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  • 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.

  • Trump ordered the unprecedented release of classified material after a push from Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    On September 17, President Donald Trump ordered the declassification and public release of sensitive classified documents and text messages related to the origin of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. For weeks leading up to the president’s decision, two of his informal and most-trusted cable television advisers, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, clamored for the release of the material. Hannity even appeared to have gotten some early notice of the move, saying just days before Trump’s decision to declassify the material, “We expect next week, we might get those unredacted FISA warrants.”

  • There is no bottom

    Free of oversight and enabled by toadies, the president disappears Puerto Rico’s dead

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico almost a year ago and created a humanitarian catastrophe that continues to this day. The storm obliterated the U.S. territory’s already dilapidated infrastructure, causing an islandwide blackout that still isn’t completely fixed. With many residents denied access to electricity, fresh water, medical care, and other basic services, the death toll from the storm climbed. The official toll stood at 64 until early August, when the Puerto Rican government acknowledged that it was far, far higher -- at least 1,400. A few weeks later, Puerto Rico raised the official death toll to 2,975, based on estimates from an independent study commissioned by the commonwealth government.

    That death toll makes Hurricane Maria one of the deadliest disasters in U.S. history. To President Donald Trump, however, reports that nearly 3,000 U.S. citizens perished on his watch are a personal insult and a conspiracy to undermine him.

    You can read the president’s tweets on the subject if you like, but the gist is that the updated death toll is fake and was invented by unnamed Democrats who manufactured it solely to make Trump look bad. Earlier in the week, the president had been bragging about his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. “I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about,” Trump said. He also tweeted about the “unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico.”

    This depraved egotism is untouched by any sort of factual merit: To the president, the federal response to Maria was terrific because it was his response, and any suggestion of calamity or incompetence is obviously fake because it can’t be true. “I love Puerto Rico!” Trump declared in the same tweet in which he vanished the island’s thousands of hurricane casualties.

    Just as despicable as the president’s conspiracy theory about dead U.S. citizens was the determined effort by his toadies in conservative politics and right-wing media to defend Trump’s self-serving lies.

    The pro-Trump mercenaries at Breitbart.com insisted that Trump was “correct” to argue that Democrats had created a fake death count to smear him, pointing out that earlier estimates put the death toll at around 1,000 (it’s not clear how that helps the president, who tweeted that the death toll wasn’t much higher than 18). Breitbart complained that “the media reported the new estimate as if it were an actual confirmed death toll,” even though the Puerto Rican government revised the official death toll to align with that estimate. (Breitbart’s explanation for why the governor raised the death toll is that he was “under heavy political pressure due to the slow pace of the island’s recovery,” which makes absolutely no sense.)

    Lou Dobbs, whose Fox Business program functions as a self-debasing exaltation of the gloriously infallible Donald Trump, heaped praise on the president for having “the guts to call out the Dems and national left wing media types, who have blindly accepted an amazing tortured inflation of the death toll.” Dobbs’ explanation for how the death toll rose from 64 to nearly 3,000 was this: “It involves as many academicians as humanly possible in the effort, and then you watch the entire exercise become a farce.” Dobbs later tweeted out a video of the segment, which earned a retweet from the president.

    What Breitbart, Dobbs, and the rest of the president’s sycophants leave deliberately unmentioned is that the federal government’s inadequate response to the hurricane is well-documented. Puerto Rico did not receive the same federal attention or assets other less heavily damaged areas of the country received. A recent Government Accountability Office report identified numerous problems with the federal response, including personnel shortages, insufficient resources, and a lack of proper equipment. A PBS and NPR investigation into the federal storm response characterized the Federal Emergency Management Agency as “a government relief agency in chaos struggling with key contracts, basic supplies and its own workforce.” That chaos is in evidence as the crisis continues and “eighty percent of Puerto Ricans rate Trump’s response to Maria negatively.”

    There is no official reckoning of what happened in Puerto Rico because the people in power are more concerned with maintaining power than they are with figuring out exactly how many people died and why. Congressional Democrats are accusing Republicans of stymieing any real federal inquiry into Puerto Rico’s humanitarian nightmare, and there likely won’t be any real accountability so long as Republicans control both houses of Congress. This ugly truth props up Trump’s conspiracymongering and his supporters’ bad-faith defenses -- absent any sort of definitive federal investigation into the administration’s hurricane response, Trump and his enablers are free to hurl outlandish accusations and claim that the president’s critics are smearing him with fake numbers because no one knows precisely how many people died.

    They want to make sure that no one ever really knows what happened in Puerto Rico. Their most important consideration is that the president not be blamed for the catastrophe, and if that means dismissing a couple of thousand dead Americans as a fiction invented by the Democrats, then that’s what they’ll do.

  • I, fraud-ius: Conservatives go back to counting Obama’s pronouns

    Hannity and Dobbs preview the bad-faith attacks they’ll revive for a Democratic president

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The right-wing barkers who populate Fox News have rediscovered one of their favorite narratives: The president is an incurable and undignified narcissist. Not the current president, mind you. Not the one who made a business of slapping his name on gaudily appointed buildings, who used to call reporters pretending to be his own publicist and boast about his romantic life, who pursues illicit extramarital affairs and then pays his mistresses hush money, who gets a twice-daily briefing on positive cable news chyrons about himself, and who kicked off his presidency by lying extravagantly about the crowd size at his inauguration.

    No, the allegedly bloated and unseemly ego they can’t abide is that of former President Barack Obama, who just returned to the political stage with a critical speech aimed at Republicans generally and Donald Trump specifically. During Obama’s presidency, it was standard practice among conservative pundits to obsessively tally the number of first-person pronouns he used during public remarks and present those numbers as scientific proof of his potentially calamitous narcissism. Now that Obama has reemerged and given a political speech, they’re falling back into old habit.

    Sean Hannity smarmily observed that Obama “was so proud of himself that during his recent hour-long speech he talked a lot about himself, 102 times in one hour.”

    Lou Dobbs -- a tart critic of unseemly vanity who also sports an unnaturally radiant helmet of auburn hair atop his septuagenarian scalp -- complained that Obama “lovingly referred to himself 102 times during his unprecedented attack against his successor in the Oval Office.”

    The news here isn’t that pundits like Hannity and Dobbs are hypocrites -- they obviously are and they don’t give a shit. Moments like these are instructive, however, in that they show how conservative media will react once a Democrat returns to the presidency.

    Donald Trump’s narcissism and intensely fragile ego are more or less his defining qualities. His enablers and apologists in the conservative media who spent eight years howling that Barack Obama was fatally compromised by overriding self-regard either choose to simply ignore Trump’s actual crippling egotism or twist it into a positive. But the second Obama pops his head up, those same pundits momentarily revert to their old ways and start counting Obama’s “I’s” again. This is all being done in transparent bad faith.

    It’s important to recognize this nonsense ahead of time because these liars and propagandists have huge megaphones that they will use to slander and deride whoever challenges Trump for the presidency in 2020. They will energetically attempt to hold those Democrats to standards of moral and ethical behavior that they will never impose upon the current president. When there is no actual scandal to be found, they’ll invent one.

    All of this will be done with the goal of influencing the broader media coverage of those candidates. You can draw a straight line between shallow antics like conservatives counting Obama’s first-person pronouns and mainstream political analysts describing Obama as “aloof,” “professorial,” and the like.

    The key to thwarting this behavior is to recognize early on that it is all rooted in aggressive dishonesty. Hannity, Dobbs, and their ilk will make every excuse for Donald Trump’s scandalous behavior and moral failings and, in literally the next breath, hold Democrats to standards reserved for saints.

    (Video by John Kerr)

  • “It seemed pretty dangerous”: Right-wing and pro-Trump media lash out at Kavanaugh confirmation hearing protesters

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Members of the right-wing and pro-Trump media -- typically the self-proclaimed vanguards of “free of speech” -- are lining up to attack protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights by voicing their opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. They’ve attacked protesters as “venomous” and “dangerous” and even leveled sexist digs at female protesters, saying that they “are showing how truly ugly women can be.”

  • Why President Trump is attacking Google

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump promised to act in reaction to Google purportedly “suppressing voices of Conservatives” in pre-dawn tweets this morning. The comments came after he tuned in to a recorded Fox program in which several of his dedicated followers fulminated about a sketchy study concluding that the company is “manipulating its algorithm to prioritize left-leaning news outlets in their coverage of President Trump.” This is no way to run tech policy.

    In a pair of tweets issued beginning at 5:24 a.m., Trump said that Google search results for “Trump News” had been “RIGGED” to ensure that reports from “Fake News Media” were highlighted and that conservative outlets were “shut out.” He concluded, “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”

    Trump was tweeting while watching last night’s edition of Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, as his subsequent tweets demonstrated. A segment on that program highlighted an August 25 report in the conservative website PJ Media headlined “96 Percent of Google Search Results for 'Trump' News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.”

    PJ Media supervising editor Paula Bolyard wrote the piece after she ran a Google News search for “Trump,” took the first 100 articles, and “analyzed the results using Sharyl Attkisson's media bias chart.” This is an absurd methodology, as Attkisson’s chart (embedded below) places mainstream outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN on the far left -- indeed, further to the left than it places avowedly conservative outlets like The Weekly Standard, The Federalist, or National Review to the right. If you believe that to be an accurate view of the state of the news media, I cannot help you. (Attkisson is this decade’s Bernie Goldberg, a former CBS reporter with a history of conspiracy-minded reporting who left the network in 2014 and carved out a niche in conservative media in part by portraying herself as a victim of liberal media bias.)

    In a Twitter exchange this morning with the tech ethicist Matthew Stender, Bolyard acknowledged she had not conducted a “scientific study,” but said she stood by her “anecdotal results.”

    That might have been the end of the story. But the Drudge Report featured Bolyard’s post, and then Dobbs picked it up last night. The host, whom the president reportedly venerates as “a political and populism godfather,” opened the segment by claiming the report shows that Google is “blatantly suppressing conservative media outlets.” He then turned to Diamond and Silk, pro-Trump YouTubers who have become a cause célèbre on the right due to their baseless claims of censorship by tech companies. True to form, the pair claimed Google is engaged in “tyranny” and “political lynching” to prevent people from learning the truth about “our beautiful president.”

    Diamond added that "somebody's going to have to step in and take a look at this here." And the president, engaged in his usual practice of watching recorded Fox programs, said this morning that he would. All that’s left to determine is which Republican senator decides to answer the president’s call and garner some of the limelight when tech executives testify before the Senate intelligence committee next week. A right-wing conspiracy theory moved through the conservative noise machine to one of the president’s on-air apparatchiks, and now it may end up guiding federal tech policy.

  • No crime but a witch hunt: Pro-Trump media’s off-the-wall reactions to Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”