President Donald Trump’s legal team proposed using the Trump-friendly media outlet Circa to promote the evidence-free claim that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential election was a Democratic “setup.” Not only did Circa run with the story on July 8, two days later, Fox News host Sean Hannity was more than happy to further the story with Circa’s Sara Carter and John Solomon, frequent guests on Hannity’s shows.
On July 31, The Washington Post reported that when Trump’s legal team recently discovered incriminating details about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a possible Russian agent, the lawyers proposed an alternate version of the encounter “be given to Circa, an online news organization that the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump.” The Post additionally noted that “the president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr.”
Circa’s Carter wrote about Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian in a July 8 article which included a statement from a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, as well as the assertion that “the president’s legal team said Saturday they believe the entire meeting may have been part of a larger election-year opposition effort aimed at creating the appearance of improper connections between Trump family members and Russia.”
On July 10, Fox host Sean Hannity invited Carter and then-fellow Circa reporter John Solomon to discuss whether “this whole meeting with Donald Trump Jr” was “possibly a setup” (emphasis added):
HANNITY: All right, Sara Carter, let's go to you and your reporting along with John. Good to have you both back, by the way. Let's start with your reports about was this possibly a setup? In other words, this whole meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. -- is this a very different story than the American people are being told?
SARA CARTER: Yes, I think there's a story here that people aren't getting from the mainstream media. And one is this. Natalia Veselnitskaya -- she was the attorney that Donald Trump, Jr., met with -- was actually connected to a company called Presevan Holding, which was run by a Russian named Dennis Katzik . And Dennis Katzik actually hired Fusion GPS. Remember, this was the security investigative firm behind the Christopher Steele dossier. So the Christopher Steele dossier, which has been disreputable, which people have not been able to prove anything, that tried to connect, you know, Donald Trump to the Russians, was actually the company that this woman was working for.
So it makes sense. And I know that congressional investigators are looking into this. What was her connection to Fusion GPS? And how does that play out with the meeting that she held with Donald Trump, Jr., which he said he did not know prior to that meeting exactly who she was and what she was representing. So that is a very, very important part of this story.
HANNITY: Do you believe that this was a setup by the DNC and this Fusion group that we're talking about?
JOHN SOLOMON: You know, there's not enough facts and evidence to assume that yet. I think there is clearly a lot of people that were working at once, and what overlays they have and what intersections they have, we don't know in part because Fusion GPS hasn't answered a lot of the questions that the Senate has put to them. Until we find out who was funding the dossier, until we find out who brought Natalia into the country, until we learn those sort of questions, we're not going to know the full picture, and I think it's too soon to make any assumptions. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/10/17]
The Trump team narrative, with the help of Hannity and Circa, was quickly picked up and spread throughout right-wing media and fake news purveyors.
Circa is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is known for its conservative bias and connections to Trump associates. During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair made a deal with Trump’s team to push stories favorable to the future president. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Carter and Solomon have used Hannity’s platform to do just that.