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Michael Flynn

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  • Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn’s new attorney, is an anti-Mueller conspiracy theorist and Fox regular

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump praised former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s decision to replace his legal team with Sidney Powell, a conservative attorney, conspiracy theorist, and harsh critic of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe who has made dozens of appearances on Fox News and Fox Business in recent years.

    “General Michael Flynn, the 33 year war hero who has served with distinction, has not retained a good lawyer, he has retained a GREAT LAWYER, Sidney Powell,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “Best Wishes and Good Luck to them both!”

    After pleading guilty to charges of lying to the FBI in December 2017, Flynn began cooperating with Mueller’s team. Last week, he fired his legal team, a move that “triggered speculation in legal and political circles that he’s considering backing out of his plea deal with the government in a play for a presidential pardon,” according to Politico.

    Powell’s hiring should bolster that conjecture. She is a former federal prosecutor who specializes in federal appeals in commercial litigation, but has carved out a sideline as a Fox pundit. According to her website, “Sidney the Media Figure is highly sought to comment on current legal issues and government investigations—especially the special investigation lead by Robert Mueller and his chief lieutenant Andrew Weissmann,” who the site describes as the “true villain” of her 2014 book, Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice.

    Indeed, Powell is one of a handful of lawyers that Fox’s pro-Trump hosts have relied upon to put a legal gloss on their alternative narrative that Mueller’s investigation was the result of an illegal anti-Trump conspiracy by the “deep state.” She has used Fox’s platform to claim the probe “was set up, basically, to impugn this presidency and to make it as hard as possible for Mr. Trump to carry out his duties” and to describe investigators as “creeps on a mission to destabilize and destroy this president.”

    While Powell has a lower profile than more regular legal commentators like Alan Dershowitz or Victoria Toensing, the former federal prosecutor has still made more than two dozen appearances on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show, and at least nine additional weekday interviews on Fox News, since January 2018.

    Powell has an extremely active presence on Twitter, where she has argued that Flynn’s prosecution is a “horrific injustice” and that Mueller’s team engaged in “obstruction” by “hiding evidence that exonerates him.” As part of a pattern of frequently amplifying conspiratorial rants about the Mueller probe, Powell has also repeatedly retweeted major accounts that promote the QAnon conspiracy theory and shared articles from Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory website, Infowars (in October 2017, Powell was also interviewed by then-Infowars Washington bureau chief Jerome Corsi.).

    Powell’s conspiratorial Twitter musings are not limited to the Mueller probe. She has repeatedly tweeted about George Soros, the Jewish billionaire philanthropist who is regularly targeted with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In December, she accused the Federal Reserve of deliberately trying to “#crash the market” as part of a deliberate plot to destroy Trump “and enrich #Soros & themselves. #Soros has done it before.”

    She has also tweeted that “#Islam is only ‘religion’ of which I am aware that seeks to destroy others & would disenfranchise > 1/2 world population.”

    Powell’s website sells T-shirts describing Mueller and six other key law enforcement figures in the case as “Creeps on a Mission.” The shirt is “a great gift for those who know the Mueller investigation of the President is its own crime,” according to the website.

    One of Powell’s “other websites” is CreepsOnAMission.com, which breaks down the iconography of the shirt and provides capsule descriptions of the purported malfeasance of the people it depicts. It also embeds clips on that theme from the Fox shows of Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, claims “Mueller and his Hillary favored henchmen” are trying “to ensnare anyone he can reach within the circle of President Trump,” and urges readers to “Support President Trump & Our Mission” by wearing the shirt “to show your support for President Trump & The Rule of Law!”

    Hannity frequently cites Powell’s book for its harsh criticism of Weissmann, a veteran federal prosecutor and former general counsel at the FBI who became a key member of Mueller’s team.

    On Wednesday, Hannity praised Flynn’s hiring of Powell, arguing that a “change of course certainly looks imminent” for Flynn because “Powell said 16 months ago he should withdraw” his guilty plea.

    Indeed, in a February 2018 op-ed for The Daily Caller, Powell wrote that Flynn should withdraw his plea because the newly appointed judge in his case, Emmet G. Sullivan, was likely to dismiss the charges against him. (Powell was one of a series of Flynn defenders who misinterpreted one of Sullivan’s orders to speculate that the judge believed Flynn might have been the victim of prosecutorial misconduct.)

    In another op-ed published shortly before Flynn’s sentencing hearing in December, Powell claimed that Mueller had obstructed justice by supposedly destroying or suppressing evidence he was required to provide to Flynn’s legal team. On Fox, she speculated that because of this, Sullivan would “throw the entire prosecution of Gen. Flynn out for egregious prosecutorial misconduct.”

    Instead, at the hearing, the judge rejected the notion that Flynn had been mistreated by investigators, blasted Flynn himself, and convinced him to delay sentencing and continue working with Mueller’s team rather than risk jail time.

    After signing on as Flynn’s lawyer, Powell said in a statement that Flynn “will continue to cooperate with the government in all matters.” But Fox commentator Sara Carter, whose slanted reporting from pro-Trump sources helps fuel the Fox counternarrative on Mueller, said on Hannity’s program that Powell also stressed to her in an interview that “it would take about 90 days to get through [Flynn’s] file,” which could delay any sentencing and leave open the possibility that he could withdraw his plea.

    Fox’s pro-Trump commentators have been urging Flynn to withdraw his plea since he pleaded guilty in the first place. They have also been calling on the president to pardon Flynn and other purported “victims” of Mueller’s investigation -- a notion Trump’s team has reportedly entertained.  

    If Trump does ultimately pardon Flynn, the former national security adviser would be only the latest recipient in a series of clemency decisions influenced by the network.

  • Fox wants President Trump to pardon Robert Mueller’s “victims”

    The Trump propaganda network’s clemency list includes Stone, Flynn, and Papadopoulos

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In President Donald Trump's first interview since the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked the president whether he would consider pardoning campaign aides who pleaded guilty or were found guilty of crimes as part of the probe. The president demurred, saying that “many, many people were hurt, incredibly hurt by this whole scam,” but he doesn’t “want to talk about pardons now.”

    After spending years undermining Mueller’s probe even as the special counsel obtained guilty pleas and verdicts against several top Trump campaign advisers, Fox personalities like Hannity have responded to the conclusion of the investigation last week by calling for pardons for Mueller’s so-called “victims.”

    The network’s hosts have been particularly interested in obtaining pardons for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos, who both pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, and for Trump confidant Roger Stone, who has been indicted on seven counts including lying to Congress and witness tampering.

    These calls may end up having an impact -- Trump regularly watches Fox and has previously issued pardons in response to the network’s programming.

    Tucker Carlson has led the way, pushing for pardons on three different broadcasts of his show in the last week, particularly for Stone. Trump reportedly loves Carlson’s show and watches it regularly, and he often tweets about Carlson segments that catch his attention.

    During Wednesday night’s show, just minutes before the president’s live interview on Hannity, former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo concluded an interview by saying, “I just want to say one thing, Tucker: Pardon General Flynn, pardon George Papadopoulos, and pardon Roger Stone right now, Mr. President.”

    “Immediately,” Carlson replied. “That's exactly right. I couldn’t agree with -- don't wait until after the election, do it now. They deserve it now. Thank you.”

    “Do it right now on Twitter,” Caputo responded.

    “I agree! I agree!” Carlson said.

    “Where are the pardons here? Carlson asked retired CIA officer John Kiriakou after mentioning Stone on Tuesday’s broadcast. “I mean, is it time for the executive branch to send a really clear message we're going to stop the destruction of innocent people by completely out of control bureaucrats?”

    “I think it is the time for pardons,” Kiriakou replied.

    Carlson later added that “it doesn't make sense not to pardon people” and said Trump has an “obligation” to do so since the Mueller probe was “a scam and a hoax.”

    And on Friday, Carlson argued that “there was no collusion,” but “Stone is still looking at life in prison.” Carlson asked, “Where is Roger Stone's pardon? His pardon from the president? Let's hope it comes very soon.”

    Later in the program, Carlson asked Ed Henry, who is both Fox News’ chief national correspondent and a co-host of Fox & Friends’ weekend editions, whether Henry had heard that the president was considering a pardon for Stone. Henry replied that he had not, but that “based on the conversations I have had,” he thinks “it is entirely possible that you could see [former Trump campaign chair Paul] Manafort, Stone, and others pardoned.”

    While Carlson has been the loudest Fox voice urging Trump to issue pardons, he is not the only one. On Tuesday, Papadopoulos announced that his lawyers had formally requested a pardon from the president, triggering debate on several of the network’s programs.

    Fox’s Steve Hilton told Special Report guest host John Roberts that he would recommend Trump issue the pardon to ensure “fairness and equal justice.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told Fox’s Neil Cavuto that the president should instead pardon Flynn, whose investigation Paul claimed had been “unfair.” And Fox Business’ Stuart Varney said that he expected pardons for both to be granted.

    On Tuesday night, Papadopoulos was able to make his pitch to the president directly through a friendly interview with Fox’s Martha MacCallum.

    “Do you think you’re going to get a pardon from President Trump?” MacCallum asked, after credulously allowing Papadopoulos to tell his story of purportedly being “set up.”

    “I have no idea. I have no expectation for it,” he replied. “I know my lawyers have formally applied for one and if I'm granted one it would be a tremendous honor, and of course I would accept.”

    “You already spent 12 days in federal prison, which I'm sure was not a picnic,” MacCallum responded. “But you'd like to have that off your record.”

    If Trump is heeding the messages he’s been getting from Fox, Papadopoulos may get his wish.

  • Fox & Friends barely covers Michael Flynn’s first sentencing hearing

    Flynn’s admission that he was not entrapped by FBI investigators annihilated a popular right-wing talking point

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan tore into President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn in a Washington, D.C., courtroom on December 18 and all but destroyed nearly a week’s worth of right-wing talking points in the process, but viewers wouldn’t know it from watching Fox & Friends. According to a Media Matters review of the December 19 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News’ flagship morning program only briefly mentioned Flynn’s sentencing hearing to attack the judge in the case during three hours of programming.

    A popular right-wing talking point pushed extensively on Fox News has argued that Flynn was entrapped by the FBI when they questioned him in January 2017, and that the actions for which he was in legal trouble were minor and overblown. But according to a CNN report on the sentencing hearing, “the judge threw a series of questions at him that highlighted how unusual Flynn's case is and how consequential his actions may be.” Later in the hearing, according to ABC News, Sullivan asked “if Flynn believed he had been entrapped by the FBI,” but “his attorneys replied ‘no your honor.’” Though Sullivan eventually decided to postpone the sentencing hearing, he did so only after shredding Flynn’s defense and mulling the prospect of ignoring the prosecution’s sentencing suggestion that Flynn receive no jail time as a result of his cooperation.

    A Media Matters review found Fox & Friends covered Flynn’s devastating first sentencing hearing, which thoroughly debunked their main talking point, for less than five minutes in its three hour program. Aside from a brief mention of the sentencing hearing during an interview with counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s favorite morning propaganda program only discussed Flynn in one segment with Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich; in each discussion, which lasted a combined 4 minutes and 35 seconds, the hosts and guests used their platform to downplay the severity of Flynn’s guilty pleas and to attack Sullivan -- the same judge that Trump’s propagandists praised just days earlier. Most of the discussion focused on attacking the judge, saying Sullivan went “off the deep end” and accusing him of “winging it.”

    Fox & Friends has dutifully played its public relations role for the Trump White House for nearly two years, and it continues fighting that losing battle even in the face of Flynn’s sentencing hearing -- just like it has with nearly every other damning report about the conduct of the Trump campaign, transition, and administration.