Jay Sekulow

Tags ››› Jay Sekulow
  • 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.”

  • Report: The nonprofit of frequent Fox News guest and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow is under investigation

    Sekulow’s organization is being investigated for “troubling” fundraising tactics and funneling donations to his family and personal businesses

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Guardian is reporting that authorities in North Carolina and New York are examining the filings from a nonprofit led by former Fox personality and President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow after reports unveiled that the organization steered tens of millions of dollars to Sekulow’s family.

    The report comes after The Washington Post found that millions of dollars donated to Jay Sekulow’s charities have ended up going to Sekulow’s family and their personal businesses.

    The Post noted that Sekulow’s media exposure on Fox News as an anti-Obama pundit and his close ties to Trump has led to the skyrocketing of donations to his groups the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE). The Guardian wrote that Sekulow’s fundraisers at CASE used scripts filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric, lies about Planned Parenthood, and falsehoods about the Affordable Care Act to scare conservatives into paying up.

    Today, Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York announced they are investigating CASE’s filings following the report that CASE and an affiliate have been paid more that $60 million dollars in compensation and contracts to Sekulow, his family members, and their companies. From the Guardian:

    “Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, and Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, said on Wednesday they would be examining the operations of Jay Sekulow’s group Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case).

    Stein said in a statement: “The reports I’ve read are troubling. My office is looking into this matter.”

    Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said in an email: “We’re reviewing their filings.”
     

    [...]
     

    "Earlier this month, Sekulow directed fundraisers for Case to pressure hard-up Americans to donate money to the group by saying the funds were urgently needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they initially resisted.

    A script contained in the contract instructed the telemarketers to tell people that their money was needed for Case’s “massive campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare”.

    “Many people are helping with smaller amounts,” fundraisers were told to say. “Can Jay count on you for a smaller, but just as important gift?” People should be urged a third time to donate if they continued to resist, the script said.

    Fundraisers were told that if asked for information on Sekulow, they should say: “He never charges for his services”. Since 2000, the not-for-profit group and an affiliate have steered more than $60m to Sekulow, members of his family and businesses where they hold senior roles."
     

    [...]
     

    "The 2017 script for Case’s telemarketers detailed only the latest in a series of forceful requests for money the group has made over recent years. Scripts for several years were obtained by the Guardian. The not-for-profit group raises more than $40m a year, most from small contributions made by Christians across the US who receive alarmist political messages by telephone or in the mail.

    At the height of last year’s presidential election, Sekulow instructed his telephone fundraisers to “listen, empathize, [and] relate” to people who said they could not afford to donate to Case, before pushing these people twice more for an “urgently needed gift”. A script signed by Sekulow told the marketers to “overcome [the] objection” to donating, and to tell the person on the line that “many people are finding ways to help with smaller amounts as well”.

    Telemarketers for Case have over the years delivered frightening warnings about a variety of issues, depicting Christians in the US as under siege from both Muslim terrorists and a liberal political elite led by a president supposedly desperate to increase the national abortion rate.

    “Islamic extremists are headed in your direction, and you are most likely the main target,” Sekulow himself told people in a recorded message used in fundraising calls during 2011.”

  • How becoming a Fox News hack is paying off for Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow

    Washington Post: Jay Sekulow’s family is personally profiting from his charities 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow is using his conservative media exposure and close relationship with President Trump for his family’s personal financial gain.

    According to a report from The Washington Post, Sekulow, who is a radio host and the Chief Counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), is using his position to gain millions from charities he and his family controls. The report details how his charities “brought in nearly $230 million in charitable donations from 2011 to 2015 — and millions of those dollars ended up going to the members of the Sekulow family or their companies.” According to the Post’s research into the business records and tax filings of Sekulow’s charities, $5.5 million has gone to Sekulow’s family with another $23 million going to his firms.

    A large part of Sekulow’s success can be traced back to his media exposure and his close ties to the president. The report found that as “Sekulow’s exposure on television increased,” his fundraising for the organization run by he and his wife increased by ten million dollars over a two-year period. His fundraising “jumped another $10 million” as Sekulow’s role as an anti-Obama “legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach.” Sekulow’s new position as Trump’s personal lawyer could also boost his fundraising and income even further. From the Post:

    As Sekulow’s exposure on television increased, CASE’s annual fundraising jumped from $14 million to $24 million over a period of about two years.

    Then, during the term of President Barack Obama, Sekulow’s role as a legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach. As Sekulow questioned whether Obama’s IRS had unfairly targeted conservative nonprofit and tea party groups, revenue for CASE jumped another $10 million, eclipsing that of the ACLJ.

    At the same time, the work of the ACLJ increasingly moved in step with causes of the political right.

    The group joined legal challenges to Affordable Care Act mandates and Obama’s executive order on immigration. It defended an antiabortion activist who was sued in California over undercover videos at a Planned Parenthood clinic. It also argued that the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, should be overturned.

    Gregory M. Lipper, a partner in private practice and former senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he saw the change in cases he fought against the ACLJ.

    “We litigated against a number of religious organizations, and they all, generally, have similar or slightly different angles. But the ACLJ seemed to become much more like a movement right-wing organization,” Lipper said. “They were very noisy on Islamic terrorism . . . and they started to sound more like Fox News than focusing specifically on free speech or religious liberty issues.”

    On May 9, when Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Sekulow was one of the president’s first and most vocal supporters, both in television appearances and on social media.

    Sekulow tweeted that Trump had made “the right decision” — and a similar assessment later came from the ACLJ’s Twitter account. “There is NO evidence of collusion between Pres #Trump and #Russia. Trump says it’s ‘a total hoax’ ” read a tweet from the nonprofit.

    On June 9, a day after Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sekulow announced to his radio listeners that he had accepted a position on Trump’s personal legal team, calling it his patriotic duty to defend against “an attack on the presidency.”

    Borochoff, of CharityWatch, said Sekulow’s proximity to Trump could boost fundraising.

    “He has far more attention than he normally would have to raise money — so there is the question of profiting from his relation to the president,” Borochoff said. “Are people listening to his radio program because he’s the president’s adviser? Then they get hit on to donate.”

    Sekulow has regularly pushed false stories and conspiracy theories to defend Trump and attack his opponents. Sekulow has defended Trump’s lie that he may have recorded conversations with former FBI Director James Come, hyped conspiracies that a “shadow government” and “deep state” operatives are out to destroy the Trump administration, and pushed the discredited conspiracy theory that a former Democratic National Committee staffer was assassinated in retaliation for allegedly being the source of leaked DNC emails. Fox News was forced to retract the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

  • Trump lawyer and Hannity regular Jay Sekulow regularly pushes false claims and conspiracies

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Jay Sekulow, a member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, is a regular Fox News guest, particularly on staunch Trump ally Sean Hannity’s TV and radio shows (which Sekulow has also sometimes guest-hosted). Fox and Hannity have repeatedly given Sekulow a platform to push misinformation; in fact, Sekulow made at least seven misleading or dubious allegations on Hannity’s shows between late May and June, some of which Hannity encouraged.

  • How conservative, far-right, and fringe media figures are defending Trump’s "tapes" threat to Comey

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After President Donald Trump admitted in a June 22 tweet that “I did not make, and do not have” any “‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with [FBI Director] James Comey,” conservative and pro-Trump media figures and outlets tried to defend his original threat that claimed, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” The media figures and outlets insisted the move was “brilliant,” “impressive,” and “a victory” and said it was a “smart way to make sure [Comey] stayed honest” in his congressional testimony.

  • Here's how right-wing media have reacted to months of setbacks for Trump's Muslim bans

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    As President Trump's executive orders banning immigration from first seven, then six, majority-Muslim nations have moved through the U.S. court system, they've been met with a series of legal setbacks and direct action and have drawn extensive media coverage. What follows is a timeline of events surrounding the ban, with a focus on right-wing media hypocrisy, denial, and defense of the president's increasingly indefensible policy. This post will be updated.

  • Frequent Fox guest and Trump's new lawyer kicked off rumors that Trump is considering removing the special counsel

    Jay Sekulow Has Been Tying Himself Into A Pretzel Trying To Defend His New Client

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    After using his almost nightly platform on Fox News’ Hannity to push legal defenses of President Donald Trump’s various scandals and effectively audition for a job at the White House, Jay Sekulow, who was recently hired as one of Trump’s personal attorneys, has found himself at the center of rumors that Trump is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller.

    During the June 11 episode of ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked Sekulow if Trump would “promise not to interfere, not attempt at anytime to order the deputy attorney general to fire Robert Mueller.” Sekulow did not give a definitive response, instead saying, “If there was a basis … that raised the kind of issues that are serious, as in the situation with James Comey, the president has authority to take action. Whether he will do it is ultimately a decision the president makes.” Later, Newsmax Media CEO Chris Ruddy, who is a close friend of the president, said that Trump was “considering perhaps terminating the special counsel.” Ruddy also cited Sekulow’s response and said that the fact that Trump is “weighing” this “option” was made “pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently.”

    As explained by the Los Angeles Times, “The public comments from close friends suggest Trump may be testing the waters on a decision that would be among the most controversial he has made since becoming president, recalling the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ when President Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox amid the Watergate investigation.”

    Since Trump’s inauguration in January, Sekulow has appeared on Fox News numerous times to defend the president’s actions and to parrot administration talking points. Highlights of his appearances include his assertion that Trump acted “within his authority” to fire then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates because, as Sekulow argued, “unlike the FBI director,” the acting attorney general and other federal appointees “serve at the pleasure of the president.” Sekulow later claimed that he had been calling for Comey’s removal “for a year,” contradicting his earlier comment that the president cannot remove the FBI director.

    In addition, after Comey’s June 8 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sekulow repeated an erroneous timeline around Comey’s firing that came from one of Trump’s other personal lawyers, Marc Kasowitz. He said Comey lied under oath and committed a “crime” when he leaked the memos about his meetings with Trump, which Comey said he had released after the president made thinly veiled threats on Twitter against him. Sekulow falsely said that the “content” of the memo had actually been reported in The New York Times the day before Trump’s tweets, claiming that the release was “retaliatory” for Comey’s firing. In reality, the Times had cited officials, and not the memos, for its story on the dinner between Trump and Comey in which the president allegedly asked him for loyalty. The story about the memos was published four days after Trump’s tweets. 

    Although Sekulow appears to not have much experience outside of Fox News punditry when it comes to criminal defense and obstruction of justice, he is a well-known conservative activist and attorney who has both personally and through his organization -- the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) -- promoted hard-right religious ideologies both in this country and abroad

  • How the murder of a DNC staffer turned into a right-wing conspiracy

    The story goes through nearly everyone in right-wing media: Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Louise Mensch, Megyn Kelly, Jim Hoft, Julian Assange, and more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It started with a late night walk on July 10, 2016. Seth Rich was talking with his girlfriend while walking through the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when there was some sort of altercation. Rich was shot multiple times and died shortly thereafter.

    Nearly a year later, his death has become a cause célèbre among right-wing media and the fringiest elements of pro-Trump media, simply because he worked as a staffer for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    The conspiracy theories started immediately. The day after Rich was killed, a Twitter user connected the murder with a lawsuit filed by Bernie Sanders supporters against the DNC. (This lawsuit would later be the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories after the death of a process server that the coroner would later conclude was caused by accidental polypharmacy, or a combination of drugs.)

    The first right-wing version of the conspiracy theory was about confirming right-wing allegations against the Clinton Foundation. On July 13, conspiracy theory website WhatDoesItMean.com (previously cited by pro-Trump media) ran a piece, sourced to the Kremlin, claiming that Rich thought he was on his way to meet with the FBI about the Clinton Foundation when a “hit team” put in place by the Clintons killed him. The article also linked the conspiracy theory with two Russian diplomats who were expelled by the United States two days before Rich’s murder, and it concluded by claiming the hit team was captured on July 12 in Washington, D.C. The actual police events of July 12 had nothing to do with any of this. On July 14, Snopes debunked this conspiracy theory.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 22, WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the DNC, and Redditors immediately started guessing that Rich was the source of those emails. Heat Street, a News Corp. publication then run by Louise Mensch, ran a roundup of these rumors. In the post, Heat Street simply went through the “r/The_Donald” subreddit, listing different conspiracy theories that users had come up with, even comparing one theory to the work of mathematician John Nash and the movie A Beautiful Mind. Heat Street had also mentioned the FBI rumor in the bottom of a previous post about Rich’s murder, noting that there was no evidence to substantiate it.

    The one entity that did claim to be the WikiLeaks source was Guccifer 2.0. As The New York Times explained on July 27, while American intelligence services believed Guccifer 2.0 to be a front for Russian spies, the hacker claimed to be Romanian. In the report, the Times detailed evidence linking the emails to Russia, including “metadata hidden in the early documents indicating that they were edited on a computer with Russian language settings.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone, a contributor to Alex Jones' conspiracy theory website Infowars, and WikiLeaks began pushing the conspiracy theory in earnest in August. In an August 8 tweet, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons, referencing the FBI version of the conspiracy theory. A day later, WikiLeaks announced that it was offering $20,000 for information, and founder Julian Assange himself brought up Rich unprompted on a Dutch TV program, implying that Rich was a source. The host was taken aback by Assange’s suggestion and tried to push him on what he was implying, but Assange did not clarify his remark:

    Pro-Trump media jumped on the interview. Mike Cernovich immediately promoted the interview while stating point-blank that Rich was the source -- something that even Assange never said. On August 10, Hannity discussed the interview on his radio show, saying that it wasn’t the Russians who gave WikiLeaks the information. Later in the show, he discussed the matter with Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Townhall’s Rachel Alexander. Hoft was befuddled as to why the Rich family would not want the matter politicized, saying that it could only increase the information about the murder.

    Also on August 10, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson published a video about Assange’s implication, expressing concern that Assange could be assassinated:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also jumped on Assange’s interview on the same day, telling Mike Gallagher on August 10 that the conspiracy theory was “worth talking about.”

    WikiLeaks also issued a similarly vague statement on August 10.

    On August 11, WikiLeaks started sowing distrust in Rich’s family when it tweeted that the family’s spokesperson was a “professional Democrat” -- even though the same could be said for Rich himself.

    In the days that followed, Infowars ramped up its coverage. Watson cited a “source close to the Democratic party” who said his reporting was “on the money.” Infowars dutifully picked up Gingrich’s interview and used it to confirm its own assertions. The conspiracy theory site was particularly incensed that the Rich family would hire a spokesperson to quash conspiracy theories. And it went on to publish multiple pieces about Rich that included accounts of WikiLeaks’ assertions and implications about Rich.

    Assange would resurface and again hint that Rich was his source on the August 25 edition of The Kelly File, again declaring his interest in the case without actually saying anything about Rich himself. While Laura Ingraham and some others ran with what Assange said to Kelly File host Megyn Kelly, Fox host Greg Gutfeld hit Assange for pushing the conspiracy theory -- to the distaste of fellow Fox host Eric Bolling:

    The conspiracy theory machine would turn away from Rich for most of September and October, though during this time Hannity frequently talked with Assange on his radio show, eager for new leaks that could be damaging to Clinton. In September, Rich’s girlfriend and his family spoke with Chris Hansen of Crime Watch Daily about the case, condemning the claims. GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman also began working with the Rich family at this time, offering more than $100,000 in rewards for information. Burkman would later say that he could “rule out attempted robbery” based on his canvassing of the neighborhood.

    On October 7, The Daily Beast reported that “Russia’s senior-most officials” ordered the DNC hack. On November 2, fake news purveyor DC Gazette published a post saying that WikiLeaks’ source was neither Russia nor Seth Rich, but instead dissatisfied government staffers. On December 9, The Washington Post reported on a CIA assessment that Russia was behind leaks targetting the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

    This Post story would touch off a new round of conspiracy theories about Rich, and once again they began with Louise Mensch’s Heat Street. On December 14, the site aggregated comments on Twitter saying that it was Seth Rich and not Russia that provided WikiLeaks with the emails. The piece offered no theory as to how Rich could have gotten access to DCCC or Podesta emails; indeed, it’s unclear from the story if the author even understood that there were multiple hacks, even though Mensch herself turned up in the hacked Podesta emails (which the piece did not disclose). Weeks after this post, it was announced that Mensch had left Heat Street in “mid-December.” There is no indication if Mensch was still at Heat Street when this post was published.

    On December 15, Craig Murray, a “close associate” of Julian Assange, told the Daily Mail that he was a middleman for the leaks and that the handoff took place in D.C. in September. People immediately began tying Rich to Murray, even though Murray’s supposed handoff date (of which there was no evidence) took place months after Rich was murdered.

    Later that day on the radio, Hannity would cite Murray’s account as evidence that Russians were not behind the hacking. Later in the program, Hannity brought up Fox contributor John Bolton’s conspiracy theory from December 12 that if something looked like it was the Russians hacking, it might actually be a false flag in which someone made it look like it was the Russians. Assange agreed with the theory on Hannity’s show: 

    Hannity also called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) an “idiot” for saying that Russians were involved in hacking:

    Weeks later, on January 3, Hannity returned to Rich, again saying that Rich may have been the source for Wikileaks:

    On January 6, U.S. officials released a report saying that Russians were behind the hacking. Suddenly, Hannity admitted that Russians have been hacking Americans for years:

    On January 12, Guccifer 2.0 denied the report that Russia was behind the hacking.

    Once again, the conspiracy mill died down, with occasional posts on 4chan and Reddit keeping the conspiracy theory alive.

    On February 27, Jack Burkman, the GOP lobbyist who at one point was allied with the Rich family, told the Daily Mail that he had evidence that the Russians killed Rich because Rich had evidence that they were the ones behind the hacking. Burkman’s only source was a “former U.S. intelligence officer” -- “an older man, 65-70 years old, who claims to have been a contractor in Iraq in the 1970s.” None of Rich’s friends or family members have given any indication that Rich had such an explosive secret.

    In mid-March, Stone admitted contact with Guccifer 2.0, but he claimed it was innocuous.

    On March 23, Burkman talked to Sinclair station WJLA in Washington, D.C., about launching a new investigation. Claiming that the investigation would be launched out of “the Seth Rich Center for Investigations” in Arlington, VA, Burkman now claimed to have a team including “a forensic physiologist, a security specialist and George Washington grad students.” But the piece also noted that the Rich family had no part in this effort.

    On April 8, a new conspiracy theory emerged alleging that Guccifer 2.0 was the middleman between RIch and WikiLeaks. Model Robbin Young published screenshots on her website of a purported direct message conversation she had with Guccifer 2.0 from August 25. In it, Guccifer 2.0 claimed that the DNC leak came from someone named “Seth” and responded affirmatively when Young talked about Rich’s murder. WikiLeaks, the subreddit “r/The Donald,” Gateway Pundit, Heat Street, and others immediately ran with the claim.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conspiracy theory came to its most public stage on May 15. That was a week after Obama intelligence chief James Clapper and former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified before the Senate partially on issues relating to Russian hacking, days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey as a result of the Russian investigation, and hours after The Washington Post reported that Trump gave highly classified information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that compromised a valuable intelligence source.

    On that day, Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler told Fox 5 DC, a station owned and operated by Fox News’ parent company, that he had evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

    Sean Hannity pushed the story on his Twitter account shortly after midnight, including by quote-tweeting a vague allegedly hacked email of Podesta’s:

    After retweeting a video of the Fox 5 segment, Hannity affirmatively quote-tweeted someone claiming that Assange had previously said that Rich was his source (which, again, Assange had never actually said).

    The story exploded as conservatives latched onto a tale that ostensibly showed that the focus on Russia was misplaced. Drudge put the story on the top of the site. The subreddit “r/The Donald” went crazy. Pro-Trump media pushed the story hard. Fox News joined in on Tuesday morning. By 10 a.m., Hannity was lashing out at CNN's Oliver Darcy for noticing the trend.

    Hannity then quote-tweeted Robbin Young, whose story about Seth Rich was different from the one Wheeler was pushing and that Hannity was touting. (Guccifer 2.0 claimed that they served as the middleman between Rich and Wikileaks; Assange had implied and Wheeler had stated that Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks directly.) At no point then or later did Hannity ever seem to notice the discrepancy.

    At one point, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson even claimed that the Washington Post story about Trump giving highly classified information to the Russians was a hoax intended to cover up the Rich story -- a claim based on Watson completely misreading time stamps on the stories (the Post’s went up before the Fox 5 piece did).

    But soon, the Rich story fell completely apart. The Fox station admitted on May 16 that D.C. police said that Wheeler’s claim was false. Wheeler’s contact with the Rich family turned out to be frequent Fox News guest and Breitbart author Ed Butowsky. Wheeler himself admitted to CNN that he actually had no evidence. Wheeler instead claimed that his comments were reflective of the FoxNews.com piece that ran. Fox News’ piece, by Malia Zimmerman, cited Wheeler as the source of the claim.

    And yet, the transparent bullshit was still enough for pro-Trump media. On May 16, echoing Benghazi conspiracy theories, Gateway Pundit claimed there was a “stand down” order given to police regarding the Rich investigation. An “alt-right” troll asked Trump himself about Rich in the White House, getting no response. Anonymous posts on 4chan linked Rich to Pizzagate, Antonin Scalia’s death, Michael Hastings’ death, and even Media Matters. An anonymous post on 8chan even suggested that Rich was illegally surveilled and then improperly unmasked by former national security adviser Susan Rice.

    Lou Dobbs on Fox Business picked up the line of attack on Rich’s family that had previously begun with WikiLeaks and Infowars, saying there was “a partisan shroud” on Rich’s family:

    Later on May 16, Hannity even declared that Rich’s murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history”:

    Later in the show, Hannity talked with American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, focusing on the media being wrong about Russia. Hannity continually brought Rich into the conversation:

    Hannity then had Wheeler himself on the show. Wheeler continued pushing the conspiracy theory, even while admitting that he never had seen the evidence.

    The next day, even more claims collapsed. Newsweek reported that the FBI is not investigating Rich’s death, contra Wheeler’s claims, and a family spokesperson confirmed that D.C. police found no evidence of stolen emails ever being on Rich’s laptop. Fox 5 added an editor’s note that Wheeler had backtracked from claims that he made, but it did not retract the story. The story was in shambles. The Rich family demanded full retractions from Fox 5 and Fox News.

    Still, conservative media persisted.

    On May 18, after Mediaite published a post highlighting people mocking Hannity, Hannity again tweeted his belief in the conspiracy.

    Hannity then discussed the case at length on his show, re-airing Assange’s Dutch TV interview and previous radio interviews.

    On May 19, the Rich family sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rod Wheeler.

    The Russian Embassy in the U.K. trolled everyone when it stated as a fact that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source. Meanwhile, Infowars claimed that The Washington Post was reporting on the Comey memos only as a distraction from the Rich story.

    May 19 is also when Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom inserted himself into the story. Dotcom alleged that he had bombshell information on the case. As Dotcom, who lives in New Zealand, is fighting extradition to the United States to avoid trial for charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, nearly everyone on the planet saw through the ruse, save for Sean Hannity.

    Hannity brought up the conspiracy theory again that night on his show with Jay Sekulow, apparently just for the purpose of saying that it is important because if true, it would clear Russia entirely.

    Over the weekend, it got even stranger.

    Stone escalated attacks on Rich’s parents, claiming on his radio show Stone Cold Truth they were engaging in “suspicious” behavior.

    Stone also told obvious lies. For instance, he claimed that Craig Murray said Rich was his source. First, Murray did not mention Rich in his comments about serving as a middleman for the emails. Second, Murray said he met his source in September, months after Rich had already been murdered. Third, nothing about what Murray actually did say is credible in the least -- there’s no evidence and nothing has been corroborated. There were other factual errors as well, though “Roger Stone says something factually incorrect” is the rule, not the exception.

    “Dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft jumped head-first into the Dotcom conspiracy, even one-upping Hannity by picking up an anonymous 4chan poster whose only claim to knowledge is “I work in D.C.” The post claimed there’s a “panic” in D.C. over the Rich conspiracy theory that right-wing media had been pressing.

    The following day, Hannity would echo this post:

    Hannity even admitted that it was about the Russia story:

    Also on Sunday, Newt Gingrich joined Fox & Friends Sunday and stated outright that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source for DNC emails, even though he had avoided that conclusion in August. Pro-Trump media jumped to promote the interview.

    Another Gateway Pundit post took a video that the Rich family did thanking donors to a GoFundMe campaign and stated that it was actually done to thank conservative media for pushing the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, self-described “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone said that someone had edited Rich’s Reddit posts. Soon after, she added a “retraction” note to the post following a statement from the Pandas For Bernie Facebook group.

    Early on May 22, Assange was still playing coy about Rich and WikiLeaks

    But by this point, the story was getting attention in the mainstream media -- but only as a conspiracy theory run amok in right-wing media. As Hannity’s conspiracy-mongering had drawn attention, he became a focal point of criticism. The Daily Beast ran a story about Fox News personalities embarrassed by Hannity’s actions.

    Hannity was undeterred:

    On his radio show, Hannity said that he was right about Rich because he had been right about Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed while walking through a Florida neighborhood:

    (He wasn’t right about Trayvon Martin, by the way.)

    Geraldo Rivera, a perpetual gadfly when it comes to pushing terrible things, also jumped on the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, the subreddit “r/The Donald” announced plans for a march on D.C. about Rich’s death on its anniversary, claiming 1.1 million people could show up.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 23, everything came to a head. Rich’s brother personally asked Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theories. Shortly thereafter, Fox News retracted its story about Rich, the one that Rod Wheeler originally cited as the basis for his story. A statement from Fox News said that the story did not meet the site’s editorial standards.

    And yet after all of this, Hannity continued to push the story on his radio show.

    On Twitter, Hannity ecstatically promoted Kim Dotcom’s “revelation,” which was a big nothingburger.

    The Rich family then published an op-ed in The Washington Post begging commentators to stop pushing conspiracy theories about their son.

    Hannity then tweeted about the op-ed as if it wasn’t just about him

    Shortly before his television show, Hannity tweeted that he still stood behind everything he had said on the topic, but also that he just was on a call with three of his attorneys:

    On his show, Hannity said that he was stopping talking about the matter “for now” at the request of the Rich family:

    And yet before his show was over, Hannity hinted on Twitter that he was still looking at the story.

    He even retweeted gratuitous praise from Kim Dotcom.

    Meanwhile, Oliver Darcy, who followed the story closely from the beginning, had a list of good unanswered questions for Fox News about Hannity’s despicable and ghoulish actions.

    Hannity then begged for fans to spread the conspiracy theory.

    By morning, a Republican congressman was echoing Hannity.

    Newt Gingrich, after pushing the conspiracy both in August and again on May 21, suddenly said that he didn’t know anything about it, telling The Washington Post, “I don’t know anything about it. … I know exactly what has been said on the various blog sites. ... I think it is worth looking at.”

    The retractions and hedging were much too little and far too late. In the bowels of pro-Trump media, Hannity had become a martyr and the Seth Rich conspiracy theory was gospel.

    The enduring tragedy of the episode is that the Rich family will likely have to live with this delusion bubbling up for a very long time. Even worse, pro-Trump media will say that they are part of it.

    No family deserves that.

    Research assistance provided by Bobby Lewis

  • Fox uses Manchester terror attack by UK native to justify Trump's Muslim ban

    That doesn’t even make sense

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News used a deadly terror attack that killed 22 at a concert in Manchester, England, to advocate for President Donald Trump’s stalled Muslim ban, which would ban travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries. But this argument makes no sense given that Trump's ban doesn't apply to citizens and the attack was carried out by a U.K. native who was born in Manchester.