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Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine have steered clear of reporting on Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, but they spent significant time on a judge’s strong words for the special counsel's team
On June 14, a federal judge revoked Manafort's bail for allegedly tampering with witnesses, landing him in federal prison until his trial.
President Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News shows are all but ignoring the cascade of damning reports regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his legal troubles. Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been scrutinizing various relationships between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing to focus closely on Manafort’s business history and associates. As the legal pressure ramps up against Manafort, the president’s propagandists at Fox News have sought to distance Manafort from Trump and, through selective reporting on Manafort’s legal troubles, discredit the probe against Trump’s former campaign manager.
Since the beginning of 2018, Manafort’s legal exposure has grabbed mainstream media attention, but the topic has not managed to break through on Trump’s favorite Fox News programs. Media Matters reviewed transcripts and video of the first editions of Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine after significant reports surfaced about new developments regarding the investigations into Manafort this year. We found little to no coverage of notable turns in the multiple high-profile legal cases against Trump’s former campaign manager. But we did find extensive coverage of the strong words a judge had for the special counsel’s team.
Manafort sues Department of Justice, alleging special counsel exceeded mandate
On January 3, NPR reported that Manafort was suing the Department of Justice, alleging that “Mueller's team has ‘diverged’ from its stated focus on potential collusion with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election and instead zeroed in on Manafort for ‘unrelated, decade-old business dealings’ in Ukraine.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development.
Company tied to former Manafort business associate and Russian oligarch sues Manafort and business partner
On January 10, according to NBC News, “a company controlled and funded by” Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin and one-time business associate of Manafort’s, sued Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates for allegedly “bilk[ing] his company by taking $1.1 million in capital and paying it to themselves.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the lawsuit.
Special counsel tells judge investigation has revealed “additional criminal conduct” by Manafort
On February 16, according to Politico, the special counsel’s office submitted a court filing informing a federal judge of “additional criminal conduct that [the office has] learned since the Court’s initial bail determination” on Manafort’s federal case that “includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing specifically. Though a guest on Fox & Friends, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, briefly mentioned general “charges” against Paul Manafort, he downplayed them as “unrelated to the campaign.”
Former Trump aide Richard Gates will “plead guilty” and has agreed to “testify against Manafort”
On February 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gates, who is also a former Trump campaign aide, would “plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days” and that he “made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort.” While the Times report was unverified by other media outlets at the time, according to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report. Fox & Friends briefly mentioned it but added that Catherine Herridge, Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent, “says, as of now, no deal, and Gates is not cooperating.” Five days later, The New York Times confirmed that Gates would plead guilty “to financial fraud and lying to investigators” and “has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel inquiry.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development. Fox & Friends all but ignored the report other than airing a 15-second teaser from co-host Brian Kilmeade (who did not identify how Gates is tied to the Trump campaign) and a softball question from co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Priebus also attempted to downplay the significance of the report, claiming Gates’ and Manafort’s conduct was “independent of the Trump campaign.”
Dutch lawyer tied to Manafort business partner sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators
On April 3, according to CNN, Alex van der Zwaan, a “Dutch lawyer tied to former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates,” was “sentenced … to spend 30 days in prison and pay a $20,000 fine after he admitted to lying to” the special counsel regarding his “communications with Gates and a person with Russian intelligence ties.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity briefly mentioned the sentencing, downplaying it as having “nothing to do with Russia collusion,” and saying, “In reality, it looks like a giant waste of your money.” Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the sentencing, which was the first in the special counsel’s investigation. Fox & Friends twice mentioned the development in passing while attempting to downplay its significance, once saying the sentencing is “unrelated” to Trump and Russia.
Special counsel obtains seven new search warrants against Manafort
On April 5, CBS News reported that prosecutors on the special counsel’s team “revealed in court filings ... that they had obtained on March 9 seven new search warrants against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort” for “various properties” including “a storage unit, bank accounts, email addresses and devices.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.
Federal judge rejects attempt to get Manafort case dismissed
On May 15, according to Politico, a federal judge “rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort … to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was flawed.” The judge wrote that “given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest” for U.S. law enforcement. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the judge’s decision.
Manafort’s former son-in-law cuts plea deal, will testify against Manafort
On May 17, Reuters reported that Manafort’s former son-in-law and “business partner” Jeffrey Yohai “cut a plea deal with the Justice Department” requiring him “to cooperate” with the special counsel’s prosecutors. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.
Special counsel accuses Manafort of attempting to tamper with witnesses
On June 4, according to The New York Times, “federal prosecutors ... accused President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in his federal tax and money laundering case,” with one witness telling the FBI “that Mr. Manafort was trying to ‘suborn perjury.’” Yet again, according to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing, even though the charges leveled against Trump’s former campaign manager can mean up to 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty.
Special counsel unseals additional charges against Manafort, Russian business associate
On June 8, according to NPR, the special counsel’s office “unsealed more charges” against Manafort, alleging “that a Russian partner of Manafort's, Konstantin Kilimnik, helped him try to persuade witnesses to lie to the jury when Manafort's case comes to trial in Washington, D.C., this autumn.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the additional round of charges against the president’s former campaign manager.
On May 4, according to The Washington Post, “a federal judge in Virginia ... sharply questioned the motivations of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s fraud prosecution of President Trump’s former campaign manager.” According to the report, Judge T.S. Ellis III told prosecutors on Mueller’s team, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered the judge’s rebuke of the Mueller team extensively.
On the May 4 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity spent a total of 14 minutes and 46 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ comments, calling his remarks the “single biggest beatdown I have ever seen in my life by a judge.” The nearly 15 minutes Hannity devoted to Ellis’ comments were significantly more than the time he spent covering any development in the various cases against Manafort in 2018 combined, which totaled about 1 minute and 57 seconds.
On the May 5 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine, host Jeanine Pirro spent a total of 15 minutes and 27 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ remarks. In contrast, Pirro did not mention any of the other stories regarding Manafort's legal troubles in 2018.
On the May 7 edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts devoted 11 minutes and 5 seconds to Judge Ellis’ comments over three hours of airtime. Fox & Friends spent a total of 2 minutes and 43 seconds on the other turns in the various cases against Manafort, and during those reports the hosts usually downplayed the events as “unrelated” to Russia or “independent from the Trump campaign.”
Given Manafort’s past and the people he has been willing to associate with professionally, it is no wonder Fox News’ chief Trump propagandists have attempted to distance the president from him. According to The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, Manafort’s career was built on lobbying on behalf of “dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among others.” Manafort’s experience representing repressive regimes eventually landed him a job in Ukraine, assisting the “former gangsters,” as Foer wrote, in the Party of Regions in improving their image domestically, eventually guiding pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to presidential victory in 2010.
Fox News’ efforts to bury Manafort’s legal exposure seem to be having an impact. According to a recent survey conducted by Navigator Research, 59 percent of Americans are not aware that the special counsel’s investigation has uncovered any crimes, even though Mueller has amassed five guilty pleas and numerous indictments. Should the special counsel’s investigation turn up evidence that supports allegations of a criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and foreign actors, Manafort would surely be implicated as a key player.
Suppressing reports regarding (arguably) the most corrupt member of Trump’s campaign team -- and following Fox’s usual playbook of downplaying and ignoring other consequential reporting on the special counsel’s investigation -- appears to be part of the network’s larger strategy to pre-emptively downplay any possible findings that could implicate the president and his campaign.
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While Trump was watching, they found time to hype another attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation
President Donald Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends completely ignored a new indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. Instead, the show devoted time to a Republican effort to discredit the Mueller investigation.
Manafort and Gates were indicted on February 22 for a combined 32 counts, for allegedly committing tax, financial, and bank fraud, with Manafort allegedly laundering up to $30 million with Gates’ help. These charges are in addition to the previous charges filed against them on October 30.
On February 23, Fox & Friends failed to mention the new indictment, a Media Matters’ search of SnapStream closed captioning revealed. The show did, however, find time to give a platform to two pro-Trump Republican congressmen to promote “phase two of their investigation” attacking the Christopher Steele dossier -- an investigation which is widely seen as an effort to discredit Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign assisted Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Fox & Friends, which Trump habitually watches and engages with over Twitter (including today), has a recorded history of downplaying or simply ignoring negative stories about Trump and those close to him. On January 30, the show failed to cover Trump’s refusal to enact sanctions on Russia related to the country’s interference in U.S. elections (the deadline to do so was January 29). The show also ignored three separate breaking news stories about the Russia investigation on February 1, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s alleged history of domestic abuse on February 8, and that the Trump White House first learned of allegations against Porter a year prior to the media reports. Additionally, Fox & Friends covered the first October 30 indictment against Manafort and Gates far less than its CNN and MSNBC competitors.
In the aftermath of the Flynn plea, Fox News’ attacks on Robert Mueller have become completely unhinged
Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
Fox News’ prime-time block of programming these days is extremely dark. The network’s evening hosts have been in a highly agitated state, filling the airwaves with grave warnings about totalitarianism, covert subversion by anti-democratic forces, and midnight raids on the quiet homes of unsuspecting citizens. This churning miasma of corruption and menace is sourced to a single nefarious person whose scheming -- if left unchecked -- could undermine civil society and pose a threat to the very fabric of American democracy itself.
That person is special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller has never been the most popular person at Fox News given that he’s busily investigating Donald Trump, whom the network treats less as a president and more as a living sun god. Fox’s biggest names have been working to discredit Mueller and calling for his head for months. (A Media Matters study found that Sean Hannity had called for Mueller to resign or be fired 40 times between May and the beginning of November.) But ever since news broke that Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn had cut a deal with the special counsel and pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, the level of anti-Mueller histrionics at Fox has spiked as the network’s hosts and contributors paint Mueller and his investigation as existential threats to the country.
Sean Hannity kicked off his December 6 show by ripping into “Robert Mueller's partisan extremely biased hyper-partisan attack team.” To Hannity, the fact that Mueller (a registered Republican as of several years ago) hired investigators who donated to Democratic campaigns meant that “Robert Mueller has assembled the most partisan special counsel in history. Now, they are in utter disgrace in terms of equal justice under the law.” Per Hannity, Mueller and his team “now pose a direct threat to you, the American people and our American republic.”
Then Hannity turned to Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett, who piled on the hysterics. “I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt,” he said, referring to Mueller’s dismissal of investigator Peter Strzok, who had sent text messages in 2016 mocking Trump. “Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America's secret police,” Jarrett added, explaining that it has become “like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night, banging through your door.”
Hannity was in complete agreement. “This is not a game. This is not hyperbole you are using here,” he said of Jarrett’s obvious hyperbole. “Ask Paul Manafort,” Jarrett replied. “They came for him and broke through his front door.” Hannity was shocked. “If it can happen to him, Gregg …” Jarrett finished the thought. “It can happen to all of us. Absolutely. The FBI is a shadow government now.”
Pardon me while I get a change of pants.
This is all quite insane. When Paul Manafort, the onetime Trump campaign chairman and shadowy millionaire lobbyist who is wrapped up in off-the-book Ukrainian financial deals, is your avatar of the persecuted everyman, you’re playing a desperate and losing hand.
As for the KGB nonsense, it is true that the FBI conducted a no-knock raid on Manafort and subsequently arrested him after a grand jury returned indictments for conspiracy and money laundering. But doing things like obtaining warrants and presenting evidence to a grand jury are precisely what secret police forces -- KGB and otherwise -- don’t do. The whole point of a “secret police” is to obviate due process, and by all indications the arrest of Paul Manafort was by the book.
Later the same evening, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich appeared on Laura Ingraham’s program and started howling about the threat Mueller poses to America itself. “Mueller is corrupt, the senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt and until you get back up and say -- realize how really truly corrupt this is, there's a sickness here,” Gingrich said. “I think it is frightening,” he added. “If you believe in the rule of law and you believe in America, what we are learning is genuinely frightening.”
On December 4, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs went the extra mile, slamming Mueller as a partisan hack but also calling for him to be prosecuted for unspecified “crimes” against Trump. “A call for the firing of Robert Mueller no longer really truly satisfies any call for accountability,” Dobbs said. “Strzok and Mueller and Comey, in my judgment, should be the subjects of criminal investigations and held fully accountable for crimes against a sitting president and the voters who supported them. Just one man's opinion.”
All this overwrought talk of the KGB and threats to democracy made a compelling show for Fox News’ core audience of angry seniors. My suspicion is that the message is intended for one specific angry senior who is known to be a devoted Fox viewer: Donald Trump.
As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote in October, there exists “a vast, multi-tentacled, largely-fictional alternate media reality that casts large swaths of our government as irredeemably corrupt -- with the explicitly declared purpose of laying the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe, should he deem either necessary.” In the aftermath of the Flynn bargain, Hannity, Jarrett, and pals are putting in extra work to frame Mueller and his investigation as over-the-top threats to the country and Trump’s presidency that must be eliminated. That’s a message Trump wants to hear, and everyone knows he’s watching.
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In response to the news that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted for, among other things, money laundering and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, Trump tweeted a Fox News talking point that Manafort’s alleged criminal activity occurred before he joined the campaign. But the first page of the indictment states that in an attempt to hide payments he received from Ukraine, Manafort was laundering money at least through the election year; Manafort served as Trump’s campaign manager between March and August 2016.
The first page of the indictment reads (emphasis added):
MANAFORT and GATES generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work. In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, MANAFORT and GATES laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.
Trump falsely claimed on Twitter that Manafort’s alleged criminal actions didn’t occur during his time with the campaign:
Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
Fox News had repeated this false talking point several times prior to Trump’s tweet. On Fox & Friends earlier this morning, co-host Steve Doocy commented that Manafort had “some suspicious wire transfers back in 2012, 2013, many years before he joined Trump.” Doocy later seemed to suggest the White House adopt the talking point that Trump eventually tweeted: “But ultimately, I would imagine the people in the White House are going to start talking later today about, ‘Well, if that's all they've got, something -- the guy who ran the campaign last year, something he did 5, 10 years earlier, we're OK.’”
It’s been well documented that Trump regularly watches Fox’s morning programming. Even this morning, before details of Manafort’s indictment were reported, Trump tweeted his thanks to a guest on Fox & Friends for his performance on the show.
The same talking point was repeated later on Fox News, before Trump’s tweet. On America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor Byron York said, “These are all alleged crimes that, if they took place, took place years before he joined the Trump campaign.” A few minutes later, Fox guest David Hoppe said the indictment “is for things that happened well before Paul Manafort was ever involved with the Trump campaign.”
Some Fox personalities also shared this talking point on Twitter prior to Trump’s tweet:
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) October 30, 2017
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) October 30, 2017
Here’s the Manafort indictment. Charges appear to predate Trump campaign, which is never mentioned in it. https://t.co/5oIwjcAdLG
— Brit Hume (@brithume) October 30, 2017
Fox & Friends devoted less than 20 minutes to the news that special counsel Robert Mueller was filing charges against two of President Donald Trump’s top campaign aides, while other cable news morning shows spent over an hour on the story this morning.
On October 30, a federal grand jury indicted Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chief, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business associate who also served as his deputy on the Trump campaign, as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The indictment includes 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal. The Daily Beast called the indictments “stunning.”
After the news of the indictment came out shortly before 8 a.m., MSNBC’s Morning Joe and CNN’s New Day stayed on the story until their respective shows ended at 9 a.m. Fox News’ Fox & Friends, on the other hand, devoted only 18 minutes and 48 seconds to the story in the same time period.
This is hardly the first time Fox News has attempted to downplay or mislead about the Russia probe. Fox has also tried to deflect attention by scandalizing innocuous stories, such as attempting to link former President Barack Obama to the dossier about Trump’s relationship with Russia or repeatedly covering the debunked story involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a Russian uranium company.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of the world “Manafort” on the October 30 editions of CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox News’ Fox & Friends. We timed the mentions if they were part of a significant discussion of the indictments, with “significant discussion” defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people on the indictment, a packaged report where the indictment was the stated topic of discussion, or a host monologue where the indictment was the stated topic of discussion.
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Right-wing and fringe media are claiming yet again that President Donald Trump was correct when he accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping in Trump Tower, now arguing that a legal wiretap targeted at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is proof of Trump’s claim. However, said wiretap was pursuant to a warrant and targeted at Manafort, not Trump. This is at least the fifth time in six months right-wing media has attempted to validate Trump’s lie.
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