Sebastian Gorka | Media Matters for America

Sebastian Gorka

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

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • While Israeli operatives reportedly dug up dirt on Obama officials, Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka smeared them in the media

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Two reports over the weekend revealed that Israeli operatives were hired to collect information on two former officials of President Barack Obama’s administration in order to discredit them, allegedly at the behest of the Trump administration. Simultaneously, Sebastian Gorka, who at the time was deputy assistant to the president, was repeatedly going on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to smear the same officials.

    According to reports in The Observer and The New Yorker, “people in the Trump camp” hired Israeli operatives “to find incriminating material on Obama diplomats who negotiated” the Iran deal. The two aides targeted were Ben Rhodes, a national security adviser to Obama, and Colin Kahl, who was deputy assistant to Obama. The New Yorker reported that in May and June of 2017, Rhodes’ and Kahl’s wives began receiving suspicious emails that now appear “to be part of an undercover campaign by an Israeli private-intelligence firm to discredit Obama officials.”

    At the time the Israeli operatives were allegedly trying to dig up dirt on the two officials, Gorka, then deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, was running his own smear campaign against the two with Hannity's help. Gorka repeatedly appeared on his show to vilify Rhodes and Kahl by linking them to “the deep state” and accusing them of being a danger to and jeopardizing national security.

    On May 10, 2017, Gorka claimed the “real danger” to this country is political appointees like “the Ben Rhodes of the world, the Colin Kahls.” Several days later, Gorka once again called out Rhodes and Kahl, asking, “When is it going to stop? When is the conspiracy theory insanity of the resist movement, of the Ben Rhodes, Colin Kahl nexus going to say, look, we’re not going to endanger national security anymore?” In June, Gorka once again went after the two officials, saying, “It’s people like [former United Nations Ambassador Susan] Rice, Ben Rhodes, Colin Kahl who are covering their tracks for the disastrous policies of the last eight years.”

    Gorka made similar comments on Mark Levin’s radio show in April 2017 as well as on Breitbart radio in August 2017 after he left the White House.

  • Pro-Trump media attack judge in Michael Cohen case after Sean Hannity is revealed as his client

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Agenda-driven right-wing figures and online media outlets are using their platforms to try to discredit Judge Kimba Wood, a federal judge overseeing the case of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, currently under scrutiny for possible bank fraud and wire fraud. Right-wing media started targeting Wood after she ordered Cohen to disclose the name of his anonymous legal client on the basis that there was no legal ground to withhold it; the client turned out to be Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. Far-right Twitter trolls, conservative writers, and Fox News commentators -- among others -- dug into Wood’s past, scandalized her ties to Democrats, and attacked her for training as a Playboy bunny while in law school.

    This is a familiar tactic for right-wing media figures, who regularly attempt to defame any judge with whom they disagree. Right-wing media have also launched a full-on offensive against special counsel Robert Mueller and his team’s investigation into ties between the Trump orbit and Russian officials. Here are some of the things these figures and outlets have claimed undermine Wood’s credibility:

    She trained for five days in college as a Playboy bunny

    True Pundit: “Cohen’s Judge & Stormy Daniels Have Much in Common: Playboy Bunny Judge Worked for Hugh Hefner”

    Infowars’ Jerome Corsi: Wood “worked as a Playboy Bunny at a Playboy casino in 1966.”

    She officiated George Soros’ wedding in 2013

    Infowars: “No Joke: Judge Who Forced Cohen to ID Hannity Performed Soros Wedding”

    Conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec: Sean Hannity was “doxed by Liberal Judge” who was at George Soros’ wedding.

    Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich: "On the same day that Soros-funded Media Matters announces a boycott, The judge who performed Soros' wedding names Sean Hannity as a Michael Cohen client. TOTAL COINCIDENCE."

    The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra: “The judge who ordered @SeanHannity's name to be released performed the wedding for far-left billionaire George Soros.”

    Fox News host Melissa Francis: “Kimba Wood taking time away from Michael Cohen matter to perform George Soros wedding.”

    She was considered by the Clintons for attorney general

    Conservative commentator Jeffrey Lord: Bill and Hillary Clinton “pressed to make [Wood] Attorney General.”

    FrontPage Magazine: “Judge Kimba Wood was Bill Clinton's nominee for Attorney General. But then her nomination fell apart over her employment of an illegal alien and the Playboy thing. ... It's a safe bet that Judge Kimba Wood might harbor some resentment toward Republicans."

    Fox’s Sebastian Gorka: Wood “is a Clinton confidante who was chosen by Hillary to be AG. The #DEEPstate is real.”

    Right-wing radio host Mark Simone: “Michael Cohen's bad luck was getting a judge from the Clinton administration.To give you an idea of her politics - Kimba Wood was chosen by the Clinton's to be Attorney General and she performed George Soros's wedding.”

    American Thinker: Wood “was Bill Clinton's second choice to be attorney general. … Is this amazingly great luck for the Mueller-U.S. attorney tag team or what?”

    Disclosure: George Soros made a donation to Media Matters in 2010.

  • Sebastian Gorka was hired by a far-right media outlet. He still works for Fox News.

    Gorka is a conspiratorial bigot and frequent Hannity guest

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sebastian Gorka, former Trump aide, recently-hired Fox News strategist, and frequent Hannity guest, has been hired by Canadian far-right media outlet Rebel media. Gorka is just the latest bigoted commentator to be hired by a network equally known for its hateful anti-Muslim commentary and sympathy for white supremacists. He’s also still employed by Fox News.

    On February 1, Rebel media promoted the first episode of Gorka’s new and recurring segment for the network, “The Gorka Briefing.” In the video, Gorka claimed to “untangle” various narratives about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, something he does regularly as a guest on Fox News. Just last night, Gorka appeared on Fox show Hannity, and helped host Sean Hannity further his long-standing campaign against the validity of the Russia probe when he accused former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia and the media of advancing a “false” narrative about the issue. Since August 2017, Gorka has appeared on Hannity 46 times, making him one of Hannity’s three most frequent guests, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    Gorka also briefly advised pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Coalition after he left the White House and, as The Daily Beast reported last night, was paid $40,000 for his work. The MAGA Coalition is a political group founded by “right-wing conspiracy theorists,” and was engaged in spreading the almost deadly “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that falsely accused members of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of being part of a pedophilia ring operating out of a pizza parlor.

    Aside from Gorka’s penchant for conspiracy theories, he boasts a long history of bigoted and incendiary rhetoric, aimed at Muslims in particular, and has apparent ties to a Hungarian Nazi-allied group called Vitézi Rend. He was also reportedly fired from the FBI for his “over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric” and was apparently ousted from his role in the Trump administration for partly the same reason.

    With his extreme anti-Muslim views and reported ties to a Nazi-allied group, Gorka may be a perfect match for Rebel media, an outlet that once employed someone who published a “satirical video” titled “Ten Things I Hate About Jews.” After the Canadian outlet lost several other high-profile contributors in the wake of its sympathetic coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, it is now seeking to re-establish its brand and further expand its global platform of anti-Muslim ideology.

    In addition to hiring Gorka, the outlet recently hired former Daily Mail columnist turned far-right agitator Katie Hopkins. Most recently, Hopkins was apparently banned from South Africa for fomenting racial hatred while in the country reporting for The Rebel. But she is perhaps best known for her shameless anti-Muslim rhetoric. Hopkins once called for the use of “gunships to stop migrants,” actively supported a mission to disrupt humanitarian rescues of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, and floated the idea on Fox News of putting Muslims in internment camps in the wake of the Manchester terror attack.

    Rebel media is also slated to hire extreme “Muslim reform” activist Raheel Raza, who has cheered Trump’s Muslim ban, is affiliated with SPLC-designated anti-Muslim hate groups ACT for America and The Clarion Project, and serves as a senior fellow for The Gatestone Institute, whose founder is a major funder of anti-Muslim activism.

    Despite Gorka’s long history of bigotry and, now, open affiliation with a far-right outlet, one of America’s top cable networks still considers him a trusted "strategist." Gorka’s joint employment is just the latest evidence that Fox News has no interest in distancing itself from the network’s most extreme voices.

  • Here are the right-wing media figures using the Nunes memo to attack Rosenstein and Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted on January 31 to release a memo, written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), which they claim shows partisan abuse of power on the part of the FBI to obtain a FISA warrant. The full four page text of the memo was released on February 2 and, led primarily by Fox News host Sean Hannity, right-wing media figures have used its contents to slam, discredit, and call for the firing of both special counsel Robert Mueller and U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

    Fox host Sean Hannity claimed that Mueller “never should have been appointed based on what we know tonight” and that “he needs to go, yesterday.” He also called the investigation “a witch-hunt from the very beginning” and called for charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn “to be dropped.” Hannity also declared the investigation an attempted “coup” and “an attempt to unseat an elected president” based on the memo.

    Right-wing author Ann Coulter tweeted, “Rosenstein should be fired for opposing the release of the memo.”

    Conservative radio host and frequent Fox guest Dan Bongino tweeted that Rosenstein “STILL” has a government job despite being one of the “central figures in the most significant political spying scandal in US history.”

    Tea Party Patriots tweeted, "It's time for DAG Rod Rosenstein to do his job or resign!"

    Former Trump aide and Fox News national security strategist Sebastian Gorka tweeted, "Rosenstein should be suspended from his position immeidately." 

    Frequent Fox News guest Ben Stein said Rosenstein should be "fired without question."

    Tom Fitton, frequent Fox guest and president of Judicial Watch, said Rosenstein “has some explaining to do” and that “it’s fair to ask whether he’d be fired.” Fitton also told Fox host Harris Faulkner that the probe is subject to “being called off now by the Justice Department.”

    Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett tweeted that a “source” told him Rosenstein in a meeting with Nunes “threatened to subpoena the texts and emails of Congress,” and called for Rosenstein to “resign or be fired” if true.

    Fox News host Todd Pirro asked former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski if "it's time for Rod Rosenstein to go." Lewandowski responded that Rosenstein's involvement with the FISA application "should give people in the Justice Department grave concern ... and Rod needs to answer for those questions." 

    Conservative radio host, Townhall columnist, and birther Jeff Crouere wrote, the memo showed Mueller is “investigating the wrong administration” and claimed Mueller was “compromised from the very beginning of his probe.” Crouere went on to call for an end to this “witch hunt” after the release of the “bombshell memo.”

    Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh alleged that the memo means Mueller is investigating the wrong people “on purpose,” and called the FBI's activities a “Democrat-run operation.” 

    Conservative radio host Mark Simone tweeted that Rosenstein is on the same "team" as former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit claimed Rosenstein "threatened" Nunes and House Intelligence Committee members. 

  • The big #ReleaseTheMemo flop

    The same people who loudly demanded the Nunes memo be released won’t be bothered by its underwhelming “revelations”

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After far more drama and tension than should have been necessary, the infamous House intelligence committee memo on alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI against President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was released. And it was, predictably, a hilarious and self-defeating flop, but that fact won’t discourage Trump’s most slavish acolytes from claiming the Russia “hoax” has been exposed.

    This was actually a bit sad for me. I was holding out an irrational hope that House intelligence chair Rep. Devin Nunes, in the course of his day-to-day duties of abusing the committee’s oversight role to shield the president from political damage, might have accidentally stumbled into some real FBI malfeasance. After all, the government has granted itself vast surveillance powers and shielded itself from public accountability through secrecy and classification, making it extraordinarily difficult to know if and when abuses of those powers occur.

    But, alas, the memo was a bust. It didn’t really tell us anything that hadn’t already been leaked or guessed, and it actually undermined a critical point Donald Trump and his defenders hoped the memo would bolster.

    Nunes’ document alleges that FBI investigators relied in part on a dossier compiled by ex-MI6 officer Christopher Steele to obtain a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and that the government failed to “accurately provide an accounting of the relevant facts” about the dossier when applying for and reauthorizing the warrant. Those “relevant facts” do not have anything to do with the accuracy of the information contained within the dossier, which Nunes’ memo doesn’t address.

    Rather, the memo complains that the government did not disclose the “political origins” of the dossier -- specifically the fact that Democratic groups helped fund it and that Steele himself showed “clear evidence” of bias against Trump -- when presenting its case before a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge. The memo doesn’t actually make any allegations, but it strongly implies that Justice Department officials deliberately withheld this information to illicitly obtain and reauthorize surveillance of Page.

    None of us have any way of knowing how legally significant these claims of bias would have been, however, because Nunes’ memo doesn’t lay out the government’s case against Page in any detail. Nor does it provide the name of the FISC judge who heard the evidence. In fact, it doesn’t provide any information one would need to gauge the validity of its implications. Instead, the memo strongly suggests that the Steele dossier was the critical component to the case against Page (while it conveniently omits the fact that he was on the radar of counterintelligence officials as far back as 2013).

    This is important because Trump and his defenders are heavily invested in the notion that the whole Russia investigation originated from the Steele dossier, which they loudly insist is discredited and total bunk. The memo, however, accidentally disproves that allegation. In a sloppy attempt to gild what is already an unimpressive lily, Nunes’ memo vaguely alleges bias by noting that investigators mentioned a different Trump associate, George Papadopoulos, in its warrant application for Page. “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016,” the memo notes, thus corroborating a New York Times report that the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts began with Papadopoulos, not the Steele dossier.

    But all of this is immaterial to the people who had already decided what the memo would say before they even saw it. Nunes, with allies in the conservative media, mounted an effective PR campaign around this document while it was still under wraps and advertised it as an earth-shaking and world-historic revelation of anti-Trump corruption and bias at the highest levels of government. Sean Hannity (who is denying reports that he advised Trump to approve the memo’s release) hyped the memo earlier this week by saying “this makes Watergate like stealing a Snickers bar from a drug store.” Former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka grandiloquently declared that the memo’s revelations would be “100 times bigger” than the abuses that precipitated the American Revolution.

    The memo, of course, comes nowhere close to matching that absurd hyperbole; it’s impossible to assert that the memo even points to a minor scandal at this point. So, now, these same Trump lackeys will set about to loudly exaggerating or flat-out lying about the memo’s contents so that it fits their pre-formed conclusion. It's already happening: right-wing pundits are saying the "devastating" memo undermines special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump. The same people who spent weeks loudly demanding that the memo be released won’t be bothered by what the memo actually says. All they’re interested in his how they can use it to discredit the intensifying federal investigation into the president and his associates.

  • Sebastian Gorka repeatedly bragged about how effective he and Steve Bannon would be outside the White House

    Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon: The alpha male power duo is no more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR

    Sebastian Gorka worked with Stephen Bannon at Breitbart.com both before and after his brief stint in Trump's White House. In numerous television appearances since leaving the White House, Gorka bragged that he and Bannon are “far more dangerous on the outside,” that “the alpha males are back,” and that he and "Steve" would be great at "the long game" of working outside the White House.

    Bannon has since been fired from Breitbart after reportedly suggesting that Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a group of Russians in Trump Tower was treasonous.

    Gorka was inexplicably hired as a Fox News "national security strategist" in November. He has no real expertise in foreign policy and famously has links to Hungarian neo-Nazi groups.