GOP Lawmakers Latch Onto Fox’s Unsubstantiated Claims About A Clinton Foundation Investigation

GOP lawmakers reportedly circulated a letter requesting several federal agencies investigate the Clinton Foundation, parroting “unresolved media reports” to allege that the nonprofit was a “lawless ‘pay to play’ enterprise.” This latest move echoes months of unsubstantiated assertions from Fox News that the foundation was already under investigation for supposed abuses during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

Republican Congress Members, Led By Trump Ally, Cite “Unresolved Media Reports” To Call For Clinton Foundation Investigation

Rep. Marsha Blackburn Leads GOP Lawmakers In Issuing Letter Calling For Federal Investigation Into Alleged “Pay For Play” Operation At Clinton Foundation. On July 15, Politico reported that Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) led her congressional GOP colleagues in issuing a letter about the Clinton Foundation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The letter asked the federal organizations to investigate the foundation because “‘unresolved media reports’ suggest the foundation is a ‘lawless ‘pay to play’ enterprise.’” Politico added that Blackburn, “a Trump ally,” was repeating a “similar line of attack” from the Trump campaign that had been debunked by multiple fact-checkers. [Politico, 7/15/16]

Fox News Has Been Twisting Words And Confusing Facts To Baselessly Allege The Foundation Was Under Investigation For Months

Fox’s Andrew Napolitano: “There Is An Ongoing FBI Investigation Of The Clinton Foundation.” Despite admitting that FBI Director James Comey has never confirmed the existence of an investigation, Fox News’ legal analyst Andrew Napolitano insisted on Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo that the FBI investigation existed. Napolitano, who did not provide any proof for this claim of an investigation, also asserted that former president Bill Clinton was “a target of that investigation, as well as his wife.” [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 7/18/16]

Fox’s Maria Bartiromo And Rep. Blackburn Agreed On Unsubstantiated Interpretation Of FBI Statement. On the same edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, host Bartiromo ignored the fact that the FBI does not comment on ongoing investigations to incorrectly suggest that Comey had actually confirmed the existence of such an investigation. In an interview with Rep. Blackburn, Bartiromo and Blackburn agreed that Comey’s standard refusal to comment was an implicit confirmation of an investigation into the foundation. [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 7/18/16]

Fox’s Heather Childers Asked GOP Guest About “Clinton Foundation Corruption Investigation.” In a July 12 interview with Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA), Fox News host Heather Childers alleged that there was a “Clinton Foundation corruption investigation” in which former president Clinton is “a potential witness.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 7/12/16]

Fox’s Eric Bolling And Giuliani Baselessly Speculated On “Investigation” At Clinton Foundation. On Fox News’ Hannity, guest host Eric Bolling and frequent Fox guest Rudy Giuliani baselessly speculated about an “ongoing” investigation of the foundation after the FBI announced it would not seek to press charges after concluding its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email use. From the July 6 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

ERIC BOLLING (GUEST HOST): Mayor, why do you think James Comey didn’t reference the Clinton Foundation at all? I mean some of those emails that he was investigating had to have a link to the Clinton Foundation. Didn’t they?

RUDY GIULIANI: Well, they did. As far as I know, more than one group of them. Maybe they continue to investigate that, I don’t know.

BOLLING: Is that possible? Is this investigation ongoing with regard to maybe the Clinton Foundation?

GIULIANI: I would assume it is. He didn’t say it was concluded. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/6/16]

Fox’s Catherine Herridge Cited Anonymous Sources To Report “Exclusive” On Investigation Of The Foundation. On January 11, Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, who has relied on anonymous sources for discredited information in the past, cited three sources “not authorized to speak on the record” to report exclusively that the now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email was expanding to include activity at the Clinton Foundation. Herridge wrote:

The FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state has expanded to look at whether the possible ‘intersection’ of Clinton Foundation work and State Department business may have violated public corruption laws, three intelligence sources not authorized to speak on the record told Fox News. [FoxNews.com, 1/11/16; Media Matters, 4/10/16]

But There Is Still No Confirmed Criminal Investigation Into The Clinton Foundation

Bloomberg: Claims That The Clinton Foundation Is Under Investigation “Have Never Been Confirmed.” On July 18, Bloomberg published a primer about the Clinton Foundation, which it reported has become a “target for Republicans.” The report noted that claims of illegal activity at the foundation originated with discredited anti-Clinton author Peter Schweizer in his debunked opposition research book Clinton Cash. Bloomberg also reported that “criminal inquiries into the foundation have never been confirmed”:

Reports of criminal inquiries into the foundation have never been confirmed. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, declined to say whether the agency reviewed the foundation as part of its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private e-mail system while secretary of state. Peter Schweizer, author of “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” has said there’s no direct evidence of wrongdoing. “Are these activities illegal? That’s not for me to say,” he wrote. [Bloomberg, 7/18/16]

After Receiving Subpoena, Foundation Representative Said The Clinton Foundation Was Not The Focus Of A State Department Investigation. The Washington Post reported that the foundation had been issued a subpoena in 2015 as part of a State Department investigation, but that a spokesperson had explained the foundation was “not the focus of the probe.” From the February 11 report:

Investigators with the State Department issued a subpoena to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation last fall seeking documents about the charity's projects that may have required approval from the federal government during Hillary Clinton's term as secretary of state, according to people familiar with the subpoena and written correspondence about it. ... A foundation representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing inquiry, said the initial document request had been narrowed by investigators and that the foundation is not the focus of the probe. [The Washington Post, 2/11/16]

“Pay For Play” Allegations Started By Anti-Clinton Author And Repeated By Trump Have Been Widely Discredited

Trump Cited Heavily Discredited And Sloppy Book Clinton Cash. During a June 22 speech attacking presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump cited Clinton Cash, which he claimed “documents how Bill and Hillary used the State Department to enrich their family at America’s expense.” The book is a riddled with sloppy research and shoddy reporting that contains over 20 errors, fabrications, and distortions. Reporters previously criticized author Peter Schweizer for pushing conspiracies “based on little evidence” that are “inconsistent with the facts” and “false” ; taking quotes “badly out of context” ; excluding exculpatory information that undermines his claims; and falling for a fake press release. [DonaldJTrump.com, 6/22/16; Media Matters, 4/30/15]

Clinton Cash Author Peter Schweizer Has A Long History Of Errors, Retractions, And Questionable Sourcing. Schweizer is a Republican activist and consultant who currently works for the pro-Trump website Breitbart.com. Schweizer has a disreputable history of reporting marked by errors and retractions, with numerous reporters excoriating him for facts that “do not check out,” sources that “do not exist,” and a basic failure to practice “Journalism 101.” [Media Matters, 4/20/15]

CNN’s David Gergen: Trump Leaned Heavily On A Book That Has "Been Basically Discredited.” CNN political commentator David Gergen, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations, criticized Trump for referencing Schweizer’s book:

DAVID GERGEN: But you can't ignore the truth of what he says or the lack of truth of what he says. And I do think in coming days we're going to hear an awful lot about a string of lies and exaggerations. I mean let's go to something fundamental. And that is, I was really surprised he leaned as heavily as he did upon the Schweizer book, called the Clinton Cash, that book has been basically discredited. Other news organizations have looked at it and said he has no evidence, he has no evidence, that shows that money given to the -- by donors to the Clinton Foundation then resulted in actions by the State Department that favored those donors. And what Schweizer himself has said is, well I think there's a pattern here and we ought to investigate. I'm sorry, at this level, you can't slander somebody -- and this was a slanderous speech, without more proof. [CNN, At This Hour with Berman and Bolduan, 6/22/16, via Media Matters]