One Hannity segment included six claims that Rod Rosenstein and the FBI attempted to stage a "coup" against Donald Trump
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Law enforcement and national security experts are warning that President Donald Trump’s decision to selectively declassify and release portions of sensitive Justice Department documents related to the Russia probe could compromise U.S. intelligence methods and endanger the lives of sources. And in an alarming if unsurprising turn, the president said Tuesday that he hasn’t bothered to read the documents and is putting them out because “many people” -- likely including his sycophants at Fox -- told him to do so.
The White House announced on Monday night that Trump had directed federal agencies to declassify and release documents related to the Russia probe, including portions of the federal warrant used to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, text messages from senior Justice Department and FBI officials, and FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr related to the Russia investigation.
Experts quickly pointed out that Trump’s move was extraordinary, unprecedented, and dangerous. Some warned that the president’s direct involvement in an investigation that involves his administration and that he constantly describes as a “witch hunt” has dire implications for the rule of law. Others emphasized that releasing portions of the unredacted FISA application, which details investigative sources and methods, would be crossing a “red line” that “could not only compromise such information, but risk the US's relationship with its partners in the intelligence community.”
But in an interview conducted Tuesday by The Hill’s John Solomon and Buck Sexton, Trump admitted that he did not review the documents in question and soberly consider the national security implications of their release. Instead, he simply took the advice of “many people” who he says have been urging him to take action, doing so because he thought the release would benefit him politically by delegitimizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. From The Hill’s write-up of the interview:
Trump said he had not read the documents he ordered declassified but said he expected to show they would prove the FBI case started as a political “hoax.”
“I have had many people ask me to release them. Not that I didn’t like the idea but I wanted to wait, I wanted to see where it was all going,” he said.
In the end, he said, his goal was to let the public decide by seeing the documents that have been kept secret for more than two years. “All I want to do is be transparent,” he said.
The article provides no indication that Solomon and Sexton sought to determine which parties influenced Trump. But obvious culprits include the Fox pundits he watches for hours each day. (UPDATE: The Hill's transcript of the interview shows that Trump says he has "watched commentators that I respect begging the president of the United States to release" the documents, specifically referencing Fox personalities "the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, [and] the wonderful great Jeanie Pirro.")
The president frequently tweets criticism of the Justice Department’s handling of the Russia investigation -- and specifically the Page FISA warrant and Ohr's role in the probe -- in response to commentary he sees on Fox.
And indeed, over the past few months, leading Trump propagandists Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs used their shows to campaign for Trump to release these documents, often pointing to the political benefits they believed that decision would have.
On July 23, for example -- just two days after the Justice Department released a redacted version of the Page FISA application, the first time in history that such a document had been disclosed -- Hannity told his Fox audience, “We have even more questions than even earlier. This FISA application is heavily redacted. The American people deserve to see it. I am calling for all of this warrant to be unredacted.” Hannity added that “the president can do this” and that if he did so, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation, “is finished.” On July 30, Hannity specifically called for the release of “19 pages” from the warrant -- the president has called for the declassification of 20 pages from the document.
Dobbs similarly asked earlier this month, “Why is the president not ordering the release of this and declassifying all of that paperwork and putting it in front of the American people and the special counsel so we can get a little clearer picture on who Robert Mueller really is?” He’s also suggested there is no “rational reason on Earth” not to release the documents.
As the Fox drumbeat quickened, Republican congressman including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Mark Meadows (R-NC) -- who have spent the last year using their oversight authority to try to stymie the Russia probe -- held a press conference urging Trump to release the documents, then took turns doing Fox interviews on the subject. Trump ended up calling for the release of the very documents they had demanded, down to the specific pages they asked for from the Page warrant.
John Solomon himself -- a crucial member of the anti-Mueller media ecosystem who draws on conservative sources to produce slanted reporting -- has used his recent Fox appearances to suggest that the declassification of these documents would prove malfeasance by the FBI in the early stages of the Russia probe, undermining its credibility.
All of which is to say that, as usual, the president weighed the advice he receives from sycophants on TV more highly than any counsel he might receive from more credible sources.
“For months, right here on this program, we have been asking for the unredacted FISA documents to be released,” Hannity said on Monday. “Now, the president has done it.” The president privileged Hannity’s advice over that of national security experts, with potentially dire consequences.
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.
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.”
The Hill says that effective immediately, John Solomon will only be permitted to write opinion pieces
John Solomon, a favorite of Fox News’ Sean Hannity, will only be permitted to publish opinion pieces in The Hill from now on, per The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.
A memo from Bob Cusack, editor in chief of The Hill, notifies colleagues that John Solomon will be "busy with our video initiatives, but effective immediately when he writes for us, it will be as an opinion contributor."
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) May 14, 2018
In February, Hannity claimed that Solomon, among others, deserved a Pulitzer Prize for his work defending Donald Trump from “the phony Russia Trump narrative.”
It’s clear that Hannity loves Solomon’s work, as Solomon is a fixture on his Fox News show, having appeared 25 times since August, per a review of Media Matters data. He has also appeared four times on The Ingraham Angle, four times on Fox & Friends, and once on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
While Solomon’s reporting at The Hill has gotten significant attention and praise from conservative media, it has also repeatedly fallen apart amid the slightest scrutiny. He was a main driver of the Uranium One pseudo-scandal, which alleged that the real Russia scandal was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton selling a large amount of America’s uranium to Russia. At one point, Trump tweeted about a Fox & Friends segment on a Solomon story, saying “Uranium deal to Russia, with Clinton help and Obama Administration knowledge, is the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!”
Left, Fox & Friends, 6:07 am
Right, Trump, 7:17 am pic.twitter.com/57r0UUZsGx
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) October 19, 2017
After getting huge coverage, the story quickly fell apart. As Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noted, the “fatal flaw in this allegation is Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, did not participate in any discussions regarding the Uranium One sale.” Solomon first reported on the existence of an Uranium One informant whom Justice Department officials reportedly deemed not credible. Hannity hosted the informant anyway.
Solomon also furthered a wild conspiracy theory about FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page secretly influencing the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton. Here is how HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly and Nick Baumann described Solomon’s report:
When Solomon — a longtime Washington journalist and frequent guest on Hannity’s program — reported last week that Congress was looking into whether Strzok and Page had leaked to the news media, those working to undermine the Mueller probe lapped it up.
Solomon’s Tuesday report appeared to show that Strzok and Page had advance knowledge of an Oct. 24, 2016 Wall Street Journal article. He didn’t identify the Wall Street Journal article in question, and it is not clear whether he knew which piece triggered the couple’s texts. Although Solomon never wrote that Strzok and Page were definitively behind any anti-Trump leaks, the news that Congress was investigating them and that they had advance knowledge of an article was enough for pundits in the conservative media to jump to conclusions.
The Hill report was used as fodder for a narrative that Trump-hating FBI agents had leaked information to hurt the then-Republican candidate. Front Page Mag and One America News used sensational headlines, referencing “Hillary’s FBI allies” and the “deep state’s” efforts to undermine Trump. Rush Limbaugh told his listeners that “Peter Strzok and Lisa Page are two of the deep state sources planting lies and false stories in the Wall Street Journal and other places.”
Reilly and Baumann subsequently found “no evidence that Page and Strzok were leaking information to undermine Trump.” Instead, they found evidence that “cast serious doubt” on Solomon’s claims.
In December, Solomon, along with Alison Spann, alleged that attorney Lisa Bloom "sought donor cash" for women considering making sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Wemple reported that “a group of newsroom staffers” at The Hill “complained to management” about Solomon’s work.
In July, Solomon alleged in The Hill that Comey’s memos “contain classified information,” setting off a conservative media frenzy. Similar accusations resurfaced during Comey’s book tour, but as Philip Bump explained, there is still no evidence that Comey leaked classified information to the media.
Solomon’s issues at The Hill are entirely within character. Before working at that publication, he worked at Circa, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting. What Solomon described as “straight news” for Circa was anything but; the website was explicitly a pro-Trump operation. In July 2017, Solomon appeared on Hannity’s show to discuss whether Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower before the election was possible a “setup” by outside groups. Solomon told Hannity that it was too early to assume that, but did not rule anything out.
Before Circa, Solomon spent time at the helm at The Washington Times, where there were multiple ethical issues. His time as a Washington Post staff writer witnessed many similar instances. The same goes for his time at The Associated Press. As Mariah Blake wrote in 2012, “Solomon has a history of bending the truth to his storyline.”
A confidential informant interviewed by congressional staff last month who House Republicans had claimed would bolster their case that Russian interests had bribed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to approve the sale of the mining company Uranium One provided “no evidence of a quid pro quo” involving Clinton, according to a memo produced by Democratic staff and obtained by The Hill. The news is another huge setback to Fox News and other bastions of right-wing journalism, which have spent months defending President Donald Trump by citing the informant’s purported evidence as proof that, in the words of Sean Hannity, the “real collusion” was between Clinton and Russia, and that special counsel Robert Mueller should be investigated.
We already knew Justice Department officials reportedly deemed the informant not credible, but now it seems he was unable to produce evidence supporting the key aspect of the case.
The Uranium One informant has had tons of coverage on Fox and other right-wing media, with the thinking being that he had the goods on HRC. But when he actually got to a hearing... pic.twitter.com/Mazie9GwUF
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) March 8, 2018
As I explained last month:
The so-called Uranium One scandal was launched in 2015 by a discredited author who was employed by then-Breitbart.com head Steve Bannon and funded by top Trump donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. The theory posited that Clinton played a "central role" as secretary of state in approving the 2010 purchase of mining company Uranium One by the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency because Russians and people linked to the deal had given money to her husband and to the Clinton Foundation.
The informant entered the picture in October, when The Hill’s John Solomon reported about a “confidential U.S. witness” who was “working inside the Russian nuclear industry” during an FBI investigation of a Russian nuclear official. According to Solomon’s sources, the informant -- later revealed as William Douglas Campbell -- had told law enforcement that “nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation” at the same time a board Hillary Clinton sat on had approved the Uranium One deal.
Solomon, whose prior efforts to lead three different media outlets into a digital renaissance had floundered, has reinvented himself by producing shoddy national security reporting that provided fodder to Trump’s allies, and his work quickly collapsed under scrutiny, with Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noting that the “fatal flaw in this allegation is Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, did not participate in any discussions regarding the Uranium One sale.”
But Fox News would seize upon Solomon’s reporting with vigor, devoting nearly 12 hours of coverage to the story over the next three weeks. The effort was led by Hannity, who repeatedly used the story to push for Mueller’s resignation as special counsel because Mueller was FBI director at the time the deal occurred:
The story returned to the fore last month. News that Campbell was meeting with congressional investigators created new opportunities for Hannity and company to relentlessly hype Uranium One. Mueller's indictment last month of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on alleged crimes stemming from Russian information warfare efforts on U.S. social media sites during the election bizarrely produced more opportunities to talk about the mining deal.
And now it turns out -- according to Democratic staff -- that the Hannity crowd’s star witness had nothing to offer. Tune in tonight for his explanation of how this really proves just how dastardly Mueller and Clinton really are.
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Pro-Trump conservatives want to talk about their own Russia narrative. The only problem is that it's bullshit.
President Donald Trump has spent much of his presidency engulfed by congressional and criminal investigations into Russian efforts to help him win the 2016 presidential election. But today, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced he was joining a new congressional probe -- one that appears to revolve around the purported Russian ties of Trump’s opponent in that race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This is no accident. Like the work of the House Select Committee on Benghazi before it, this is a partisan investigation with a political purpose, with its roots in the conspiratorial muck of the right-wing media. But while the Benghazi probe -- as Republican leaders eventually acknowledged -- was an offensive push to damage Clinton’s political standing in the lead-up to the 2016 election, the new one is a defensive move aimed at protecting Trump by diverting attention to his former opponent. The effort's loudest champion is Sean Hannity, the Trump propagandist and sometime adviser who has claimed for months that the “real collusion” with Russia revolves around a bogus conspiracy theory linking Clinton to the 2010 sale of the uranium mining company Uranium One to the Russian government.
The story begins with Breitbart.com head Stephen Bannon. In 2012, long before he became the Trump campaign’s chief executive and joined Trump’s White House as chief strategist, Bannon launched the Government Accountability Institute, a nonprofit conservative investigative research organization. Three years later, GAI’s president, the discredited author Peter Schweizer, authored the bestselling book Clinton Cash. The book, built on GAI’s research, alleged that Bill and Hillary Clinton “typically blur the lines between politics, philanthropy, and business.” It was a trainwreck of sloppy research and shoddy reporting, but was heavily promoted by mainstream outlets thanks to a cunning media strategy overseen by Bannon, and taken up by Trump during the campaign.
One of the book’s bogus allegations was Schweizer’s claim that Hillary Clinton played a "central role" in approving the purchase of Uranium One by the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency. Schweizer speculated that she did so because of the money given to the Clinton Foundation and her husband by Russians and people linked to the deal. But this made no sense, and several reporters assessing Schweizer’s claims rejected them. The State Department had one of nine votes on the committee that approved the deal; the State Department rep said Clinton never intervened on the issue; there were critical questions about the timing of the donations Schweizer referenced; and even Schweizer said he had no direct evidence Clinton had intervened.
The false allegations might have been forgotten in the wake of the election. But in January, the U.S. intelligence community announced that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the aim of harming Clinton’s campaign because “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Reporting from a host of news outlets ever since has suggested that Trump’s campaign aides and associates had a series of troubling interactions with Russians, triggering congressional investigations and eventually a criminal probe by special counsel Robert Mueller. With Trump’s presidency hanging in the balance, his allies have searched for a way to rebut the charges.
Hannity eventually settled on the old Clinton Cash allegations. Claiming that there is no evidence to support what he terms “black-helicopter, tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories about so-called Trump-Russia collusion,” the Fox host declared that the “real collusion” is between Clinton and Russia, as demonstrated by the Uranium One tale. He pushed that argument over and over again to his audience of 3 million, making it in more than two dozen monologues over the summer.
Then a week ago, Hannity tweeted this:
Hannity was promoting a report by John Solomon, the executive vice president of The Hill, which purported to advance the Uranium One story. According to Solomon’s anonymous sources, “Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow.” Solomon provides no evidence that the Clintons were aware this was happening, and of course the underlying conspiracy theory that Clinton pushed the Uranium One deal through still makes no sense. But it’s something the right-wing press can use to try to shift attention away from Trump.
Solomon is an investigative journalist who has had many acts in the business. This year, he’s drawn attention for his work as chief operating officer of Circa News, a mobile-first platform with an independent brand that the conservative goliath Sinclair Broadcast Group bought in 2015, hollowed out, and turned into its own pro-Trump news website. At Circa, Solomon and his colleague Sara Carter excelled at turning out stories -- often anonymously sourced -- alleging impropriety by former Obama national security officials and former FBI Director James Comey. Feeding into the right-wing narratives about efforts by nefarious deep-state actors to tear down the president, Circa’s reporting received glowing reviews from Trump’s most conspiratorial supporters.
But Circa’s biggest fan is Hannity -- as The Hill put it in March, he “has repeatedly lauded Circa as the gold standard.” Indeed, for all intents and purposes, Solomon’s operation replaced Fox’s own journalists in providing the pro-Trump reporting Hannity needs to confirm his biases. According to Media Matters research, Carter appeared on 30 episodes of Hannity from May 15 through the end of August -- the only guests to show up more often were Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow and Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett. Solomon made 14 appearances on Hannity’s Fox News show during the same time frame.
Hannity heavily promoted Solomon’s story on his Fox show, devoting extensive segments to the “explosive” “bombshell” on the night it broke and the next two nights. He’s hosted Solomon, Carter, and Schweizer, harangued the rest of the press for not covering the story, and declared Uranium One “one of the biggest scandals this country has ever seen.” And on the night the story broke, he made clear what he thought should happen next:
HANNITY: Also, is Congress now going to do its job? Will they investigate these explosive reports immediately? Will the Special Counsel Robert Mueller start looking into this Russian plot to control American uranium?
Over the next few days, Trump’s allies on Fox and elsewhere worked themselves into a frenzy over the “real collusion” story (per Alex Jones, the “Beginning Of The End For Clinton Crime Family”). On the morning of October 19, apparently spurred on by a Fox & Friends segment on Solomon’s story, Trump himself joined the fray, tweeting, “Uranium deal to Russia, with Clinton help and Obama Administration knowledge, is the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!”
Left, Fox & Friends, 6:07 am
Right, Trump, 7:17 am pic.twitter.com/57r0UUZsGx
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) October 19, 2017
And now Nunes -- who had to recuse himself from Russia-related investigations earlier this year due to ethics charges that resulted from his effort to do the White House’s bidding and scuttle the Trump-Russia investigations -- is taking a hand. At a press conference today, he announced that he would be launching an investigation into the Uranium One allegations. He will be working alongside the House Oversight Committee, helmed by the former chairman of the Benghazi Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).
Fox programming is now basically 24/7 about Hillary Clinton and Uranium. It's legit amazing.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) October 24, 2017
The New York Times yesterday detailed how Republican congressmen, including Nunes and Gowdy, are trying to “wrap up the investigations” into Trump’s Russia ties as quickly as possible. “Congressional investigations unfortunately are usually overtly political investigations, where it is to one side’s advantage to drag things out,” Gowdy told the Times. He knows that from experience. A year into Trump’s presidency, egged on by sycophantic media allies like Hannity, the first congressional investigation into a Clinton has begun. It won’t end anytime soon.
Trump's legal team suggested giving Trump Jr. meeting details to Circa, spinning meeting as "setup” by Democrats
President Donald Trump’s legal team proposed using the Trump-friendly media outlet Circa to promote the evidence-free claim that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential election was a Democratic “setup.” Not only did Circa run with the story on July 8, two days later, Fox News host Sean Hannity was more than happy to further the story with Circa’s Sara Carter and John Solomon, frequent guests on Hannity’s shows.
On July 31, The Washington Post reported that when Trump’s legal team recently discovered incriminating details about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a possible Russian agent, the lawyers proposed an alternate version of the encounter “be given to Circa, an online news organization that the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump.” The Post additionally noted that “the president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr.”
Circa’s Carter wrote about Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian in a July 8 article which included a statement from a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, as well as the assertion that “the president’s legal team said Saturday they believe the entire meeting may have been part of a larger election-year opposition effort aimed at creating the appearance of improper connections between Trump family members and Russia.”
On July 10, Fox host Sean Hannity invited Carter and then-fellow Circa reporter John Solomon to discuss whether “this whole meeting with Donald Trump Jr” was “possibly a setup” (emphasis added):
HANNITY: All right, Sara Carter, let's go to you and your reporting along with John. Good to have you both back, by the way. Let's start with your reports about was this possibly a setup? In other words, this whole meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. -- is this a very different story than the American people are being told?
SARA CARTER: Yes, I think there's a story here that people aren't getting from the mainstream media. And one is this. Natalia Veselnitskaya -- she was the attorney that Donald Trump, Jr., met with -- was actually connected to a company called Presevan Holding, which was run by a Russian named Dennis Katzik . And Dennis Katzik actually hired Fusion GPS. Remember, this was the security investigative firm behind the Christopher Steele dossier. So the Christopher Steele dossier, which has been disreputable, which people have not been able to prove anything, that tried to connect, you know, Donald Trump to the Russians, was actually the company that this woman was working for.
So it makes sense. And I know that congressional investigators are looking into this. What was her connection to Fusion GPS? And how does that play out with the meeting that she held with Donald Trump, Jr., which he said he did not know prior to that meeting exactly who she was and what she was representing. So that is a very, very important part of this story.
HANNITY: Do you believe that this was a setup by the DNC and this Fusion group that we're talking about?
JOHN SOLOMON: You know, there's not enough facts and evidence to assume that yet. I think there is clearly a lot of people that were working at once, and what overlays they have and what intersections they have, we don't know in part because Fusion GPS hasn't answered a lot of the questions that the Senate has put to them. Until we find out who was funding the dossier, until we find out who brought Natalia into the country, until we learn those sort of questions, we're not going to know the full picture, and I think it's too soon to make any assumptions. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/10/17]
The Trump team narrative, with the help of Hannity and Circa, was quickly picked up and spread throughout right-wing media and fake news purveyors.
Circa is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is known for its conservative bias and connections to Trump associates. During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair made a deal with Trump’s team to push stories favorable to the future president. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Carter and Solomon have used Hannity’s platform to do just that.
Right-wing media, pro-Trump internet trolls, and fake news purveyors are boosting a report from a right-leaning journalist in a way that suggests former FBI Director James Comey might have intentionally leaked classified information to The New York Times. The report presents already-known information about Comey’s memos that recounted his interactions with President Donald Trump. Politico also reported that the source that passed along the memo to the Times confirmed that it did not contain classified information.
After originally excluding mention of opinion editor David Keene's ongoing relationship with the National Rifle Association in his most recent piece for the paper, the Washington Times quietly added the disclosure after being contacted by Media Matters.
In a September 29 commentary, Keene wrote about the fight over gun legislation in Colorado, echoing the NRA's own messaging in the state. Keene, a former NRA president and current board member, is, according to the Times' own standards, "free to write about the NRA in his personal weekly column as long as he discloses to the reader in that column his continuing role with the organization." But his ongoing relationship with the gun group was originally missing from the column.
At the bottom of the original commentary, which appeared online and was the top-billed opinion piece in the print edition of the conservative paper, the following note was appended: "David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times."
Media Matters contacted Times editor John Solomon to ask about the omission, only hearing back after the column had been updated to read: "David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times. He is a former president and current board member of the National Rifle Association." (Solomon responded that the version he was viewing "has his role as current board member.")
After Keene described participating in the crafting of the NRA's 2014 midterm election strategy in a February 2014 interview with The Washington Examiner, Media Matters investigative reporter Joe Strupp asked Solomon whether Keene's continuing role with the NRA created a conflict of interest on the Times' opinion page.
While acknowledging Keene's ongoing NRA role, Solomon said, "Our ethics rules allow an employee in special circumstances to hold an outside position, if it is pre-approved and the appropriate ethical steps are followed. That's the case with David Keene and his membership on the board of the NRA. We knew when we asked David to be our opinion editor that he would continue on the NRA board. We also knew that his role with the NRA was publicly and extensively known."
Among the "set of rules" that Keene is supposed to follow, Solomon said, "He is free to write about the NRA in his personal weekly column as long as he discloses to the reader in that column his continuing role with the organization."
Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple is raising questions about the Washington Times' relationship with the National Rifle Association after the paper ran a "Special Report" sponsored by the gun group featuring several articles from the Times' news coverage.
Wemple highlighted an August 27 "special pullout section" in the Times that was clearly "sponsored by the NRA" and featured disclaimers on each page explaining the pullout was "A Special Report Prepared by The Washington Times Advertising Department." Instead of being filled only with advertisements, the section featured past gun-related news stories from Times reporters Kelly Riddell, David Sherfinski, and Jessica Chasmar, which Wemple cites as evidence that the paper's news coverage "pleases the mighty gun lobby."
But when Wemple asked Times editor John Solomon whether the presence of news stories in "a special advertising section cross[es] some sacred journalistic trench," Solomon defended the paper by arguing that the articles had all "already been written."
Solomon also defended the paper from Wemple's suggestion that there might be a "risk" in the Times' behavior, since reporters may "be inclined to tilt their stories" to appease pro-gun advertisers:
Though Solomon says the stories piled up in the Washington Times archive in the course of normal journalistic business, isn't there a risk here? Once reporters see how the paper monetizes their work via pro-gun advertisers, won't they be inclined to tilt their stories in that direction? No again, says Solomon: "Writers never know, and it's no different thantomorrow waking up and seeing a Boeing ad in The Washington Post and having a defense story in the newspaper."
The Washington Times has long had a cozy relationship with the NRA. David Keene, who edits the paper's aggressively pro-NRA opinion page, is a former NRA president. In a move that sparked concern from journalism experts, Keene has continued to operate as a spokesman for the gun group and sit on its board while also serving as the Times opinion editor. Solomon told Media Matters this year that Keene's dual role avoids conflict since he "recuses himself from editing any pieces in his department that are focused on the NRA."
The Times has previously partnered with anti-gay group National Organization for Marriage for a June 2014 event. The paper's "Advocacy Department" put together a "Special Report" supplement for the event with articles from its news and opinion sections. The Times has long been a platform for virulent homophobia.
The Washington Times is defending its opinion editor's practice of offering personal political endorsements to Republican candidates, which media observers and editorial page editors at others papers say violates journalistic ethics.
Since joining the Times in 2013 after a career in conservative politics, David Keene has endorsed several Republican senators for reelection, either on his own behalf or on behalf of the National Rifle Association, on whose board he sits. Reporting on the endorsements, Politico's Dylan Byers noted that such endorsements are unheard of for editorial page editors at major newspapers since it would be regarded as a "violation of ethics."
But asked to comment on the endorsements, Times editor-in-chief John Solomon defended Keene, saying the opinion editor's actions were in keeping with the paper's "set of rules to maintain the highest ethical standards for the opinion department" that he and Keene hammered out upon Keene's hiring.
Keene, a former president of the NRA and chairman of the American Conservative Union, says that his endorsements raise no ethical questions because he won't participate in a Times endorsement discussion of the candidates his organizations support.
"As a practical matter, I would not participate in a WT discussion re an endorsement of someone whose NRA endorsement I had previously delivered," Keene told Media Matters via email Tuesday. "The important thing, in my mind at least, is to remember what 'hat' one is wearing and when. For example, I am also still on the ACU Board and ACU through its PAC endorses candidates that neither the WT or the NRA might endorse or even support. Therefore it is incumbent upon me or [anyone] else involved with multiethnic organizations to avoid mixing the roles. I have always endeavored to make certain I avoid that temptation."
Keene has presented the NRA's endorsement of Sen. Mike Simpson (ID) and personally endorsed Sens. Pat Roberts (KS) and Lamar Alexander (TN). But Keene contends his outside endorsements raise no ethical red flags because they are for candidates the Times would not endorse.
"We would not be endorsing someone to whom I had delivered an NRA endorsement in my capacity as a former NRA President and Board member," Keene stated. He added that the NRA's endorsements are made by its lobbying arm, not the organization's board, and that he had presented the NRA's endorsement to Simpson because he was "in Idaho for other reasons."
Keene's actions appear consistent with the lax standards the Times has established for him. Earlier this year, Solomon told Media Matters that Keene had been hired with the understanding that he would continue his advocacy work for the NRA but would recuse himself from editing Times pieces about that organization.
Solomon reiterated that statement in an email to Media Matters today, writing of the paper's ethics rules:
They are simple, straightforward and consistent with the best practices of journalism aimed at mitigating perceived conflicts and creating transparency. David recuses himself from editing any pieces in his department that are focused on the NRA. He is free to write about the NRA in his personal weekly column as long as he discloses to the reader in that column his continuing role with the organization. When he acts in his role as NRA board member, such as delivering the group's endorsement, he does so solely in his role as an NRA member.
Almost exactly one month ago it was rumored that the conservative Washington Times was up for sale. The speculation was almost immediately put to rest by Times' then president and publisher Jonathan Slevin:
"The Washington Times has been approached throughout its history with expressions of interest by parties interested in purchase all or part of the company," said president and publisher Jonathan Slevin. "Contrary to online reports, however, the Washington Times is not currently negotiating with any party for sale of all or part of the company."
In the month since batting down the story, Slevin had a very public parting with the Times (his contract wasn't renewed) and the Washington Post reports this morning that the Times is up for sale after all:
Washington Times executives are negotiating to sell the newspaper, after the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's family cut off most of the annual subsidy of about $35 million that has kept the Unification Church-backed paper afloat, company officials said.
Nicholas Chiaia, a member of the paper's two-man board of directors and president of the church-supported United Press International wire service, confirmed that the paper is actively on the market: "We recently entered into discussions with a number of parties interested in either purchasing or partnering with the Washington Times," he said in a statement to The Washington Post.
The negotiations follow months of turmoil at both the 28-year-old conservative daily and the business empire founded by Moon, 90, whose children are jostling for control over the church's myriad enterprises, which range from fisheries to arms manufacturing.
Howard Kurtz, the nation's most prominent media critic, rebukes a reader for being "a little outdated" in mentioning the Washington Times' tendency to use scare-quotes when writing about gay marriage:
re: "The Times says it will still do straight journalism": Does the Washington Times still put quotes around the word "marriage" when referring to legally binding marriages between members of the same sex? Because, if so, it never practiced "straight journalism."
Howard Kurtz: You're a little outdated. When John Solomon was editor, he banned some of those loaded phrases, such as homosexual marriage instead of gay marriage. Of course, he quit during the big management shakeup six weeks ago, and no replacement has been named. The managing editors, including Jeff Birnbaum, who like Solomon came from The Post, have also stepped down. So it remains to be seen who will be leading the paper.
But Howard Kurtz, the nation's most prominent media critic, is the one who is a little out-dated. Despite Solomon's edict, the Times has continued to use scare quotes, as Media Matters has documented.
TPM reported a few days ago that the Washington Times has pulled the plug on TheConservatives.com, the right-wing paper's laughably redundant effort to highlight conservative opinion:
Brian Faughnan, editor of the site, tells us the Times has officially canceled the project.
The site, rolled out in September, is no longer loading. Its Facebook page stopped updating the morning of Dec 23, as did the site's Twitter feed ("House Blue Dog: We'll Cave on Health Care, Too #tcot #right").
Amid the disintegration of the conservative daily paper, Times management said in a Dec. 2 press release that TheConservatives.com would actually be an area of focus and growth as part of a new online strategy. But the site was conspicuously absent from a news release yesterday on the latest staff departures and the Times' future.
When the Times launched TheConservatives.com back in September, it seemed to undermine claims -- by Howard Kurtz, among others -- that the paper had become more "balanced" since John Solomon took over. For his part, Solomon insisted that the Times was considering following up with a similar site for progressives.
Oh, they're being "considered"? That's just super.
If I was trying overcome my newspaper's well-established history of acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the conservative movement, I probably wouldn't start by launching a web site called TheConservatives.com and promising that later, some day, if there's time, we'll think about adding a site for progressives.
Neither did Eric Boehlert:
Just give the WashTimes a few more weeks and they'll launch its new hub of the progressive movement, TheLiberals.com. And no doubt it will be a joint venture with Center for American Progress, right? It will be the awesome-est tool ever to reinvent the left, right?
Well, actually that kind of site is merely being considered, if you want to get technical about it. But no doubt the Rev. Moon, the self-proclaimed sun of God and WashTimes owner, wants badly to become a major player in the progressive world.
Still, a month later, Solomon insisted that launch of TheProgressives.com was imminent, though the paper apparently didn't own the domain name:
"There'll be a site called www.TheProgressives.com as well," said Solomon. "We'll have it up and running in 2-3 weeks."
According to the domain registration directory WhoIs.com, the domain name was purchased by Domain Asset Holdings of Maryland on January 25, and it is up for sale. TheConservatives.com is owned by The Washington Times. Solomon did not answer a follow-up e-mail about the new site.
But TheProgressives.com never did launch, shocking exactly nobody.
The lesson in all of this is not a new one, but it is worth repeating: When right-wing news organizations like The Washington Times insist that they care about balance, they're lying.