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  • Fox & Friends gives Trump administration credit for “cracking down on Russia” after it belatedly implements legally required sanctions

    New sanctions were mandated by US and international law for Russia’s nerve agent assassination attempt in the UK

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox & Friends is, yet again, pointing to congressionally-mandated sanctions the Trump administration is (belatedly) implementing to claim the president is “cracking down on Russia.”

    On August 8, the State Department announced a new round of sanctions against the Russian government and affiliated entities in response to the use of a Soviet-era nerve agent in the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil in March. Months later, in July, two British civilians also came into contact with the nerve agent, which killed one of them.

    Now, Fox & Friends is pointing to the newest round of sanctions to claim the president is “holding Russia accountable” and “screwing this collusion thing up,” even though the sanctions are mandated by Congress and international law, and the administration has been late in implementing them.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): The Trump administration holding Russia accountable.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Again. The U.S. is issuing brand new sanctions, and this, after the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter. They've been investigating since, and they don't like what they've found.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Griff Jenkins live in Washington, D.C. with the details on how the U.S. of A is cracking down on Russia.

    ...

    DOOCY: It looks as if the president is screwing this collusion thing up because I've been watching on the other channels, "He's been colluding with Russia." And yet, once again, they're cracking down on Russia.

    EARHARDT: Slapping sanctions.

    DOOCY: Flying in the face of that narrative with new sanctions.

    ...

    KILMEADE: Every step of the way the president's done this, but he doesn't trumpet it. He doesn't say, "Hey, I've got a press conference, here are the sanctions." He just puts them on, and the next thing you know, they're mounting and I think they are significant. Especially they still focus on the Maginsky (sic) Act, and what he did to certain oligarchs surrounding Vladimir Putin, because it's really throttled their individual banking ability and investment ability.

  • Right-wing media attacked Obama for showing openness to talks with Iran. Trump just did exactly that.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 30, President Donald Trump said that he would be willing to meet with Iranian leadership with “no preconditions.” Right-wing outlets were largely silent about Trump’s remarks, but had harshly criticized former President Barack Obama for saying the same thing.

    While running for president and during his presidency, Obama made clear that his vision for America’s foreign policy involved meeting with Iran. In 2009, Obama said that he was willing to talk to Iran “without preconditions” to reach a deal that would end the country’s nuclear weapon program. Obama again said in 2013 that he would sit down with Iranian leadership but only if the regime signaled that it was serious about giving up its nuclear weapons. In response, conservative media pundits branded the former president as “weak” and roundly disapproved of his supposed leniency toward Iran.

    But now right-wing outlets are generally silent about Trump’s remarks. Notably, Fox host Sean Hannity, who was an outspoken critic of Obama’s plans to meet with Iran, has not mentioned Trump’s announcement, and many others have followed his lead.

    Here’s how right-wing media reacted to Obama previously:

    • Hannity also griped repeatedly about the possibility of Obama meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani or Russian President Vladimir Putin while supposedly sidelining Republicans.
    • Trump’s current lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on Hannity in 2012: “I have a message to the President. Mr. President, they [Iran] don't want to negotiate with you. They want to build an atomic weapon. Wake up!” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity stated in 2012 that Obama “said he would negotiate with Iran without preconditions. I can think of a few preconditions -- recognizing Israel's right to exist, stop threatening to annihilate them and wipe them off the map, recognizing the truth that the Holocaust occurred, and also stopping your nuclear weapons program.” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity also said in 2010, “Do you think we can negotiate with Hitler Jr., [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, without preconditions?” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity said in 2008: “Iran is a tiny country and not a serious threat. Those are Barack Obama's words. He said would you meet in your first year with people like Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad without preconditions? Yes, his answer was. He hasn't been held accountable, really, for a lot of these statements.”
    • Advisor to President George W. Bush Karl Rove complained to Hannity in 2011 that it is “frankly inexplicable” that Obama would continue to meet with American enemies despite “having been in office now for two-and-a-half years.” (via Nexis)
    • Anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel stated on Hannity in 2013, “The only time in the Islamic world you come to the negotiating table is to negotiate the terms of your surrender! Right now, President Obama has delivered America to Iran as weak.” (via Nexis)
    • National Review’s William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn wrote, “Barack Obama’s position on negotiating with U.S. enemies betrays a profound misreading of history.” The authors added that if Obama were to meet with Iranian officials, “he will lower the prestige of the office of the president.”
    • Fox’s Steve Doocy hosted Fox legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. who complained that Obama would rather negotiate with “a murderous anti-Semite,” referring to Rouhani, than with Republicans. Johnson also said, “Let’s be as eager to speak with the Republicans as we are to speak with the Iranians and malefactors in this world.”
    • Then-New York Post columnist Charles Hurt criticized Obama for “promis[ing] face time” to Ahmadinejad. According to Hurt, “We'd still be fighting the Japanese if Harry Truman - a Democrat unafraid to fight - subscribed to this fuzzy fringe foreign policy.”
  • Trump's lawyers now say collusion is not a crime. Right-wing media have been saying that for over a year.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS, GRACE BENNETT & KATIE SULLIVAN

    Two lawyers for President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, have begun publicly making the case on behalf of their client that colluding with a foreign country to swing an election is not be a crime. During a July 30 appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Giuliani claimed that “collusion is not a crime,” an argument he went on to repeat that same day to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. The next day, Sekulow appeared on Fox & Friends and declared multiple times that “collusion is not a crime.”

    This isn’t the first time that Giuliani has suggested that potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia may not have been illegal. In May, he told Fox’s Laura Ingraham that there is “nothing illegal” about “looking for dirt” on political opponents, even “if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American.” And Trump in December himself told The New York Times, “Even if there was [collusion], it's not a crime." These claims from the president and his lawyers echo more than a year of similar protestations by right-wing and pro-Trump media figures:

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity: “The breaking news today is [special counsel Robert] Mueller is just now starting investigating Russia collusion, which isn’t a crime.”

    • Hannity: “Today is the one-year anniversary of the Mueller witch hunt, and so far the special counsel has not provided a single shred of evidence of any collusion. And collusion is not against the law.”

    • Hannity: “Collusion is not a crime.”

    • Hannity : “Collusion’s not a crime. That’s the whole irony here.”  

    • Fox’s Jeanine Pirro: Trump “only needs to answer questions about crimes. If it’s not a crime to fire [former FBI Director] Jim Comey, then what crime are we talking about? Collusion? Russian collusion is not a crime.”

    • Pirro: “Collusion is not a crime, so why are all the Democrats saying we’re looking for collusion? Collusion is not a crime. How stupid are they?”

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham: “Collusion’s not a crime. ... As Andy McCarthy keeps saying, collusion -- there is not a crime in actually speaking to Russian officials during an election cycle.”

    • Fox’s Gregg Jarrett: The FBI “launched the investigation, as I argue in my book, to frame Donald Trump for things he didn’t do, for crimes he didn’t commit. Collusion is not even a crime in a political campaign."

    • Jarrett: “You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election.”

    • Jarrett: “It was always a myth that collusion in a political campaign is a crime. It’s not.”

    • Jarrett: “Collusion is only criminal in an antitrust setting. It has nothing whatsoever to do with elections.”

    • Fox Business Network’s Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: “As the president’s attorney Jay Sekulow has pointed out a bunch of times, collusion is not a crime. And that’s absolutely true.”

    • Frequent Fox guest Alan Dershowitz: “You cannot impeach a president unless he’s committed a crime. Collusion is not a crime.”

    • Dershowitz: “Collusion is not a crime. I have seen no evidence of collusion.”

    • Dershowitz: “I’ve been teaching criminal law for 50 years, and I know the federal criminal code pretty well. The word ‘collusion’ appears only in one context, and that is if businesses collude with each other in violation of the antitrust law, that’s a crime. But there’s no crime of collusion with a foreign government.”

    • Dershowitz: Mueller is “inventing a crime. There’s no such crime as 'collusion' in the federal statute.”

    • Fox's Brit Hume: “Can anybody identify the crime? Collusion, while it’d obviously be alarming and highly inappropriate for the Trump campaign -- of which there is no evidence by the way, of colluding with the Russians, -- it's not a crime.”

    • NRATV’s Dan Bongino: “I don’t believe the collusion story at all. But the fact is, Tucker, even if there was collusion, collusion isn’t even a crime.”

    • Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: “What is the crime? If the Russian KGB chief is talking to Paul Manafort and the chief says, ‘You know, I've got this dirt here that says Hillary Clinton was this or that.’ And Paul Manafort says, ‘Next Wednesday, why don't you release that. That'd be great for us.’ I don't know that that's a crime at all, what’s the crime?”

    • Conservative author Ronald Kessler: “There’s no violation of the law if, in fact, the campaign colluded with Russia, whatever that means.”

    • Conservative author Michael Reagan: “Collusion is not breaking the law.”

    • Pro-Trump Twitter troll Bill Mitchell:

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Simone:
    • Frequent Fox guest Jonathan Turley on Fox & Friends: “Collusion itself is not a crime”

    Video by John Kerr

  • Right-wing media attack Michael Cohen after he claimed Trump approved of Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media figures attacked the president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen after he claimed that then-candidate Trump knew in advance of the June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.

    CNN reported last night that Cohen claimed to have been in the room when Trump Jr. informed his father of his plans to meet with the lawyer who allegedly had dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton. Whether or not Trump had known of the meeting beforehand has been a central question in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Previously, Trump Jr. had denied informing his father of the meeting. He later testified to Senate investigators that he could not recall whether or not he notified Trump prior to the meeting.

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned Cohen’s credibility and hinted that Cohen may have committed perjury. Fox contributor Geraldo Rivera also hyped Cohen’s “sleaziness.” The Drudge Report referred to Cohen as “the rat.” The Daily Caller published multiple pieces that expressed excitement over Trump’s scathing response to the Cohen story, hyped his denial, and piled on to the Drudge-inspired nickname for Cohen.

    Many right-wing media personalities took to Twitter to attack Cohen.

    Newsmax’s John Cardillo:

    Townhall opinion writer Kurt Schlichter

    CNN commentator Ben Ferguson

    New York Post opinion editor Seth Mandel

    The Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro:

    This post has been edited for clarity, to reflect that not all of the conservative media figures mentioned are allies of Donald Trump.

  • Fox & Friends barely covers report that Trump approved of Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The day after Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, said that Trump knew and approved of a meeting between members of his campaign and a Russian lawyer -- a meeting that the president had denied having knowledge of beforehand -- Trump’s favorite morning news show, Fox & Friends, almost entirely ignored the news until the president tweeted about it. At that point, the show opted to smear Cohen in an effort to clear Trump.

    CNN first reported that Cohen claimed to have been in the room when Donald Trump Jr. informed his father of his plans to meet with a Russian lawyer who, Trump Jr was told by an intermediary, would provide dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." It has since been reported that the Russian lawyer has close ties to top Russian officials. Cohen also reportedly said he is willing to give his version of the events to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election. Previously, both the president and Trump Jr. denied that the then-candidate knew of the meeting. Trump Jr. testified to Senate investigators that he couldn’t recall whom he had told.

    Whether or not Trump knew of the meeting beforehand has been a central question in the investigation. The day after the story broke, Fox & Friends initially mentioned it only once during a headlines segment. Only in the third hour of the show, after Trump denied Cohen’s account via Twitter, did Fox & Friends cover the story in more depth -- but with a characteristically pro-Trump slant. After replaying the same headlines segment from earlier, co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed Fox contributor Geraldo Rivera about the matter. During the interview, Kilmeade questioned Cohen’s credibility and peddled a theory that “it was the Trump team that released the information” in a clear effort to save face for Trump. Rivera joined Kilmeade, commenting on Cohen’s “sleaziness” in an effort to discredit his account.

  • Conservative media want you to believe Trump has been “tough” on Russia. They’re not telling the full story.

    Secretary of State Pompeo echoed right-wing media talking points on Trump’s toughness. In reality, Trump has undercut a number of actions Congress and his administration have tried to take against Russia.

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following President Donald Trump’s disastrous bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, the president’s administration flacks and conservative media lackeys quickly scrambled to his defense, arguing that Trump has been “tough” in his “actions against Russia” and rattling off a series of actions he has taken since 2017 that supposedly support such a claim. The president himself and administration officials have also parroted the talking points in an attempt to dispel the idea that he is somehow in the pocket of the Russian government. But a closer look at the actions Trump shills have pointed to reveals a foreign policy that is more concerned with posturing for media than being “tough” in the face of Russian aggression.

    On July 16, Trump met with Putin for a meeting behind closed doors in which no other American -- except an interpreter -- was present, and they emerged more than two hours later to give a wide-ranging press conference. When asked whether he holds the Russian government accountable for its multifaceted interference campaign during the 2016 elections, Trump repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. (The president would later claim to have gotten “would” and “wouldn’t” confused.)

    To counter the deluge of negative press in the wake of the meeting, right-wing media and administration officials pointed to various foreign policy and military responses to Russian aggression that the United States and its allies have undertaken during Trump’s presidency to argue that the president’s “actions” actually “have been tough.” About a week after the bilateral meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s conservative media defenders as he faced senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisting Trump “has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow” and that he has been “tough on Russia” as president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the meme, as did the president himself.

    Trump’s defenders have pointed to sanctions against Russia that were imposed under Trump, the American strikes against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in 2017 and 2018, the March 28 expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of a Russian consulate, Trump’s demands for other countries to increase their NATO spending, the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine to fend off the Russian military and rebels in the eastern portions of the country, and the pressure Trump put on German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed natural gas pipeline from Russia, among other specific actions. But Trump’s defenders are not telling the full story behind these actions.

    Sanctions

    In the aftermath of Trump’s meeting with Putin, a number of the president’s defenders touted sanctions that were imposed against Russia as evidence of Trump’s clear-eyed approach with regard to Russia. But, not only were the sanctions drawn up and passed by Congress while the Trump administration loudly opposed the move, the administration also dragged its feet in implementing them, missing a deadline to begin the implementation and only taking action after Congress demanded it do so. Moreover, Trump left United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley out to dry by walking back, without explanation, an announcement she made regarding additional sanctions against Russia.

    Additionally, one of the first official actions the Trump administration attempted was “to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election.” The effort to remove sanctions that were already on the books appeared to continue into Trump’s presidency, as one of his top fundraisers and former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, Elliott Broidy, reportedly offered in 2017 to “help a Moscow-based lawyer get Russian companies removed from a U.S. sanctions list.”

    Syria

    Right-wing media have also cited U.S. airstrikes conducted against the Syrian regime as evidence that Trump has stood up to Russian aggression. But, in 2017, Trump “notified Russia in advance of” the strike, “giving time for both Russian and Syrian forces to avoid casualties in an attack,” and by the very next day, Syrian warplanes were using the airfield that was targeted. Additionally, in 2018, the strikes Trump authorized against the Syrian regime targeted chemical weapons infrastructure, “and not the bases where the Russians and Iranians are.”

    Trump’s defenders have also pointed to an American counterattack on Russian mercenaries and Syrian military personnel in February, saying Trump “authorized” the attack. While the U.S. military did in fact fend off a Russian-backed attack after “repeatedly” warning about the “growing mass of troops,” the strike was an “act of self-defense.” Citing the incident as evidence that Trump is countering Russian interests in Syria does not address the larger picture that, under Trump, Russia has become even more entrenched, further solidifying its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, as Trump lacks a coherent overarching strategy for the war-torn country. Not to mention the fact that, in May 2017, Trump disclosed sensitive “code-word information” originating from Israeli intelligence services to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.

    Expulsion of Russian diplomats

    Trump sycophants are additionally highlighting the March 26 expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence operatives who were in the United States under diplomatic cover and the closure of a Russian consulate as further proof of Trump’s tough stance on Russia. But the expulsion of diplomats is an expected reaction that “represent[s] more symbol than substance.” And Trump also berated administration officials for expelling too many Russian officials, as he was reportedly “furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia” as compared to European allies, who joined the United States in the symbolic gesture.

    Moreover, in a still-unexplained proposition in the early days of the Trump administration, officials looked at “handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.”

    Weapons to Ukraine

    In what has emerged as a favorite talking point for Trump defenders in the wake of the meeting with Putin, conservative media are touting an arms deal with Ukraine. The deal, which the Obama administration had resisted, is meant to bolster Ukrainian defenses against the Russian military and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. Except Trump stooges in right-wing media fail to mention that the Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager’s shady business dealings in that country conspicuously stopped just “as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles.” Not to mention the fact that, during the 2016 campaign, Trump made the laughable claim that the Russian military is “not going into Ukraine,” even though it effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. According to Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Ukrainian officials were “tearing their hair and running around like crazies” when Trump was elected because of fears over what it would mean for the country.

    NATO spending

    Trump’s Fox News sycophants have also insisted that by “beating up the NATO allies” at the 2018 NATO summit, Trump succeeded in getting allies to “cough up more money” for the alliance when in fact Trump’s efforts had little to do with members’ increases in direct spending on their national military budgets. According to The New York Times, “each NATO member pledged in 2014,” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year by 2024. … As a share of G.D.P., spending by European members and Canada began to rise before Mr. Trump took office.”

    Nord Stream 2

    Conservative media have also pointed to Trump’s critical comments to Merkel at the 2018 NATO summit over the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany as confirmation that Trump is “tough” in dealing with Russia. But previous administrations and a bipartisan group of senators also opposed Nord Stream 2, and Trump himself toned down his criticism after meeting with Putin, conceding that the United States cannot block Germany’s domestic energy decisions. The German Marshall Fund’s Ulrich Speck said the president’s attacks against Merkel “looked as if Trump is looking for ammunition against Germany. If he would have been serious on pushing against Nord Stream, he would probably have brought this up much more forcefully with Putin.” Indeed, a “tough” U.S. policy toward Russia would avoid driving such a wedge between the United States and an ally that has disregarded domestic business concerns to wrangle European Union member states, which had their own economic apprehensions, to join sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.