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  • "Personal Gestapo," "witness intimidation," and "a witch hunt": How pro-Trump media reacted to the Manafort raid

    ››› ››› KATHERINE HESS

    After President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was issued a search warrant regarding the Russia investigation, pro-Trump media -- including Fox personalities, fringe blogs, neo-Nazi sites, and fake news purveyors -- lashed out, stating that it was “not about Trump,” and insisted that this was a witch hunt and another attempt to undermine the 2016 presidential election. Others claimed the FBI was acting as “someone’s personal Gestapo,” and that the raid was a form of “witness intimidation.”

  • Pro-Trump media and Russian bots push self-debunking story attacking Obama attorney general for using an email alias

    Not only have other officials from both parties used email aliases, but Loretta Lynch's records surfaced through a FOIA request from an organization led by Trump's own lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fringe media figures and outlets that support President Donald Trump are trying to scandalize former Attorney General Loretta Lynch's use of an alias in her government emails, even though government officials have used the practice before, Lynch’s use of the alias had been disclosed last year, and the emails are still subject to records requests.

    Kim Dotcom, a dubious figure known for spreading conspiracy theories, claimed on August 4 that Lynch may have used the alias Elizabeth Carlisle “to communicate with DOJ officials.” Dotcom based his claim on emails given to the conservative group American Center for Law And Justice (ACLJ) -- where Trump attorney Jay Sekulow is the chief counsel -- as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In his tweet, he added, “Dear Internet, investigate!” The next day, a user on the pro-Trump Reddit forum “r/The_Donald,” a forum known in the past to spread conspiracy theories, claimed that a death certificate showed that Lynch “used her grandmother's maiden name as alias.”

    The implication of wrongdoing by Lynch then reached Jim Hoft of the pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, who wrote that “internet sleuth” Dotcom “dropped a bomb on Twitter,” and pointed to the “r/The_Donald” user who “discovered that Loretta Lynch used her grandmother’s maiden name ‘Lizzie Carlisle’ as her alias.” He added that Lynch “told Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) under oath that she only uses official email in November 2016 — after these above emails were sent,” concluding, “Lynch committed perjury.” The allegation also reached far-right conspiracy theory outlet Zero Hedge, which claimed that Lynch “has been busted”; far-right trolls Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec; and discredited birther Jerome Corsi of the conspiracy theory website Infowars. A few also alleged that Lynch had committed perjury. Another forum known for pushing conspiracy theories, 4chan’s “/pol/,” also hyped the alias and perjury allegation.

    According to the think tank Alliance for Securing Democracy, which has a tool to track Russian-affiliated bots on Twitter, the stories targeting Lynch have been popular among those bots, which pushed both of The Gateway Pundit’s articles and Zero Hedge’s post.

    Despite the nefarious implications, it was already public knowledge that Lynch used an alias with her government email. Additionally, the practice was routine for previous government employees. In February 2016, a Justice Department spokesperson said that Lynch “uses a government email account but also ‘does not use her given name in the handle of her email address,’” according to The Hill. In 2015, the Justice Department revealed that then-Attorney General Eric Holder used multiple email aliases in his government emails, and noted that because it was still a government email, “it is still preserved for recordkeeping.” (Indeed, this Lynch alias allegation came about specifically because ACLJ received the emails in a FOIA request.) Aides in President George W. Bush’s administration also used “secret alternate” addresses for emails, some of which were nongovernmental, according to Mother Jones.

    Multiple fake news purveyors also hyped allegations of wrongdoing, with Mad World News calling it a “smoking gun” against Lynch, TruthFeed writing that Lynch “lied under oath” in “a clear case of perjury, completely intentional,” America’s Freedom Fighters claiming Lynch is “heading to prison,” and Liberty Writers urging readers to “share this everywhere to help bring Loretta Lynch down.” Other previous purveyors of fake news hyping the allegation included RedStateWatcher, Freedom Daily, USA Politics Today, World Politicus, Patriots On The Right, and GOP The Daily Dose.

    All of these articles drew attention on Facebook: The two Gateway Pundit articles had at least 15,900 and 9,100 engagements, respectively; the Zero Hedge article, 3,300; Mad World News, 1,000; TruthFeed, 4,100; America’s Freedom Fighters, 1,300; Liberty Writers, 12,800; RedStateWatcher, 809; Freedom Daily, 11,000; World Politicus, 1,100; and GOP The Daily Dose, 93, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    The far-right trolls, fringe outlets, and fake news purveyors teaming up to spread this allegation (aided by bots) provide yet another example of how fringe sources work together to spread dubious claims, conspiracy theories, and lies while attacking perceived enemies.

  • Fake news purveyors, Twitter trolls, and Sean Hannity go all in against national security adviser McMaster

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media in support of President Donald Trump are calling for the ouster of Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, accusing him of being a “globalist” “traitor” who is “aligned with the enemies of Trump and America.”

    Over the past month, McMaster has worked to oust some members of the National Security Council (NSC) who were previously aligned with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s chief strategist (and former Breitbart News head) Steve Bannon. On July 21, McMaster dismissed Rich Higgins, a top NSC official who was “seen as an ally of” Bannon, after Higgins wrote a memo claiming that “globalists and Islamists” were trying to undermine Trump, according to The Atlantic. In early August, McMaster pushed out Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom Flynn had hired for the NSC and McMaster had tried to fire earlier in the year (he was blocked by Bannon and others from doing so).

    Additionally, Circa News, a pro-Trump outlet owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group, claimed on August 3 that McMaster had sent a letter to former national security adviser Susan Rice “giving her unfettered and continuing access to classified information and waiving her ‘need-to-know’ requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure.” The article noted that “it is common practice for some senior government officials to be given the unfettered access to classified information, and their ‘need to know’ is waived,” but went on to note that some “White House officials” believe Rice’s clearance should have been limited. That’s in large part due to pro-Trump media’s dubious accusation that Rice is guilty of unlawfully “unmasking” Trump officials caught in surveillance, even though officials have said there is no proof Rice did anything wrong.

    In response to McMaster’s ousters and the Circa report, pro-Trump media have attacked the national security adviser. Fox News host and Trump propagandist Sean Hannity asked if “H.R. McMaster need[s] to go” following the Rice report. Conspiracy theory website Infowars claimed McMaster is part of the “deep state coup rooting out patriots from White House,” and Infowars Editor Paul Joseph Watson wrote, “McMaster is an Islamist-sympathizer and a globalist. He has to go.” Breitbart, Bannon’s former outlet, also pointed to a Facebook post from an Israeli columnist accusing McMaster of being “deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump.” Pamela Geller, a Breitbart contributor and anti-Muslim extremist, wrote on her website that McMaster is “aligned with the enemies of Trump and America.” Pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit called McMaster “a globalist” and questioned “why he is still a top Trump official.” Multiple far-right trolls, including Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec, Cassandra Fairbanks, and Stefan Molyneux, called for Trump to fire McMaster (with some using the hashtag “#FireMcMaster”) because McMaster “approved of Susan Rice keeping her top-secret security clearance,” because “its (sic) time for the WH to find a Natl Sec Advisor who supports the President,” and because “H.R. McMaster is a Deep State Plant who Opposes the Trump Agenda.”

    Additionally, multiple fake news purveyors have targeted McMaster, with both Liberty Writers and USA Newsflash calling McMaster a “traitor” due to his Rice letter, as did TruthFeed, which additionally claimed that he may, along with Rice, be “leading a Deep State Coup.” Conservative Daily Post claimed McMaster “gave” Rice “the power to” spy “on political opponents, which is a complete violation of the Constitution,” Mad World News alleged McMaster is a “secret mole” and “a Judas in the White House,” and Right Wing News suggested that Trump “has been stabbed in the back by McMaster” because of his letter to Rice. America’s Freedom Fighters also claimed that “many are demanding to know why McMaster is still even working within the Trump administration while he wrecks (sic) this sort of havoc.”

    Additionally, the think tank Alliance for Securing Democracy’s tool to track Russian-affiliated bots showed that those bots were pushing “#FireMcMaster” on Twitter within the past 48 hours. This is the same hashtag some of the far-right trolls have used against McMaster. These bots have also been spreading some of TruthFeed’s anti-McMaster articles.

    All these articles drew attention on Facebook: The two Gateway Pundit articles had at least 2,700 and 310 engagements, respectively; the Liberty Writers article, 28,200; USA Newsflash, 17,600; Conservative Daily Post, 1,900; Mad World News, 5,400; Right Wing News, 316; America’s Freedom Fighters, 1,100; and the two TruthFeed articles, 612 and 1,700, respectively, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

  • Fringe media and Fox News push conspiracy theories regarding arrested former House IT staffer

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & BRENDAN KARET

    Following the arrest of former Democratic information technology staffer Imran Awan, far-right media and Fox News pushed multiple conspiracy theories about him, suggesting he was behind WikiLeaks getting hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, that he had damaging information on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and that the Clintons were somehow involved in the situation.

  • Right-wing media and hate groups applaud Trump for banning transgender people from serving in the US armed forces

    ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Conservative media outlets and personalities, along with anti-LGBTQ hate groups, applauded President Donald Trump’s Twitter announcement that he will be banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. armed forces because the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

  • Trump voter fraud commission member Ken Blackwell has pushed fake news

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a member of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, has pushed fake news and false claims originating from fringe media and seems to rely at least partially on disreputable sources for news.

    On May 11, the Trump administration announced that it was forming a “bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” and listed Blackwell as one of its members. Blackwell, a conservative columnist, a senior fellow at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, and a board member of the National Rifle Association, has previously claimed that climate change concerns could lead to forced abortions, suggested gay marriage was the reason for a 2014 California mass shooting, and suggested that then-Attorney General Eric Holder was “clear[ing] the path for shariah law.” He has also lent credence to Trump’s false assertion  that there is widespread voter fraud in the United States, saying the system creates “real potential for fraud” and that there may have been fraud in the last election.

    Since he was announced as a member of Trump’s commission, Blackwell has pushed multiple false allegations leveled by fringe media. On July 17, he posted on Facebook a link to a story suggesting a connection between the Clintons and a deceased former Haitian government official. The fake news, which was first published by a fake news purveyor and was widely hyped by the fringe and pro-Trump media, has been debunked. A week later, Blackwell posted on Facebook an article from fringe pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, which is regularly wrong in its claims, stating that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered Robert Mueller, now special counsel on the Russia probe, to give uranium to Russia in 2009. The claim, pushed by Gateway Pundit and fake news purveyors, suggests nefarious action even though the uranium had been seized from the nation of Georgia and held in U.S. custody and was being transported to Russia for forensic analysis with authorization from the Georgian government.

    Additionally, Blackwell has repeatedly posted articles from the fringe blog Conservative Tribune, an outlet that fact-checkers have repeatedly criticized for pushing false and misleading claims. The website has also promoted far-right troll Jack Posobiec’s dubious claim that former FBI Director James Comey violated the Espionage Act by releasing the memos he wrote about his meetings with Trump before the president fired him.

  • Pro-Trump media are pushing a new voter fraud conspiracy theory

    Far-right sources are claiming that thousands of voters “unregistering” in Colorado are evidence of “mass voter fraud”

    ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Thousands of Coloradans have withdrawn their voter registrations in the wake of the Trump administration's election integrity commission’s request for personal voter data. Far-right media are claiming that the people canceling their registrations are “illegal” voters removing themselves from the rolls. In reality, deregistrations have been attributed to voters’ concerns over the confidentiality of their personal data, as well as their distrust of the Trump administration's commission. 

  • Pro-Trump internet personalities throw tantrums after ADL identifies their hateful rhetoric

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump internet trolls claimed that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was a "terrorist organization" and compared the group to Nazis after ADL identified some of the biggest online personalities of the “alt-right” and “alt-lite” movements and called them out for spreading hateful rhetoric.

    The ADL recently published a list of “alt-right” and “alt-lite” figures, identifying key players in both the white supremacist “alt-right” and the fringe right-wing media landscape of media trolls and smear merchants it inspired, which the ADL called the “alt-lite.” It included internet troll and Infowars contributor Mike Cernovich; smear merchant Jack Posobiec, who once received a temporary White House press pass; disgraced Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos; The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich; and Rebel Media’s Gavin McInnes, using the “alt-lite” banner to describe their prior affiliation and promotion of “alt-right” figures and ideologies. In a Periscope live stream, Cernovich responded to the list’s publication by urging his followers to spread the hashtag “#ADLTerror” on Twitter. Cernovich also called ADL “a terrorist organization” that had “targeted” him and his family for “murder and assassination” by including his name in the list.

    Soon after Cernovich launched the hashtag, other alternative media personalities who were also mentioned in the ADL’s list rallied to attack the organization. Posobiec compared ADL’s members to Nazis and claimed the “death list” was being used to target Trump supporters; Wintrich called the ADL a “liberal terrorist organization” whose “only qualifier” to label people a hate group leader was support for Trump; Yiannopoulos accused the ADL of trying to get pro-Trump media figures like himself “hurt or killed by painting targets on our backs”; McInnes threatened to “sue the living shit out of everyone even remotely involved” with the list if he was attacked following its publication.

    Allies and supporters of those on the ADL’s list also joined in on the attack. The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft accused the ADL of publishing “a murder hit list” and stated that his website would take “further action” against the organization if it did not remove Wintrich’s name. Rebel Media’s Laura Loomer decried the ADL’s decision to publish a “hit list,” asking why the organization is “encouraging violent leftists to attack members of the right.” And “Ali,” a rising star among pro-Trump media personalities, also promoted the hashtag. Fans of these personalities created memes and videos and spread them on social media to show their support.

    While BuzzFeed technology reporter Charlie Warzel pointed out that the ADL didn't necessarily provide full evidence of the actions that earned these trolls a spot on the list, the ADL was right to include them based on their habits of engaging in hateful rhetoric and online harassment. The organization correctly identified them for using their platforms to spread vitriol and honestly documented their efforts to sanitize their movement’s prior affiliation with “alt-right” circles and differentiate itself from white nationalism.

    Warzel also correctly noted that these trolls are "more of a media arm than an ideological group of any kind." These individuals do not spread hate in the traditional way that has been the modus operandi of the “alt-right” figures also included in the ADL’s list. Rather than organizing community events and advocating for any specific policies, these figures have built a potent anti-liberal media apparatus that can be -- and often is -- mobilized to harass and smear any chosen target-of-the-day.

    Over the past several months, these right-wing media personalities and pro-Trump internet trolls have fueled and engaged in harassment and doxing campaigns against a variety of people. They misquoted pop star Ariana Grande after a terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester, smearing her as “anti-American.” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski’s family received dozens of threatening phone calls following an article he wrote about the origin of an anti-CNN meme Trump tweeted. And the internet trolls falsely accused popular online satirist Vic Berger of being a part of an online cohort of pedophiles. They were also key proponents of the “Great Meme War” with CNN, during which social media sites were flooded with high volumes of anti-CNN memes and numerous CNN employees were doxed and harassed.

    Though these alternative media figures and internet trolls are now rebranding away from the “alt-right” leaders who once inspired them, they still deserve to be on the ADL list and should remain there until they cease using their platforms to incite harassment and encourage extremist rhetoric.

  • Pro-Trump outlets falsely suggest the Clintons murdered a former Haitian government official

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media outlets that favor President Donald Trump are claiming that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were involved with the death of a former Haitian government official. The claim is just the latest in a long-running series of unsupported allegations that the Clintons have murdered people.

    On July 12, the Miami Herald reported that Klaus Eberwein, a former director of the Haitian government’s economic development agency, “was found dead Tuesday in a South Dade motel room in what the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office is ruling a suicide.” According to the Herald, Eberwein “had fallen on hard times” and "faced allegations of fraud and corruption," and he was scheduled to testify before a Haitian anti-corruption commission. While neither the Clintons nor the Clinton Foundation were mentioned anywhere in the article, some fringe outlets and figures and fake news purveyors drew a connection, claiming that Eberwein’s expected testimony would have implicated the foundation. Far-right troll Mike Cernovich tweeted that Eberwein was “Found Dead Before Testifying Against Clinton Foundation” (discredited filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza promoted the claim), and fake news purveyor YourNewsWire claimed Eberwein was going to “testify that the Clinton Foundation misappropriated Haiti earthquake donations from international donors” (which conspiracy theorist Kim Dotcom and pro-Trump radio host Mark Simone promoted).

    Those claims were, of course, false. According to Snopes, a quote attributed by YourNewsWire to Eberwein attacking the Clinton Foundation actually came from someone else, and before his death, “no reports said or even hinted that any probe in which [Eberwein] was involved targeted Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation”:

    As it turns out, however, the article from YourNewsWire from which the Haiti Sentinel piece was written is suspect, containing a “quote” from Eberwein — the only part of the article that linked him to the Clintons to begin with — that was actually spoken by someone else:

    “The Clinton Foundation, they are criminals, they are thieves, they are liars, they are a disgrace,” Eberwein said at a protest outside the Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan last year.

    Someone did say that outside Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan in November 2016, but YourNewsWire appears to have, for some reason, confused one person of Haitian descent with another. The actual person who spoke this phrase is a community activist and New York area radio host named Dahdoud André, and this comment originally appeared in a BBC article[.]

    [...]

    Before news of Klaus Eberwein’s suicide was reported on 12 July 2017, no reports said or even hinted that any probe in which he was involved targeted Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation. The claim originated on the frequently disreputable YourNewsWire.com, and was uncritically repeated and amplified by readers and blogs. However, we have found no specific information tying Eberwein to Clinton before his July 2017 death.

    Since the Snopes report, not only have outlets and figures not retracted their false reporting, but the claim has spread. Pro-Trump TV network One America News (OANN) claimed Eberwein was “due to appear in court this week to testify in the Haitian senate against the Clinton Foundation for alleged corruption.” OANN went so far as to link Eberwein's death to the suicide of a GOP operative who sought Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers and the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, saying, "Now with three mysterious deaths all leading back to the Clintons in some way, it's only a matter of time before the authorities connect the dots and see the pattern of a Clinton cover up."

    Far-right conspiracy outlets Zero Hedge and Infowars both published the same piece claiming “deaths seem to follow the Clinton’s (sic) around, and this one especially is probably something – considering since the mainstream media is silent about this death.” Conspiracy outlet WorldNetDaily alleged Eberwein “told acquaintances he feared for his life for his fierce criticism of the Clinton Foundation,” and pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit suggested Eberwein was “another victim of Clinton Arkancide.” Fake news purveyors Right Alerts, American Today, Conservative Fighters, USA Politics Today, Global Politics Now, TruthFeed, and Right Wing News also all suggested or outright alleged a connection between the Clintons and Eberwein’s death. Their pieces have received hundreds to thousands of Facebook engagements apiece, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo: YourNewsWire (419,200), Infowars (7,800), Zero Hedge (20,400), WorldNetDaily (13,500), Gateway Pundit (11,000), Right Alerts (1,800), American Today (400), Conservative Fighters (10,400), USA Politics Today (1,400), TruthFeed (18,300), and Right Wing News (931).

    Conservative media figures have falsely alleged for years that the Clintons have killed several people, including then-White House deputy counsel Vince Foster, despite multiple investigations concluding that his death was a suicide. Recently, some in conservative media, including OANN, have baselessly suggested that the Clintons were connected to the death of the DNC staffer, Seth Rich, even though law enforcement has concluded he was likely the victim of a botched robbery.

  • Pro-Trump troll says he's doing "performance art" as Gateway Pundit's White House correspondent

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile shows Lucian Wintrich is an anti-media, pro-Trump troll

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich said he’s doing “performance art” as a White House correspondent in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile, reinforcing that his role is less of a journalist and more of a sycophantic troll.

    Wintrich, who was behind the “Twinks4Trump” photography exhibit, was hired by the far-right fringe (and often wrong) political blog The Gateway Pundit as its White House correspondent in February. Since then, Wintrich has adopted the Trump administration’s playbook for delegitimizing the media, including referring to anything critical reported about the administration as fake news and attacking media organizations like CNN. This coincided with the propaganda effort by the Trump administration to rely on pro-Trump shills to spread its message. Additionally, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Wintrich admitted that "Half of what I do — well, on social media specifically — is f—ing with people."

    The Post-Gazette’s July 14 profile noted that Wintrich “has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing” and that he “doesn’t have formal journalistic training” and “wears his [pro-Trump] allegiance on his sleeve.” The Post-Gazette also quoted Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, who explained that Wintrich "is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response." From the Post-Gazette:

    Mr. Wintrich, who previously worked for a New York advertising firm, has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing. But he’s already scored a different kind of journalistic coup: being confronted by another journalist.

    [...]

    When Mr. Wintrich gained White House credentials in February, The New York Times reported “concerns that the Trump administration, which has called the news media ‘the opposition party,’ is favoring outlets more sympathetic to its views.”

    For his part, Mr. Wintrich told the Times “We will be doing a little trolling of the media,” referring to the online practice of goading opponents into lashing out and making fools of themselves.

    [...]

    He wears his allegiance on his sleeve, penning stories like “Trump Administration: One of the Most Transparent in US History, Open to Media,” which countered media grumbling with reminders of secretive practices by President Barack Obama.

    [...]

    Mr. Wintrich has largely avoided such controversies. But few of his roughly 100 Gateway Pundit posts since January have drawn on his White House access: Policy issues, like a recent post on internet policy, “get minimal engagement,” he said.

    Many posts rely on material reported elsewhere. And often, Mr. Wintrich himself is the story.

    “I consider some of what I’m doing to be performance art,” he said, adding that “quote-unquote serious journalists are doing performance art themselves, but they don’t understand that.”

    [...]

    Angelo Carusone, president of liberal media-criticism outlet Media Matters for America, said Mr. Wintrich “is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response.”

  • Far-right media are now accusing Obama of spying on John Roberts

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump media websites are pushing the doubtful allegation that former President Barack Obama “hacked” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. These fringe websites, that often peddle fake news and conspiracy theories, have also previously alleged that Obama has surveilled and targeted Trump Tower and the Supreme Court overall, and some of these websites have claimed that Obama is trying to take down President Donald Trump by forming a “shadow government.”

    On July 12, the pro-Trump alternative-media blog Big League Politics claimed that Roberts “was ‘hacked’ by a Deep State surveillance operation overseen by Obama administration CIA director John Brennan and Obama director of national intelligence James Clapper.” The blog pointed to audio supposedly from a “real estate billionaire” explaining the program to former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and associate Mike Zullo and saying, “John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, was hacked.” (Arpaio and Zullo are discredited figures who have pushed the false conspiracy theory that Obama’s birth certificate is fake). The author of the piece, Patrick Howley, also wrote that this supposed hack “by Obama officials provides some more context” for why Roberts voted in 2012 to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, suggesting the two are related. The blog, which also employs pro-Trump troll Cassandra Fairbanks, has previously pushed other dubious claims hyped by the alternative-media ecosystem.

    The report was picked up by pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, which called the tapes “evidence” that Roberts was hacked. Following suit, fake news purveyors ran with the story, with Before It’s News and YourNewsWire republishing at least parts of the Big League Politics article, Conservative Patriot and The Washington Feed calling the report a “bombshell,” and American Today calling Roberts “the latest victim of the Obama hacking.” The Big League Politics, Gateway Pundit, and Conservative Patriot articles have received at least 1,900, 7,300, and 3,600 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    The conspiracy theory comes after the pro-Trump fringe previously hyped Fox analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that Obama spied on the Supreme Court, and after fringe media outlets staunchly defended Trump’s false claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Fringe media outlets have also repeatedly charged that Obama is trying to thwart Trump’s presidency by forming a “shadow government.”

  • Debunking right-wing media's bogus Ukrainian collusion narrative

    Wash. Post report shows why Hannity's defense for Trump Jr. is nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A report from The Washington Post debunked a prominent right-wing media claim that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign worked with the Ukrainian government during the 2016 election cycle.

    In response to reports that Donald Trump Jr. welcomed potential information from the Russian government that would have been harmful to Clinton, right-wing media have suggested that Clinton, her campaign, and the Democratic Party colluded with Ukraine in a similar manner. Besides Trump propagandist Sean Hannity, prominent right-wing media outlets and figures, such as The Daily Caller, The Gateway Pundit, The Daily Wire, Fox’s Eric Bolling, and far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, pushed the claim. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart editor, also appeared on news outlets and repeated the claim.

    In a July 11 report, the Post’s Philip Bump wrote that the claim that Clinton’s campaign colluded with Ukraine, which originates from a Politico article from January, relies specifically on “one person who was researching [former Trump campaign chairman Paul] Manafort with help from inside the Ukrainian Embassy and who, at some undetermined point, provided info to the Clinton campaign.” As Bump wrote, the “Ukrainian plot that’s been revealed” is, in reality, “a weak link to the Ukrainians and a weaker link to the Clinton campaign.” By contrast, “U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his intelligence agencies to hack into and release private information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.” According to the article, “American intelligence agencies saw signs that people allied with Trump’s campaign may have been aiding the Russians in that effort.” Bump also spoke with a legal expert about the Clinton-Ukraine narrative, who said, “The difference is that there is not clear evidence of the Clinton campaign coordinating with a foreign national or encouraging or accepting their help.” From the article:

    It centers on a woman named Alexandra Chalupa, who worked as a consultant for the Democratic Party throughout the 2016 cycle through her firm, Chalupa & Associates. Her role with the party was outreach to ethnic communities, but, a Ukrainian American herself, Chalupa had been researching Paul Manafort’s work in that country even before he was tapped to serve as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in March of last year. Chalupa, Politico said, “occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and [Hillary] Clinton’s campaign” — though the timing on this sharing isn’t clear.

    [...]

    While the Politico story does detail apparent willingness among embassy staffers to help Chalupa and also more broadly documents ways in which Ukrainian officials appeared to prefer Clinton’s candidacy, what’s missing is evidence of a concerted effort driven by Kiev.

    U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his intelligence agencies to hack into and release private information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. That effort included hackers from two different intelligence agencies which spent months inside the DNC network before releasing thousands of pages of documents to the public.

    What’s more, they coordinated a widespread campaign to amplifying unflattering stories about Clinton and promote Trump. Russia also repeatedly probed American election systems, prompting an unusual warning to states from the federal government.

    American intelligence agencies saw signs that people allied with Trump’s campaign may have been aiding the Russians in that effort. That’s why this is all being discussed right now, of course, since Trump Jr.’s emails draw the clearest line between the Russians and the campaign we’ve yet seen. The FBI began a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling a year ago.

    By contrast, Politico’s report details the work of one person who was researching Manafort with help from inside the Ukrainian Embassy and who, at some undetermined point, provided info to the Clinton campaign, though she worked for the DNC as a consultant until shortly before the party conventions. That, coupled with the Manafort ledger revelation, is the full scope of the Ukrainian plot that’s been revealed. A weak link to the Ukrainians and a weaker link to the Clinton campaign.

    [...]

    Lawrence Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, spoke with The Washington Post on Tuesday about how Trump Jr.’s emails might pose a legal risk to him. Over email, he weighed in on the Politico story as well.

    “I think the article raises some troubling questions about Ukraine involvement in our elections,” Noble said. “The difference is that there is not clear evidence of the Clinton campaign coordinating with a foreign national or encouraging or accepting their help.”

  • After emails are released, pro-Trump media launch flailing defense of Donald Trump Jr.

    Pro-Trump media figures can’t read

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Multiple pro-Trump far-right media figures falsely suggested that Donald Trump Jr.’s tweets in which he released a chain of emails about his meeting with a lawyer connected to the Kremlin somehow disproved The New York Times’ reporting on the issue.

    The Times reported on July 8 that Trump Jr. met with “a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin,” and the next day reported that Trump Jr. “was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing” to the meeting. Initially, Trump Jr. falsely told the Times that the meeting, which was set up by publicist Rob Goldstone on behalf of a Russian singer, was “primarily about an adoption program.”

    But on July 11, another Times report revealed details from email correspondence between Trump Jr. and Goldstone in which they arranged the meeting. Shortly before the Times published its July 11 report, Trump Jr. released emails between himself and Goldstone on Twitter to pre-empt the report, with the emails’ content effectively confirming he had lied to the Times earlier.

    Still, prominent pro-Trump media figures immediately jumped to Trump Jr.’s defense, absurdly suggesting that his released emails discredited the Times. Far-right troll Mike Cernovich wrote, “@DonaldJTrumpJr posted the full email, as suspected the lying NY Times fabricated another fake story!” Another far-right troll, Jack Posobiec, wrote, “NY Times story blown out of the water. Emails complete[ly] contradict their ‘anonymous sources’ yesterday.” Jim Hoft of the fringe website The Gateway Pundit wrote that Trump Jr. “beat the #FakeNews media to the punch and released the ENTIRE email chain of his conversation with Rob Goldstone on a meeting with a Russian lawyer.”

    Anyone who actually reads the emails that Trump Jr. released can see that they confirm the Times’ reporting. The emails show that Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” offered to “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary … and would be very useful to your father.” Goldstone also wrote, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. replied to the email saying, “If it’s what you say I love it.” In a later email, Goldstone asked Trump Jr. about scheduling his meeting with a “Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow.”

    The response is yet another effort by pro-Trump media figures, some of whom have specifically lauded Trump Jr. in the past, to defend the president with false claims and smears against perceived opponents.

  • Despite conservative media claims, James Comey didn't leak classified information to NY Times

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Right-wing media, pro-Trump internet trolls, and fake news purveyors are boosting a report from a right-leaning journalist in a way that suggests former FBI Director James Comey might have intentionally leaked classified information to The New York Times. The report presents already-known information about Comey’s memos that recounted his interactions with President Donald Trump. Politico also reported that the source that passed along the memo to the Times confirmed that it did not contain classified information.