2016 Elections | Media Matters for America

2016 Elections

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  • “No collusion”? Not quite…

    Donald Trump and his conservative media allies throw themselves a little premature celebration

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Today the Justice Department announced the indictment of 13 Russian individuals accused of breaking a whole panoply of laws as part of the Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The indictment itself is a hell of read -- it details a sophisticated and multilayered operation spanning several years that waged information warfare as part of a conspiracy to sow discord and chaos within the American political system. The Russians stole identities, created fake social media accounts, staged protests, bought political ads, and attempted to coordinate with political groups within the U.S.

    “By early to mid-2016,” the indictment reads, the Russian defendants’ “operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” Some of the defendants, the indictment notes, “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

    For Trump’s most slavish defenders in the conservative press, one little word in that passage -- “unwitting” -- is prompting a good deal of celebration. It proves, they argue, that no one in the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia in the 2016 election, and that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a farce that needs to be shut down.

    Sean Hannity tweeted “No collusion” and linked to an article on his website with the blaring headline: “NO COLLUSION: Mueller Indictment Says TRUMP CAMPAIGN Unaware of Russian Meddling.” Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton tweeted: “Big Mueller indictment of Russians confirms ‘unwitting’ involvement of Trump campaign with disguised Russian operatives. No collusion. Shut it down.”

    Republicans are also eagerly jumping on this line of argument. The White House put out a statement saying the special counsel’s investigation indicates “there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia.” During an appearance on Fox News, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said, “Today marks the day that the Democrats’ Russia collusion conspiracy theory unraveled.”

    Of course, the indictment doesn’t demonstrate that at all, and the Justice Department was very careful in how it addressed the issue of American involvement in the Russian election conspiracy. In fact, everyone celebrating the exoneration of Trump very well may be spiking the football on the 25-yard line.

    Conservatives from Hannity and the RNC on down are conveniently ignoring the fact that this is just one indictment from an investigation that is still ongoing. The indictment indicates that Trump-associated political operatives were unwitting participants in this specific series of alleged criminal activities. It does not say that the illegal actions it describes encompass the entirety of the Russian election-meddling campaign. There very well may be more indictments on the way, and they could be related to known instances of Russian interference that today’s indictment didn’t touch on at all: the hacking of the DNC’s emails, the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting, etc.

    During his press conference announcing today’s indictment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was extremely careful and unfailingly precise in how he described the involvement by Americans in the alleged Russian criminal conspiracy. “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said (emphasis added). When asked what relationship Trump campaign officials had to the Russian conspiracy, Rosenstein again applied the same precise language. “There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge.”

    And that’s to say nothing of the possibility that Trump-associated people could still be charged with other crimes discovered in the course of Mueller’s investigation: money laundering, obstruction, fraud, etc. Mueller is reportedly on the verge of flipping another senior Trump campaign official, which certainly indicates that Trumpworld could still be in for a whole lot of legal trouble.

    Of course, no one has any real concrete idea of what will happen. Well, no one except Robert Mueller and his team, who are still investigating. Regardless, the president hopped onto Twitter this afternoon to join the (possibly premature) celebration and proudly transmit the fact that Russia’s “anti-US campaign” -- the existence of which he’d refused to acknowledge up to this point -- got rolling long before he even became a presidential candidate:

    So, Trump is touting as good news the fact that Russia’s election interference campaign didn’t start with him, but rather identified his candidacy as an asset to be exploited. One starts to think that the president and his allies don’t really think too far in advance before they begin celebrating.

  • Following a bombshell report, Fox News is desperately clinging to their alternate reality about the Russia investigation

    While a NYT report reveals the real impetus of the Russia investigation, Fox is running with the unfounded conjecture of fake news, pro-Trump trolls, and Republican congressmen

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    In a continuation of the network’s pattern of sycophantic defenses of the president, Fox News hosts dismissed reporting from The New York Times that provided new details about what sparked the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, muddying the waters by pushing baseless conjecture espoused by pro-Trump internet trolls and fake news websites alike.

    A December 30, 2017 report by The New York Times explained that a conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat at a bar prompted FBI officials in June 2016 to investigate the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The report disrupted a well-established far-right and right-wing media claim that the investigation was prompted solely on information provided in a partially unverified opposition research dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, noting:

    The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

    It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

    In a January 2 New York Times op-ed three days after the December 30 report, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that funded the dossier, echoed the Times’ earlier reporting, writing that rather than the Steele dossier being the major impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, their sources told them “the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had [already] received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.”

    But in a segment responding to the the op-ed today, the panel of Fox News’ Outnumbered didn’t even mention Papadopoulos’ name. Instead the panel members deflected from the revelations by launching baseless claims, including the notion that Fusion GPS exerted influence on the FBI and that the “fake report” (which has in fact been at least partially verified) was used to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump, itself a fallacy promoted by Breitbart. From the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): Fox News has reported that Fusion GPS was being paid by a Kremlin-linked law firm at the same time that it was digging for dirt on then-candidate Trump. And human rights activists have accused Fusion GPS of secretly working for the Russians. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is here.

    JASON CHAFFETZ: I did I read that op-ed from Fusion GPS. First of all, if they want to maximize openness and transparency, there is nothing, nothing that holds back Fusion GPS from releasing all the documents and all the financial transactions.You have the House intelligence committee having to issues subpoenas in order to get that information.

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): That's a great point.

    CHAFFETZ: But today they could release all of that information if they want. So, don't blame the House intelligence committee. It is against the law to go out and hire a foreign national to engage in these activities during the campaign. So, they potentially broke the law there. You have Marc Elias who was general counsel for the DNC. Hillary Clinton is involved in this. You’ve got the Podesta group involved in this. There is some really nefarious things, and you have a top official at the FBI whose wife works at Fusion GPS at the same time that they're doing an investigation, so don't call it a fake investigation. Let's get all the truth out there. That's what [South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey] Gowdy and [California Republican Congressman Devin] Nunes and everybody is after.

    [...]

    KATIE PAVLICH (CO-HOST): They have a responsibility on their end to the American people now because they are so involved and because they did have influence in the FBI based on the dossier. And again we have people connect to the dossier also connected to the Department of Justice under President Obama. And those are questions that are unanswered and that deserve answers to the American people.

    [...]

    FRANCIS: I think what people in the audience should remember and probably what you care about a lot is this idea that when originally we gave the government special powers to collect data, to listen in on your phone calls, it was a time when we were all frightened and still are about terror, about national security. The warning at the time was that in the end, this FISA warrant, this whole idea could be used to listen in on political opponents and become a political weapon. In this case, it looks like that's very much what happened, that a fake report was used to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. That's a very dangerous thing in this country. And that's what I think we should be chasing down and focused on.

    Pro-Trump media outlets have long attempted to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, and Trump’s defenders on Fox have spent months baselessly claiming that the FBI used the dossier as sole evidence to get a FISA warrant to surveil and investigate Trump and members of his presidential campaign. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro even suggested that FBI and the Department of Justice officials should be jailed for their implication in this alleged conspiracy.

    Following The New York Times’ December 30 report, right-wing media figures attempted to discredit the story by downplaying Papadopoulos’ influence, attacking the article’s anonymous sourcing, and castigating the reporting as distraction from the Mueller investigation that the network has deemed a “witch hunt.” Other right-wing outlets like Red State, the National Review, as well as other pro-Trump media outlets, fake news websites, and internet trolls have levied similar attacks in attempts to discredit the story.

  • VIDEO: How Fox News is mainstreaming white supremacists and neo-Nazis

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE

    Fox News has been trying to normalize white supremacy for years. But since Donald Trump’s election, hosts, guests, and contributors on Fox are now openly defending white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

    Everyone is well aware that Trump has been continually signaling his support to white supremacists since the 2016 presidential campaign. He retweets them, refuses to immediately disavow them, and even defends them. And Fox News is right there to validate him at every turn.

    Fox News personalities repeat his talking points without question (and he repeats theirs). They claim that Trump has done everything he can to condemn these groups and everyone should accept it. They tell viewers to be more understanding of where neo-Nazis are coming from, but don't extend the same empathy to NFL athletes who have been peacefully protesting racial injustice by taking the knee during the pre-game national anthem. They praise Trump for not jumping to any conclusions. They make ridiculous comparisons that falsely equate white supremacists with minority groups fighting for equal rights. Fox host Tucker Carlson has even promoted a social media app that’s been called “a haven for white nationalists.”

    When white supremacists hear the White House and a major news network repeating and amplifying their ideas, they rejoice because, according to Heidi Beirich at the Southern Poverty Law Center, “It builds their ranks ... because instead of being considered racist kooks by the majority of people, if their ideas are verified in places like Fox News or places like Breitbart, whatever the case might be, they have something to point to say I’m not extreme.” Beirich has called Fox News “the biggest mainstreamer of extremist ideas” and explained that “the horror of this is that people turn on their TV they go to cable, [they] assume this has got to be mainstream," but “what you find is radical right ideas being pushed on Fox.”

    Since white supremacists and neo-Nazis “are deeply involved in politics, [and] are a constituency that is being pandered to at the highest level of political office,” and because Fox News is elevating their movement, Beirich urges mainstream outlets to “talk about their ideas, … to talk about the domestic terrorism that’s inspired by white supremacy, and … about hate crimes.”

  • Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.