Trump/Russia | Media Matters for America

Trump/Russia

Tags ››› Trump/Russia
  • Trump's war on the Lester Holt interview

    A presidential media assault on the president’s self-incriminating words

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The president and his attorneys are not subtle. Caught up in the grinding gears of the Russia investigation, they’ve apparently decided that whatever legal strategy they’ve adopted (if they have one) must be complemented by a loud, clanking, and incessant media blitz to exonerate the president in the court of public opinion. And so they go on TV -- constantly -- to proclaim Trump’s innocence and endlessly litigate the evidence that suggests otherwise.

    By watching how they communicate, you can suss out clues to which issues are causing the president and his lawyers the most grief. At the moment, for whatever reason, Trump and his team seem preoccupied with the idea that the president might have admitted to obstruction of justice when he told NBC’s Lester Holt last year that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. And so they’re trying to rewrite recent history by lying about the Holt interview and brazenly retconning Trump’s relationship with Comey.

    Earlier this week, Trump gave an interview to The Hill that touched on the Justice Department’s Russia investigation and Trump’s controversial May 2017 firing of Comey. Trump spun a nonsensical story about how he wished he had fired Comey before he became president:

    "If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries," Trump said. "I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don't want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. ... I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don't want him there when I get there.”

    Trump obviously could not have fired Comey while Barack Obama was still in office. And while Trump did attack Comey during the 2016 campaign over the decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton over her email server, he revised his opinion of the FBI director after Comey reinitiated the email investigation just days before the election. “It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” Trump said at the time. “What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”

    This week’s preposterous revisionism seems like an effort to establish a motive for Trump’s firing of Comey: specifically, that he always wanted to fire Comey, even before the FBI began investigating the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in July 2016. It probably hasn’t occurred to Trump that the fact that he didn’t fire Comey immediately is sufficient proof that this new story is bullshit. But logical inconsistency isn’t the problem he’s trying to solve -- he’s trying to unring the obstruction-of-justice bell he rang during his interview with Holt shortly after the Comey firing.

    In that May 2017 interview, Trump told Holt that he had decided to fire Comey regardless of whatever recommendation he got from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump said. “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

    Trump and his legal team have long been aware of the problem this interview presents and have employed various strategies to defuse it. The president has accused Holt of “fudging my tape” -- an incendiary and false allegation that the tape itself disproves. Trump’s lawyers have opted for a subtler, though still dishonest, strategy of arguing that Trump’s comments and the interview have been broadly misunderstood.

    Jay Sekulow, who hosts a radio program when he’s not legally representing the president, argued on CNN on Wednesday evening that it is “not correct” to say Trump fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. “You know that when there are interviews, there are edits and there is a longer transcript,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “And I will just tell you without disclosing any detail, that when you review the entire transcript, it is very clear as to what happened and I'm not going to give you information on how we provided it, but in our professional discussions with the office of special counsel, we have addressed that on multiple occasions appropriately. And the evidence, when you look at the entire evidence, you don't see it.”

    Sekulow was alluding to the Trump legal team’s communications with special counsel Robert Mueller, which specifically address the Holt interview. Trump’s lawyers argue that once you consider the entire interview transcript, “a fair reading of the president’s remarks” is that he fired Comey for incompetence and fully expected the Russia investigation to continue, perhaps even drag on longer.

    The problem with this explanation is that it is strained to begin with, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Trump would not have had to derail the entire investigation in order to obstruct it. Recall that Comey testified Trump asked for his loyalty in the months before he was fired, and Comey declined. Trump could have corrupted the probe by getting rid of Comey and installing someone friendlier who would investigate Russian election interference without investigating Trump.

    This avenue was briefly open to the president until he sabotaged it by threatening Comey over Twitter with allegedly incriminating “tapes” of their conversations. That prompted Comey to leak personal memos describing his interactions with Trump in the hope that a special counsel would be appointed -- which is exactly what happened. Since then, Trump has been threatening the Justice Department, raging about the “witch hunt” special counsel probe, and lashing out at his hand-picked attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the investigation. The president has been unambiguously clear in his view that senior Justice Department officials should be protecting him.

    Viewed in that context, the Lester Holt interview is incredibly damning of the president, which is why Trump and his attorneys are filling the airwaves with elaborate lies and misinterpretations about it. They recognize the danger of the president’s own words.

  • After demanding release of DOJ documents, Trump admits he's just doing what his sycophants tell him to do

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Law enforcement and national security experts are warning that President Donald Trump’s decision to selectively declassify and release portions of sensitive Justice Department documents related to the Russia probe could compromise U.S. intelligence methods and endanger the lives of sources. And in an alarming if unsurprising turn, the president said Tuesday that he hasn’t bothered to read the documents and is putting them out because “many people” -- likely including his sycophants at Fox -- told him to do so.

    The White House announced on Monday night that Trump had directed federal agencies to declassify and release documents related to the Russia probe, including portions of the federal warrant used to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, text messages from senior Justice Department and FBI officials, and FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr related to the Russia investigation.

    Experts quickly pointed out that Trump’s move was extraordinary, unprecedented, and dangerous. Some warned that the president’s direct involvement in an investigation that involves his administration and that he constantly describes as a “witch hunt” has dire implications for the rule of law. Others emphasized that releasing portions of the unredacted FISA application, which details investigative sources and methods, would be crossing a “red line” that “could not only compromise such information, but risk the US's relationship with its partners in the intelligence community.”

    But in an interview conducted Tuesday by The Hill’s John Solomon and Buck Sexton, Trump admitted that he did not review the documents in question and soberly consider the national security implications of their release. Instead, he simply took the advice of “many people” who he says have been urging him to take action, doing so because he thought the release would benefit him politically by delegitimizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. From The Hill’s write-up of the interview:

    Trump said he had not read the documents he ordered declassified but said he expected to show they would prove the FBI case started as a political “hoax.”

    “I have had many people ask me to release them. Not that I didn’t like the idea but I wanted to wait, I wanted to see where it was all going,” he said.

    In the end, he said, his goal was to let the public decide by seeing the documents that have been kept secret for more than two years. “All I want to do is be transparent,” he said.

    The article provides no indication that Solomon and Sexton sought to determine which parties influenced Trump. But obvious culprits include the Fox pundits he watches for hours each day. (UPDATE: The Hill's transcript of the interview shows that Trump says he has "watched commentators that I respect begging the president of the United States to release" the documents, specifically referencing Fox personalities "the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, [and] the wonderful great Jeanie Pirro.")

    The president frequently tweets criticism of the Justice Department’s handling of the Russia investigation -- and specifically the Page FISA warrant and Ohr's role in the probe -- in response to commentary he sees on Fox.

    And indeed, over the past few months, leading Trump propagandists Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs used their shows to campaign for Trump to release these documents, often pointing to the political benefits they believed that decision would have.

    On July 23, for example -- just two days after the Justice Department released a redacted version of the Page FISA application, the first time in history that such a document had been disclosed -- Hannity told his Fox audience, “We have even more questions than even earlier. This FISA application is heavily redacted. The American people deserve to see it. I am calling for all of this warrant to be unredacted.” Hannity added that “the president can do this” and that if he did so, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation, “is finished.” On July 30, Hannity specifically called for the release of “19 pages” from the warrant -- the president has called for the declassification of 20 pages from the document.

    Dobbs similarly asked earlier this month, “Why is the president not ordering the release of this and declassifying all of that paperwork and putting it in front of the American people and the special counsel so we can get a little clearer picture on who Robert Mueller really is?” He’s also suggested there is no “rational reason on Earth” not to release the documents.

    As the Fox drumbeat quickened, Republican congressman including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Mark Meadows (R-NC) -- who have spent the last year using their oversight authority to try to stymie the Russia probe -- held a press conference urging Trump to release the documents, then took turns doing Fox interviews on the subject. Trump ended up calling for the release of the very documents they had demanded, down to the specific pages they asked for from the Page warrant.

    John Solomon himself -- a crucial member of the anti-Mueller media ecosystem who draws on conservative sources to produce slanted reporting -- has used his recent Fox appearances to suggest that the declassification of these documents would prove malfeasance by the FBI in the early stages of the Russia probe, undermining its credibility.

    All of which is to say that, as usual, the president weighed the advice he receives from sycophants on TV more highly than any counsel he might receive from more credible sources.

    “For months, right here on this program, we have been asking for the unredacted FISA documents to be released,” Hannity said on Monday. “Now, the president has done it.” The president privileged Hannity’s advice over that of national security experts, with potentially dire consequences.

  • Deep in its own Russia scandal, NRATV weighs in only to attack the investigation

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    While the National Rifle Association deals with its own scandal surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, NRATV hosts have spent the last few months attempting to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s “scam” investigation of President Donald Trump including, calling for Mueller to be “fired.”

    Following reports that Trump knew about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer, NRATV We Stand host Dan Bongino repeatedly insisted last week that while the meeting was “a bad idea” by an “inexperienced campaign,” the administration has been “completely transparent” about it. Yet the president’s lawyers have acknowledged that he “dictated” a falsehood-filled July 2017 statement claiming the meeting was about adoption rather than allegedly incriminating information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

    DAN BONGINO (HOST): Trump Tower meeting, a bad idea. I get it. It was an inexperienced campaign -- they probably get it too. They’ve been completely transparent about it, they put the information out there, nothing of value was exchanged, nothing, I mean, of information value -- I’m not talking about cash value; they don’t need this woman’s cash. And just to throw one more angle in this, to completely throw this thing into the -- throw a monkey wrench into the Clinton machinery here. I don’t know if you heard this, but the two Russians who actually showed up to the Trump Tower meeting with Don Trump Jr. -- you ready for this one? You ready? The two Russians that show up were connected to the Clintons and the people the Clintons hired. You can’t make this up. I’m not making this up.

    This latest defense follows months of the NRATV shilling for the Trump administration and trying to discredit every new development in the Russia investigation.

    After the FBI raided former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office, Bongino called the investigation a “disgrace” and said, “Fire Bob Mueller, fire this guy now,” during the April 9 edition of his show. One month later, he said, “The whole thing is a scam and the entire story’s falling apart” because “it started for political, not law enforcement or counterintelligence, reasons.” During the June 4 edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield, Bongino and host Grant Stinchfield agreed that the president “could pardon himself” if needed but that the political ramifications of that move would be uncertain, which is one reason why the investigation “should just be disbanded.”

    Following Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House intelligence committee about the Mueller probe and his fiery exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Bongino said Rosenstein should have “toned down the attitude a little bit” and claimed that “we should have fired this guy yesterday.” For his part, Stinchfield called Rosenstein “an utter disgrace,” said he showed “disrespect and utter arrogance,” and said that “it is clear he thinks he is better than everyone else.” He also speculated that the “deep state ... exists and Rosenstein is the leader.”

    Stinchfield and Bongino also questioned the timing and content of indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers, released on July 13, days before Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for a summit in Helsinki. During the July 13 edition of We Stand, Bongino tried to use the indictment to discredit the Mueller investigation, saying, “There is no mention in the indictment anywhere of collusion. None, zero, zilch, nada, nothing. It’s not there, you’re not going to find it. Is this the best the Mueller team has?” The following Monday, Stinchfield called Rosenstein “a thorn in the president’s side” and said that he believes everything in the indictment but that it was released days before the summit to “undermine President Trump.”

    All this while the National Rifle Association is knee-deep in questions about whether Russian money was funneled through the organization to help Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Most recently, we’ve learned that federal investigators are tracing “suspicious financial transactions” involving Russian national and NRA associate Maria Butina, who was charged with “conspiring to covertly serve as a Russian agent seeking to influence the National Rifle Association and other U.S. political groups.”

    While NRATV has been happy to run defense for the president, it has been reluctant to address reports of Kremlin involvement in the NRA.

  • Why Trump's legal advisers think he can get away with firing Rosenstein

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The FBI’s Monday raid of the residence and office of Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, has created a new urgency in the president’s frequent threats to curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

    Trump is reportedly considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who approved the raid and oversees Mueller’s probe in light of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the case. Following the raid, the president also left open the idea of firing Mueller, and the White House confirmed that he believes he has the power to do so directly. Democrats and some Republicans have warned that any effort by the president to stop Mueller’s investigation would be calamitous. But according to CNN, the president’s legal advisers think that he could weather the storm, believing that “they have successfully argued to the American public that the FBI is tainted and think they can make the same case against Rosenstein.” They own that past success in undermining the FBI -- and any future success in firing Rosenstein without a major backlash -- in no small part to the efforts by Fox News and the president’s other allies in the right-wing media to run down law enforcement agencies on Trump’s behalf.

    While the president has claimed that the FBI’s reputation "is in tatters -- worst in history," the American public is broadly unconvinced. But the effort has succeeded in convincing the president’s base. A February poll found that 73 percent of Republicans agreed that “members of the FBI and Department of Justice are working to delegitimize Trump through politically motivated investigations.”

    The president’s pitch is a fundamentally radical, authoritarian one. He claims that the purpose of law enforcement is to protect him and punish his enemies and if it fails to do this job, he can remove whomever he wants to fix that problem. House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to bolster, or at least not hinder, that push, perceiving that their political standing depends on that of the president. And that effort has been relentlessly supported by -- and, indeed, is impossible to imagine succeeding without the help of -- Trump’s supporters at Fox News and in the conservative press more broadly. When the president’s allies tell his base that the FBI’s actions are comparable to those of Stalin or the Gestapo, the base comes to believe, as Trump’s legal advisers suggested in the CNN article, that the “FBI is tainted.”

    Since the Mueller investigation began 11 months ago, Fox’s audience has been tuning in daily to an alternative narrative in which Trump and his associates are being unfairly pursued for crimes that never occurred, the victims of a vast conspiracy by Justice Department and FBI officials, Democrats, and the mainstream press. The entire network is responsible for turning its audience against the rule of law, and nearly every program has to some degree engaged in this activity. But a relative handful of players has been the dominating force in the effort, employing apocalyptic rhetoric that constantly finds new heights.

    Sean Hannity, whose program is the network’s most popular, has done more than anyone else at Fox to prepare Trump’s base to cheer if he moves toward autocracy, devoting dozens of broadcasts to the supposed perfidy of the Russia investigation. He said this week that Mueller and Rosenstein have “declared what is a legal war” on Trump and argued that the “country is hanging by a thread.”

    Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro, both vocal propagandists who have called for a purge of federal law enforcement agencies including the arrests of officials central to the Russia probe, are also important figures in the effort. Trump himself reportedly loves the programs of Hannity, Dobbs, and Pirro and consults them privately for advice about the Mueller probe and other issues. At times the president seems to have advance notice of what they will be talking about on their shows -- last night on Twitter, he promoted Hannity's broadcast, which kicked off with a "conspitatorial" monologue in which the Fox host described the "Deep State crime families" of Mueller, former FBI director James Comey, and Hillary Clinton.

    The network’s morning show Fox & Friends is a ready platform for smears of the probe that often result in the president chiming in in real time (while in recent days the program’s hosts have warned that Trump taking action against the investigation could backfire on him, it's difficult to imagine them not stepping up to defend whatever he does, if anything).

    Then there are the guests who regularly appear on these programs to slam Mueller and company: Gregg Jarrett, the Fox legal analyst who carved out a role explaining how the president and his associates didn’t commit crimes and all the investigators have; Jay Sekulow, who is a member of the president’s legal team, and Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who tried to join it, all of whom use their appearances to promote conspiracy theories; and John Solomon of The Hill and Fox News contributor Sara Carter, who produce reports that are largely indistinguishable from the talking points of the president’s legal team or Republican congressional investigators and then appear on the network to discuss them.

    All of these players exist in an ecosystem with virulently pro-Trump Republican members of Congress, who have been using their oversight powers to try to undermine Mueller’s investigation and then appearing on Fox to promote those efforts. We’ve seen legislative efforts to demand Mueller’s removal, calls for the appointments of other special counsels to investigate aspects of his probe, and congressional Republicans painting newly released Justice Department and FBI documents in the worst possible light.

    Fox and other pro-Trump media, Republican congressional investigators, the president, and the president’s lawyers are all playing off each other’s efforts, constantly trying to convince their base that the FBI and DOJ are just trying to destroy Trump. When their individual conspiracy theories collapse -- and they often do, in spectacular fashion -- the parties involved simply move on to the next one. And nothing -- not the series of guilty pleas and indictments Mueller’s investigation has racked up, nor the fact that he and every other senior person involved in the probe is a Republican -- will stop them.

    The Rosenstein attacks are simply the latest case in which these Trump allies are moving as one to try to achieve their ends.

    Trump’s legal advisers told CNN on Tuesday that the deputy attorney general has “crossed the line in what he can and cannot pursue” and claimed that he has conflicts of interest with regard to Mueller’s investigation. On their shows the same night, Hannity said Rosenstein is “out of control himself and conflicted out of this case,” while Dobbs hosted Jarrett to make a similar argument, then argued that Rosenstein himself should be under investigation.

    Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes threatened during a Fox News appearance to move to impeach Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray if they don’t turn over certain documents to his committee. His comments came just a day after diGenova suggested that strategy as a “no-brainer” during an appearance on Dobbs’ show.

    Then Wednesday morning, apparently reacting to a Fox & Friends segment critical of Rosenstein, Trump tweeted this:

    The president and his allies have decided that there’s no way for them to go too far, that ensuring that Trump and his closest associates escape the investigation unscathed justifies anything they might do along the way. Firing Rosenstein in order to curtail Mueller's investigation would be a dangerous step down an authoritarian path. But Trump and his legal advisers know that at least they'll still have Fox's propaganda apparatus behind them. And that might be enough.

  • “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.

  • The Trump administration refused to enact election-related sanctions on Russia. Fox News barely covered it.

    Fox spent under 10 minutes covering Russia sanctions while CNN and MSNBC devoted over three hours to it

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & ROB SAVILLO

    Over the course of nine days, Fox News devoted less than 10 minutes to the news that President Donald Trump’s administration refused to enact sanctions on Russia, which Congress mandated last year with overwhelming bipartisan support in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. In contrast, CNN and MSNBC gave this development significant coverage, with CNN devoting nearly two hours and MSNBC covering it for well over an hour during the same time period.

    In July 2017, Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), with bipartisan, veto-proof support. The bill mandated “new measures targeting key Russian officials in retaliation for that country’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.” Though Trump signed the bill into law, he was vocal in opposing it and called it “seriously flawed.”

    January 29 was the deadline for the Treasury Department to issue sanctions against entities doing business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. On that day, however, the Trump administration announced it would not implement the sanctions, with a State Department official claiming that “the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.”

    A Media Matters analysis of cable news coverage from January 29, when the administration announced it would not impose the sanctions, through February 6 revealed that CNN devoted an hour and 47 minutes to the news, MSNBC covered it for an hour and 24 minutes, and Fox spent a paltry nine minutes and change on the news:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Treasury Department did publish a list of senior Russian political figures and wealthy oligarchs just before the deadline, which CAATSA mandated, but “underlined that those named aren’t being targeted for new sanctions.” After questioning by BuzzFeed News, a Treasury official admitted that the list “was derived from Forbes’ ranking of the ‘200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017.’” Although Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the Senate banking committee on January 30 that “there will be sanctions that come out of this report,” the Trump administration faced congressional criticism for its refusal to enact sanctions by the deadline.

    Fox’s failure to adequately cover the Trump administration’s refusal to hold Russia responsible for its interference in the 2016 election comes amid a growing campaign by Fox News figures to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign worked with Russia during the election.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched closed captioning in the video database service SnapStream for discussion of the Trump administration's refusal to enforce sanctions on Russia between January 29 and February 6, 2018. We searched for combinations of the following terms within the same 20-second clip: "Russia," "Trump," "administration," "president," "White House," "sanction," "sanctions," "oligarch," "oligarchs," "oligarchy," "list," or "treasury."

    We included all-day original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC between 4 a.m. and midnight each day. We did not include reruns of weekday programming that aired on weekends or early in the morning.

    We timed any segment where the topic of discussion was the administration's refusal to enforce sanctions. We also included segments where there was “significant discussion” of sanctions. We defined “significant discussion” as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing sanctions with one another. In segments where multiple topics were discussed, we only timed the portion of discussion relevant to sanctions. We also timed teasers for upcoming segments on the sanctions and “passing mentions” about the sanctions during segments on other topics. We defined “passing mentions” as one speaker mentioning sanctions and no other speakers in the segment engaging in discussion from the comment.