Conservative Media Run With Wall Street Journal's Nothingburger Of A Clinton Pseudo-Scandal

Conservative Media Run With Wall Street Journal's Nothingburger Of A Clinton Pseudo-Scandal

››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

Right-wing media are hyping a Wall Street Journal article that attempts to scandalize the FBI’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email use by tying political donations made by Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to a 2015 state senate candidate whose husband later became involved in the FBI investigation. Journalists mocked and poked holes in the “embarrassing” story that has “literally nothing” to it. 

WSJ Attempts To Scandalize FBI Investigation Into Clinton’s Emails By Hyping Unrelated Political Donations

Wall Street Journal Hypes Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Donations To State Senate Candidate With Indirect Ties To Clinton. The Wall Street Journal attempted to scandalize the FBI investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails by tying political donations made by Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s political action committee to the wife of an FBI official. The Journal reported on October 23 that McAuliffe “gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use.” The article notes that the FBI official’s “supervision of the Clinton email case in 2016 wasn’t seen as a conflict or an ethics issue because his wife’s campaign was over by” the time of the investigation:

The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use.

Campaign finance records show Mr. McAuliffe’s political-action committee donated $467,500 to the 2015 state Senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, who is married to Andrew McCabe, now the deputy director of the FBI.

[...]

The FBI said in a statement that during his wife’s campaign Mr. McCabe “played no role, attended no events, and did not participate in fundraising or support of any kind. Months after the completion of her campaign, then-Associate Deputy Director McCabe was promoted to Deputy, where, in that position, he assumed for the first time, an oversight role in the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails."

FBI officials said that after that meeting with the governor in Richmond on March 7, Mr. McCabe sought ethics advice from the bureau and followed it, avoiding involvement with public corruption cases in Virginia, and avoiding any campaign activity or events.

Mr. McCabe’s supervision of the Clinton email case in 2016 wasn’t seen as a conflict or an ethics issue because his wife’s campaign was over by then and Mr. McAuliffe wasn’t part of the email probe, officials said. [The Wall Street Journal, 10/23/16]

Trump Campaign Press Release Calls WSJ Story “Deeply Disturbing” And Says It “Calls Into Question The Entire [FBI] Investigation.” Jason Miller, a senior communications adviser for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, wrote in an October 24 campaign press release that the Journal story is “deeply disturbing and calls into question the entire investigation. The fact that this was allowed to occur shows either outright negligent behavior by the FBI or a level of corruption that is beyond belief.” [DonaldJTrump.com, 10/24/16]

Journalists Deride “Embarrassing” Article That Has “Nothing” To It

Mother Jones: “There’s Not A Single Bit Of This That’s Illegal, Unethical, Or Even The Tiniest Bit Wrong.” Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum wrote that the Journal article is “intended to make you think there's yet more fishiness in the Clinton family,” but instead, “There's literally nothing here. Not ‘nothing substantial.’ Not ‘nothing that other politicians don't do.’ Literally nothing.” Drum notes that the timeline of the donations and Mr. McCabe’s promotion do not align with any suggestion of impropriety, saying McAuliffe “would have needed a time machine” to have known when he gave the donations that McCabe would be promoted. And he writes that the story relies solely on having found a connection between Clinton and one of the hundreds of people involved in the FBI investigation. From the October 24 Mother Jones article (emphasis original):

The Wall Street Journal headline on the right describes the latest pseudo-scandal in Hillaryland, and it's obviously intended to make you think there's yet more fishiness in the Clinton family. In a nutshell, here's the story:

  • In early 2015, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe recruited Dr. Jill McCabe to run for state Senate.
  • Various organizations under McAuliffe's control donated lots of money to her campaign.
  • She lost.
  • Several months later, McCabe's husband was promoted to deputy director of the FBI. Because of that promotion, he "helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use." This was presumably in addition to the hundreds of other things that a deputy director has oversight responsibility for.

There's literally nothing here. Not "nothing substantial." Not "nothing that other politicians don't do." Literally nothing. There's not a single bit of this that's illegal, unethical, or even the tiniest bit wrong. It's totally above board and perfectly kosher. And even if there were anything wrong, McAuliffe would have needed a time machine to know it. [Mother Jones, 10/24/16]

Wash. Post: This Story “May Be Less Than It Appears.” The Washington Post’s Gregory Schneider wrote that the WSJ story “may be less than it appears,” both because “the timing is complicated if you’re trying to prove a Clinton email connection” and because “McAuliffe’s support of Jill McCabe was part of a much broader effort at the time to try to win back a Democratic majority in the state Senate.” Schneider noted that Mr. McCabe “followed agency protocol and consulted with headquarters and with field office ethics authorities,” and that according to a McAuliffe spokesman, “the governor would’ve had to have a time machine to know all the connections that would develop.” From the October 24 Washington Post article:

[T]his one may be less than it appears. State Republican officials, tellingly, are keeping a low profile, with little comment or tweeting to be found — though the state party said Monday afternoon that it was filing a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of McAuliffe emails related to McCabe.

Part of the reason is that McAuliffe’s support of Jill McCabe was part of a much broader effort at the time to try to win back a Democratic majority in the state Senate — an effort that ultimately fell one seat short.

McAuliffe’s PAC, Common Good VA, was spreading money to many candidates, as was the state Democratic Party. McCabe was not the top beneficiary; Common Good VA gave $792,000 to state Senate candidate Jeremy McPike and $770,000 to Dan Gecker, as well as lesser amounts to a host of other office-seekers.

In addition, the timing is complicated if you’re trying to prove a Clinton email connection. McAuliffe and other state Democrats — led by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who, like Jill McCabe, is a physician — recruited her to run for office in March 2015. At the time, her husband worked in the FBI’s Washington field office. Revelations about Clinton’s emails came to light that month, but there was no publicly known investigation.

According to the FBI, Andrew McCabe followed agency protocol and consulted with headquarters and with field office ethics authorities as soon as his wife considered running. [The Washington Post, 10/24/16]

MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki: The WSJ Article’s Headline “Might Be Rough, But When You Put The Context Out There, It’s Different.” MSNBC host Steve Kornacki grilled Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway when she tried scandalizing the WSJ story, asking her, “what is the scandal here?” Kornacki explained that when you “put it in a headline, it might be rough, but when you put the context out there, it's different.” From the October 24 edition of MSNBC Live with Steve Kornacki:

STEVE KORNACKI (HOST): OK, wait, let's -- if we're going to talk about that story, hey -- if we're going to talk about that story, let's introduce all of the facts, and then let's talk about it.

Because the story here, for the people who didn't see this, is that there was a candidate for the state senate in Virginia back in 2015, and that candidate was given money by a political action committee that's controlled by Terry McAuliffe, who was the governor of Virginia. That candidate's spouse had a position at the time in this campaign with the FBI, but that position had no oversight role in the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. It was not until after the campaign was over that that individual was promoted into a position of some authority, of some responsibility for this.

So, are you -- are you suggesting here that essentially they went -- there was sort of foresight on the part of the Clinton campaign to enlist Terry McAuliffe, to ask a political action committee to give money to a candidate whose spouse would months later be placed into a position of partial responsibility over an investigation that at the start of that campaign hadn't even begun?

CONWAY: At least I got you to spend two or two and a half minutes on it, that we otherwise wouldn't have --

KORNACKI: OK, so yeah, I just explained it. What happened? It sounds sinister the way you phrased it, I took you through my understanding of it, what happened there that was so wrong?

CONWAY: Let the people decide, Steve. That's my whole point, give people the information and let them decide whether they think there's something sinister --

KORNACKI: I just did. You said it's a big story? I'm asking you why it's a big story, because everything I just ran through doesn't sound like too big of a story to me. It sounds like something if you put it in a headline, it might be rough, but when you put the context out there, it's different. So, I'm asking you, what is the scandal there?

CONWAY: And Attorney General Loretta lynch and President Bill Clinton speaking on a tarmac for 39 minutes about the grandchildren, somehow that's -- you know, people have not concluded what they think they were really talking about. [MSNBC, MSNBC Live with Steve Kornacki, 10/24/16]

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias: “The Charge Is That The Democratic Governor Of Virginia Tried To Help A Democrat Running For Virginia Legislature?”

[Twitter, 10/23/16]

Mic’s Emily Cahn: “It’s Just Really Embarrassing For The @WSJ That They Put That McAuliffe Story On The [Front Page].”

[Twitter, 10/24/16]

Wash. Post’s David Weigel: The Story “Definitely Raises Questions, Such As: When Did The Clinton’s Obtain A Time Machine?”

[Twitter, 10/24/16]

Right-Wing Media Hype The Story As Evidence Of “Impropriety” Anyway

Fox Contributor Karl Rove: “It Does Have The Appearance Of Impropriety.” Fox contributor Karl Rove hyped the story for having an “appearance of impropriety,” and after running through the timeline of events outlined in the Journal article, he said that “all kinds of questions, right or wrong, all kind of suspicion, justified or unjustified, all kind of allegations, backed or not backed, are going to arise about [McCabe’s] involvement in the handling of this affair.” Rove said McCabe should have recused himself from the FBI investigation. From the October 24 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): New revelations about the Clinton investigation by the FBI. Federal records revealing a super PAC tied to longtime Clinton ally Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe donated half a million dollars to the 2015 campaign of Jill McCabe. She was running for Virginia state senate at the time. Her husband, Andrew, was later promoted to deputy director of the FBI, and he would eventually help oversee the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Karl Rove, former White House deputy director for President Bush, and a Fox News contributor. Karl, good morning to you. There's a lot to follow here. Let's try and keep it as simple as possible here. Does this smell, in your view?

KARL ROVE: It does have the appearance of impropriety. Look, let's walk through the chronology. March of 2015, Jill McCabe and her husband, Andrew McCabe, an FBI official, then the director of the D.C. office, field office, visit with Terry McAuliffe, governor of Virginia, who encourages her to run for senate, pledges that he'll back her if she does. She shortly thereafter becomes a candidate for the state senate in that year's state senate election. Really important to McAuliffe. He wants control of the state senate in order to move his agenda. This is also the same month when it is revealed to the country that Hillary Clinton has had a private email server in her house in Chappaqua, New York, through which she handled all of her email while she was secretary of state. By July, there's an investigation underway, and McCabe, as the D.C. field office director, is supplying support and personnel for that investigation. By the end of the month, he's promoted and made the number three official at the Department of Justice. And shortly after the first of the year, 2016, becomes the number two official and is a member of the executive management team of the FBI overseeing this investigation. Now, it strikes me that he should have said to himself, “You know what? Terry McAuliffe gave my wife a third of the money that she had for her campaign either directly from the super PAC that he controlled or from the Democratic Party of Virginia, which he ran.” And I think he should have said to himself, "You know what? I really need to recuse myself from any involvement in this matter. McAuliffe is a close ally of Hillary Clinton. I don't know whether he's involved in this or not, but out of an abundance of caution, let somebody else supervise this part. I will recuse myself from any management, executive management duties of supervising this."

HEMMER: Let me ask you a basic question. She lost her election, right?

ROVE: Yeah. Lost in November of 2015.

HEMMER: This is a state senate seat. One and a half million dollars? I don't know how these campaigns run, but it seems like a lot of money. Is it?

ROVE: Well, $1.8 million and, yes, it's a lot of money. Now, this was -- remember, this is critical for McAuliffe's success. I think the Democrats were down by one seat in the state senate. He was trying to flip the chamber so that his agenda would have a better chance. But look, the onus is not on McAuliffe. He's out there trying to win a state senate seat, trying to win control of the state senate. The onus is on the FBI official, Andrew McCabe, who should have been sensitive, in my opinion, to these things. And because he wasn't, now all kinds of questions, right or wrong, all kind of suspicion, justified or unjustified, all kind of allegations, backed or not backed, are going to arise about his involvement in the handling of this affair. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 10/24/16]

Fox’s Andrew Napolitano: “The Appearance Of Impropriety Here Is Profound”; Looks Like Mr. McCabe’s “Decisions Would Be Colored” By McAuliffe’s Donations. Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped the donations for their “appearance of impropriety” and suggested that the donations make it look “look like [Mr. McCabe’s] decisions would be colored by his wishes to please the people that are behind the person who gave this money to his wife.” John Sununu, who served as White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush, said the “unbelievable” donations are “another defining example of the culture of corruption that the Clintons have brought to the Democratic Party.” From the October 24 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: Well, no, [the donations are] not against the law. Under Virginia law, Governor McAuliffe can make contributions of that magnitude from a variety of entities that he controlled to Dr. McCabe, that's Andrew McCabe's wife, Dr. McCabe's failed senate campaign a year ago. And under the law, Andrew McCabe, as the number two person in the FBI, can supervise the investigation of Mrs. Clinton. But there is the appearance of impropriety. There is the appearance that he was aware of the relationship of Terry McAuliffe to the Clintons. Governor Sununu can speak to that. That relationship is well-documented. It's political, personal and financial. And that makes it look like his decisions would be colored by his wishes to please the people that are behind the person who gave this money to his wife. I mean, that's it in a nutshell.

BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): Well what should he have done?

NAPOLITANO: He should have excused himself from the case, because as a lawyer he has the duty to avoid, quote, “the appearance of impropriety,” and the appearance of impropriety here is profound.

[...]

JOHN SUNUNU: This is another defining example of the culture of corruption that the Clintons have brought to the Democratic Party for the last quarter century. Since 1992 they've infused this culture of corruption and it is now reaching into the FBI, which used to be one of the most hallowed and respected institutions in the U.S. government. They used to bend over backwards to show that they weren't related to a party and now you have this action by Terry McAuliffe, friend of the Clintons, putting money into the campaign of this wife of the deputy director. It's unbelievable. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 10/24/16]

RedState: McAuliffe “Acted As A Bag Man To Pay Off People Sniffing Around Hillary’s Emails.” A RedState article said that it was “utterly convenient ... that ol’ Terry McAuliffe would be the guy greasing the palms of the (wives of the) folks who later gave Hillary a pass on the emails,” and wrote that McAuliffe “acted as a bag man to pay off people sniffing around Hillary’s emails.” The article also said that an “alternate headline” for the story should be, “Hillary Clinton still corrupt.” [RedState, 10/24/16]

Fox’s Bret Baier: “Appearance-Wise,” The Story Is “Horrible.” Fox host Bret Baier and Fox & Friends hosts hyped the optics of the story, with guest co-host Abby Huntsman saying the situation was “too close for comfort,” Fox host Bret Baier saying “appearance-wise, it’s horrible,” and co-host Steve Doocy saying, “It just looks so bad.” From the October 24 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

ABBY HUNTSMAN (CO-HOST): How troubling is [the Wall Street Journal story]?

BRET BAIER: Well appearance-wise, it's horrible.

[...]

HUNTSMAN: Too close for comfort, for sure.

STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): It just looks so bad and when you look at the calendar, and you realize this woman, Dr. Jill McCabe, started her state senate campaign the same month it was announced that Hillary Clinton had this email problem. And her husband was running the FBI field office out of Washington, D.C., that was investigating the field office. And so if Terry McAuliffe's PAC winds up giving her $675,000 worth of cash and mailers and, you know, it just looks bad. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/24/16]

Fox’s John Roberts: “Republicans Will Be All Over This Today,” Because It “Is More Proof” Of Trump’s Claim Of A Rigged, Corrupt System. Fox correspondent John Roberts hyped the Journal story, saying it’s “significant” because of McCabe’s role in the FBI investigation. Roberts said that “of course, Republicans will be all over this today insisting how can he remain impartial when people so close to Hillary Clinton gave his wife so much support for her failed 2015 senate bid.” From the October 24 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now:

JOHN ROBERTS: A story out today that Donald Trump will say at his events here in St. Augustine and again in Tampa is more proof of [a rigged and corrupt system in Washington, D.C.]. Fox News has confirmed that a super PAC aligned with Democratic Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe gave nearly $500,000 to the 2015 state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe. Now why is that significant, you say? First of all, Governor Terry McAuliffe is best friends with Hillary and Bill Clinton. Dr. Jill McCabe is the wife of Andrew McCabe, who is the deputy director of the FBI and who oversaw the Hillary Clinton email investigation. In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, which broke this story, the FBI says that during campaign Andrew McCabe quote, “played no role, attended no events, and did not participate in fundraising or support of any kind” for his wife Dr. Jill McCabe. But of course, Republicans will be all over this today insisting, how can he remain impartial when people so close to Hillary Clinton gave his wife so much support for her failed 2015 state senate bid. [Fox News, Happening Now, 10/24/16

This post has been updated with additional content. 

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