated because he won the election

    On December 11, Lou Dobbs said on his Fox Business show that Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation may be because he’s been blackmailed by the “deep state.” After Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz criticized Sessions, calling for congressional action but clarifying that he’s “not saying it has to go the Republicans' way,” Dobbs replied, “Why the hell shouldn't it go the Republicans' way? We elected a Republican president.” Dobbs added that the congressional Republican leadership should be “standing shoulder to shoulder with Trump” and “bring this thing to a conclusion.”

    And there it is, a direct call for ending the Mueller investigation purely because it targets the Republican administration. It’s hard to top that. But they’ll find a way.
  • 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.

  • Fox News allows host Jeanine Pirro to work as a paid GOP fundraising speaker

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News host and legal analyst Jeanine Pirro has found a lucrative side gig headlining Republican Party fundraisers. The network has claimed that it prohibits hosts from stumping for political candidates but has no apparent objection to hosts fundraising for party committees.

    Pirro is a longtime friend of President Donald Trump who hosts the weekend program Judge Jeanine, where she pushes pro-Trump propaganda. The New York Times recently reported that Trump “rarely misses” her show and that Pirro “interviewed to be the deputy attorney general, according to three transition officials.”

    It’s not surprising that Pirro would want to help Republicans given her openly partisan background. But Fox News has suggested it has some rules for its opinion hosts. The Times reported in an October 25 profile of Laura Ingraham, who headlined a campaign fundraiser for Senate candidate Kelli Ward (R-AZ), that “Fox News hosts are not usually allowed to stump for candidates, but Ms. Ingraham was granted an exception because her show had not yet begun.”

    That reported prohibition seems meaningless in the context of Pirro’s fundraising efforts. She has done at least 10 fundraisers this year for Republican Party organizations that help elect GOP candidates, according to a Media Matters review.

    While campaign finance data for all of those events is not publicly available, Media Matters found that Pirro was paid for speaking in at least five instances by the hosting group, either through her corporation Judge Jeanine Pirro Inc. or the speakers bureau that represents her.  

    Pirro has made no secret that she’s helping raise money for Republican Party groups. On her April 22 program she said that she “gave a good speech" at a Republican fundraiser in Morgantown, WV, and received a scarf as a gift. The hosting group, the Monongalia County Republican Executive Committee, wrote on Facebook in response: “Judge Jeanine Pirro wearing, on national television, the scarf of ‘Presidents Signatures’ given to her by our Chair Gina Brown on behalf of the Committee as a thank you gift for her speaking at our Reagan Dinner! She mentioned us and our Committee while closing her show tonight!”

    Fox News and Pirro did not respond to requests for comment or clarification about the network's policies.

    Pirro has been an active fundraiser for Republican Party organizations this year. For instance:

    • Pirro was the headline speaker for the Alachua County Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan Black Tie and Blue Jeans BBQ in Florida on November 9.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Volusia County Republican Party’s October 8 Lincoln Day Dinner in Florida. The organization paid a little more than $10,000 to Pirro for book purchases and her speaking fee, according to Federal Election Commission data.
    • Pirro was the featured speaker for the Republican Party of Arkansas’ Reagan Rockefeller Dinner on July 28. The party disbursed $15,000 to Pirro, according to the organization's state campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Monongalia County Republican Executive Committee’s April 21 Reagan Dinner in West Virginia.
    • Pirro was the headline speaker for the Bonneville County GOP’s Lincoln Day Banquet on March 31 in Idaho. The organization later posted a picture on Facebook of Pirro at her Fox News set with the caption: “The freedom mink and gold nugget necklace we gave Judge Jeanine Pirro are sitting right on her desk!”
    • Pirro was the headliner for the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth’s Lincoln Day Dinner on March 20 in Pennsylvania. The organization paid a little over $5,000 for the appearance, according to the group’s state campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the featured speaker at the Columbiana County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner on March 23 in Ohio.
    • Pirro was the special guest for the Erie County Republican Committee’s Lincoln Leadership Reception on March 9 in New York. The committee paid Pirro roughly $7,500, according to the group’s campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Kent County Republican Committee’s February 18 Lincoln Day Dinner in Delaware.
    • Pirro was the headliner for the Georgia Republican Party’s President’s Day Dinner on March 13. The organization paid the Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Pirro, $15,000 on the day of the event for “Speakers Fee - Presidents Day Dinner.” 

    Those Republican organizations routinely featured Pirro’s Fox News affiliation to sell tickets. Here are two examples:

    Pirro’s fundraising appearances will continue into 2018: The Sangamon County Republican Central Committee in Illinois recently announced that Pirro will headline the group’s February 8 Lincoln Day Dinner.  

    Media Matters has documented how Fox News hosts and commentators -- in addition to their on-air conservative rhetoric -- actively help Republican-aligned groups grow their coffers at partisan events. The pro-Trump group Great America Alliance recently created a fundraising page prominently featuring Fox News’ logo and celebrating the news that senior adviser Tomi Lahren had been hired as a Fox News contributor. That page was taken down after Media Matters asked Fox News whether it had approved the use of its logo.

  • How much sway does Fox News have over the Justice Department?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering whether to investigate President Donald Trump’s political enemies, as the president has repeatedly and publicly demanded, the former senator from Alabama told lawmakers this morning at a congressional hearing.

    “I've directed senior federal prosecutors to make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be open, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources and whether any matters under consideration may merit the appointment of a special counsel,” Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee this morning.

    According to a letter the Justice Department sent the committee yesterday, the issues the prosecutors are examining include “the sale of Uranium One” and “alleged unlawful dealings related to the Clinton Foundation.”

    “I don't want to be Chicken Little, but, you know what, this is what happens in authoritarian countries like Turkey and Russia, that when a party takes power, they start criminally investigating their opponents,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin warned this morning. Referencing the letter’s mention of Uranium One, he added, “This is a question about whether Fox News runs the Justice Department.”

    Other analysts have suggested that Sessions isn’t trying to take a cudgel to the rule of law in this country, but merely trying to assuage Republican lawmakers who are eager to investigate Clinton. Under this line of thinking, Sessions is just telling members of Congress that he is listening to their concerns, but the result will be a recommendation from prosecutors not to move forward with an investigation. Sessions seemed to lean in that direction later in his testimony, suggesting there may not be a "factual basis" to appoint a special counsel.

    That's best case scenario -- the attorney general isn’t seriously contemplating a big step toward a banana republic, just a small one to get members of his party who are drunk on Fox’s coverage to back off. That, in and of itself, “is hardly normal,” as CNN legal analyst Steve Vladeck wrote. But it's better than a country teetering down a path well-trod by autocrats throughout history.

    Either way, the president has spent months using public statements and his Twitter feed to urge prosecutors to target former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her allies. The attorney general is publicly taking action that could lead to such prosecutions. And, as Toobin pointed out, Fox has played a crucial role in making this day possible.

    Sean Hannity, the Fox host with the largest audience in cable news, said as much last night on his program. “Finally,” Hannity exulted in describing the contents of the DOJ letter. “Sessions is … leaving the door open for the appointment of a special counsel, what we have been calling for.”

    Breitbart chief executive Steve Bannon and one of his employees, the discredited author Peter Schweizer, first launched the Uranium One conspiracy theory in 2015. Its thesis is that Clinton played a “central role” in the federal government’s approval of the Russian nuclear energy agency’s purchase of the company in 2010, when she was secretary of state, because her husband and the Clinton Foundation were bribed with payments from people linked to the deal. This is nonsense for many reasons, notably that there’s actually no evidence Clinton played any role at all in the approval process.

    But Uranium One has become the talisman Hannity has used to ward off special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s associates and their ties to Russia. In Hannity’s telling, repeated over and over again this summer, the Uranium One sale demonstrates that Clinton is the one guilty of “real collusion” with Russia as well as a variety of federal crimes that demand an investigation. He’s also frequently used the case to demand Mueller’s resignation.

    Hannity is leading the way, but he’s not alone at Fox. A new and quickly debunked report about Uranium One published in The Hill last month triggered nearly 12 hours of coverage on the network in three weeks, driving discussions on nearly every Fox program, according to a Media Matters study.

    One of our more curious findings in that study was that Justice with Jeanine Pirro, a weekly hourlong show that aired only three times in the period reviewed, carried the fifth-most coverage on the network, a whopping 52 minutes of Uranium One discussion.

    “Starting Monday, this has to happen,” Pirro said on the October 28 edition of her Saturday night show. “Special counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller must be fired immediately. … The special counsel's office must be shut down. … Jeff Sessions must appoint someone to investigate the uranium deal. … And if he doesn't do it, it's time for Sessions to go.”

    Four days later, The New York Times reported, she was invited to the White House and made the same argument directly to the president:

    One commentator in particular, the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro — who is a friend of Mr. Trump’s and whose show he rarely misses — has aggressively denounced Mr. Sessions as weak for not investigating the uranium deal. In addition to making scathing critiques on her show, Ms. Pirro — who had interviewed to be the deputy attorney general, according to three transition officials — recently met with the president to excoriate the attorney general.

    In an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 1, Ms. Pirro said that a special counsel needed to be appointed, according to two people briefed on the discussion.

    Pirro isn’t the only one at Fox pushing the Uranium One story who has the ear of the president. Trump reportedly frequently calls Hannity after his show ends, and there’s evidence the Fox host has driven federal policy with his advice before. And the president regularly tweets along with the Fox morning show Fox & Friends, which also champions the conspiracy theory.

    Fox’s coverage already seems to have encouraged congressional Republicans to launch a Uranium One probe. And now the attorney general is taking his own steps, uncertain as their goal may be.

    At best, Fox is running Congress. At worse, as Toobin suggests, the network’s in charge of the Justice Department.