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  • Fox News virtually ignores report that Saudi, Emirati princes offered assistance to the Trump campaign

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News has almost entirely ignored a recent article published in The New York Times reporting that countries other than Russia may have offered to help the Trump campaign to victory in the 2016 election. According to the Times, a representative of the princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, offered Donald Trump Jr. assistance.

    On May 19, The New York Times reported on an August 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Joel Zamel, an Israeli social media expert; Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater who reportedly also worked with the UAE in an attempt to establish a communication back channel for Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin; and George Nader, who served as an emissary for the princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    According to the Times, Nader informed Trump Jr. at the meeting that the princes were “eager to help his father win election as president.” In the months after this initial gathering, Nader became “a close ally” to Trump campaign advisers, and met frequently with both Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Michael Flynn, who later served as Trump’s first national security adviser. Special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating these interactions.

    Despite the significance of the news, Fox has all but ignored the story. Between the publication of the article on May 19 and 11 a.m. on May 21, Fox News mentioned the story only twice, both times in short Sunday afternoon reports.

    Fox’s failure to adequately cover the story is not surprising given the network’s history of ignoring news that could potentially be harmful to the president, especially stories related to the Russia investigation.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “Saudi,” “Emirates,” “Gulf,” “Nader,” “Prince,” and “Donald Trump Jr.” on Fox News between May 19 and 11 a.m. on May 21. All mentions relevant to the story were included.  

  • Here's what you need to know about the right's theory that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In recent days, many on the right have pushed the claim that the FBI "infiltrated" President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign with a "mole." The claim relies upon the testimony of a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired a former British agent who compiled an intelligence dossier about Trump’s connections to various Russians. The claim also builds off of a recent squabble between the Department of Justice and the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), over the release of classified information. Here is what you need to know about the story’s origins:

    • On January 2, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the founders of the research firm Fusion GPS, claimed in an op-ed that the FBI had a source “inside the Trump camp” during the 2016 election.

    • On January 9, the transcript from Simpson’s August 2017 Senate testimony was released, revealing that he had told the Senate Judiciary Committee it was his “understanding” that the bureau had an “internal Trump campaign source.” Simpson also testified during the hearing that conversations he had with the author of the dossier about Trump’s Russia connections, Christopher Steele, led him to believe that the FBI had “a human source from inside the Trump organization.”

    • The same day, reporters tweeted that the Trump campaign insider Simpson referred to was George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and that the FBI's source was an Australian diplomat who informed U.S. officials that Papadopoulos had mentioned to him receiving Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton in May 2016.

    • Between January 9 and January 10, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that the “human source” Simpson had mentioned was allegedly the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer.

    • On January 18, however, a lawyer for Simpson sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asserting that Simpson “stands by his testimony.” The lawyer stated that Simpson was not withdrawing his claim that Steele had “believed the FBI had another source within the Trump organization/campaign.”

    • On May 8, The Washington Post reported that the DOJ was refusing to hand over information requested by Nunes because it could “endanger a top-secret intelligence source.” The source, according to the Post, had developed information that was “provided to the Mueller investigation.”

    • Two days later, The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel published an op-ed in which she speculated that the FBI may have secretly had a source “who used his or her non-FBI credentials” to interact with the Trump campaign.

      • Strassel wrote in the Journal that the DOJ and the FBI “outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation," which could mean that the FBI had a spy linked to the Trump campaign.
      • Strassel wrote that “When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency,” asserting that the FBI could have secretly planted a source who interacted with the Trump campaign.
      • ​According to Strassel, any such move on the FBI’s part would “amount to spying.”
      • Strassel also concluded that "Now we find [the FBI] may have also been rolling out human intelligence, John Le Carré style, to infiltrate the Trump campaign."
    • Strassel doubled down on her assertion during a May 11 appearance on Fox News, claiming, “The FBI was using human intelligence to spy on a presidential campaign.”

    Right-wing media is pushing the "spy" theory 

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed he knows “who the spy is” and that this person was “like an operative employed by the FBI to basically entrap somebody who worked with the Trump campaign in a peripheral way.” He also said that Papadopoulos “was entrapped by three people, including the person who is reputed to be the spy."

    Fox’s Sean Hannity argued that there was a spy embedded in the campaign and called the Strassel op-ed a “stunning new development” that raises “serious concerns and questions about the possibility [of] the F.B.I. planting a mole inside the Trump campaign.”

    The hosts of Fox & Friends devoted multiple segments to Strassel’s op-ed and also highlighted Limbaugh’s theory that the FBI planted a “spy” to “entrap” Trump associates. Fox’s Pete Hegseth argued that Limbaugh is “on to something,” and co-host Steve Doocy asked, “Was the FBI out to frame candidate Donald Trump?”  

    Trump sycophant and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs tweeted: “#ExposeTheMole- FBI & DOJ planted an spy in @realDonaldTrump’s 2016 campaign & didn’t tell congressional investigators.”

    During an appearance on Hannity’s radio show, Fox’s Sara Carter claimed, “It appears [the FBI] had somebody that was reporting back on information inside the Trump campaign, which would mean that they had a mole connected to people in the Trump campaign or within the Trump campaign.” Carter repeated the report on Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show, claiming, “Yes, I believe [the FBI] did have an informant, somebody that was reporting back to them.”

    The Daily Caller pushed the narrative in an article about Rep. Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) appearance on Fox News: “Ron DeSantis Says He May Know Who Was Spying On The Trump Campaign: ‘There Needs To Be Follow Up’.”

    Pro-Trump site The Gateway Pundit ran multiple articles by founder Jim Hoft that pushed the claim, including one in which Hoft claimed to know the “probable” identity of the “spy,” and another that argued there were multiple “deep state” sources.   

    Far-right fringe blog Zero Hedge posted Strassel’s op-ed with the headline, “WSJ: The FBI Hid A Mole In The Trump Campaign,” even though Strassel never claimed the “mole” was actually inside the campaign.

  • Dick Cheney: Liar and proud torture advocate

    All the howling falsehoods the former VP told in his defense of torture

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The torture program set up by the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks was a brutal, illegal, and slipshod travesty for which there has been no reckoning. All of the people who designed, implemented, and justified the brutal and useless interrogations of terrorism detainees have successfully ducked accountability for a variety of reasons: Republicans actively support torture, Democrats voluntarily abandoned their opportunity to impose accountability for the program, and both parties are apt to excuse flagrant abuses committed in the name of “national security.”

    This is why we have the grim spectacle of President Donald Trump (whose stated position on torture is that it should be used as sadistic punishment) nominating as CIA director Gina Haspel, who oversaw the torture of detainees and later led the effort to destroy videotaped evidence of interrogations. It’s also why former Vice President Dick Cheney can go on cable news and give lie-filled defenses of the horrific interrogation program he shepherded into existence.

    Cheney sat down with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo this week and oozed out a series of falsehoods about his torture program -- lies that elicited precisely zero challenges from Bartiromo. Let’s run through the many misleading claims and outright bullshit Cheney spewed in defense of his shameful legacy.

    “It [the torture program] was set up in a way that what we did was, in fact, consistent with our fundamental statutes and agreements that were in place.”

    The legal basis of the torture program was a dishonest and contradictory memo, drafted and acted upon in complete secrecy, that put the United States in direct conflict with the Geneva Conventions and served primarily to protect the people who wanted to make torture the policy of the United States. To protect CIA officials and political appointees from prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996, the Bush administration pushed legislation to redefine which acts constituted a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Cheney and crew did not act within existing law -- they concocted bizarre secret legal rationales and sought to change laws where necessary to protect themselves.

    “And it [torture] worked. We were able -- waterboarding was applied, actually, to only three individuals. One of those was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.”

    Torture did not work. Torture does not work.

    The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the Bush torture program found that it was ineffective at obtaining intelligence. The CIA officials who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed quickly determined that the technique had “proven ineffective,” that they’d “lost ground” with Mohammed’s interrogation, and that “the potential for physical harm is far greater with the waterboard than with the other techniques, bringing into question the issue of risk vs. gain.” In the end, “no information provided by Mohammed led directly to the capture of a terrorist or the disruption of a terrorist plot,” per The New Yorker.

    And Cheney would like everyone to focus on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed because he is genuinely evil and a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist -- someone who, per Cheney’s obvious implication, deserved to be tortured. He’d be less enthusiastic to talk about Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times and nearly drowned because the U.S. government believed he was a top-level Al Qaeda operative. He wasn’t, and the government has since acknowledged as much.

    That’s to say nothing of detainees who were tortured and died while in U.S. custody. And let’s not forget the innocent people who were swept up by the government, like the Afghani man who was tortured so brutally that he begged his CIA interrogators to kill him, or the pregnant woman who was beaten in the abdomen and chained to a wall.

    “He’s [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] the guy who got waterboarded more than anybody else. I think what we did helped ultimately produce the intelligence we needed to be able to get [Osama] bin Laden.”

    Nope. The Senate torture report debunked this claim, noting that “the most critical -- or the most valuable” information that led to bin Laden’s death “was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” that the CIA was targeting the courier who ultimately led U.S. forces to bin Laden before any of its detainees provided information on him, and that “CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques withheld and fabricated information about” the courier.

    “If it were my call, I would not discontinue those [torture] programs. I’d have them active and ready to go. And I’d go back and study them and learn.”

    This is an interesting comment in that Cheney’s desire to go back and “study” the torture sessions “and learn” from them at least sort of recognizes that they were a beastly disaster. Unfortunately, the current nominee for CIA director led the agency’s internal effort to destroy videotaped evidence of its torture sessions, which makes it more difficult to “learn” from the abuses it committed.

    “If you know Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the mastermind behind all of this, if you know he is number two to bin Laden in terms of the attack, if you know he’s probably the guy who knows more than anybody else except bin Laden what’s next, what’s their next target, how many people are they going to kill and how they are going to do it, and then you tell me that the only method we have is ‘please please pretty please tell us what you know.’ Well, I don’t buy that.”

    This is Dick Cheney, a liar and a villain, falsely arguing that the only options available to interrogators were a) asking nicely and b) torture. If those were, in fact, the only options, then the case for torture would seem more plausible. But the Army Field Manual lays out a whole range of permissible interrogation techniques and details how to effectively use them. Right now, all military and intelligence personnel are legally bound to follow the Army Field Manual when conducting interrogations. And, as has already been established, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s interrogators quickly determined that torturing him wasn’t productive.

    “I think the techniques we used were not torture.”

    They were.

    “A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn’t deemed torture at the time.”

    It was.

    “The techniques we used are techniques we use on our own people in training. We didn’t go and make them up someplace.”

    Cheney is referring here to SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training. And he is correct that the torture program was based on SERE training techniques, which are used to prepare American military personnel should they be captured and … you guessed it … tortured. To that point, the SERE program was developed based on interrogation methods used by the Chinese military which were designed not to extract information, but to elicit false confessions.

    “The president signed off, I signed off, the National Security Council signed off. They did a good job, they got the intelligence they needed, and we were safe from any further mass-casualty attacks in the seven and a half years on our watch. Now people want to go back and try to rewrite history. But if it were my call, I’d do it again.”

    It’s an amazing thing that the former vice president of the United States can go on TV and declare -- proudly -- that he and the president he served with made torture the official policy of the United States. It’s a howling outrage that a statement like this isn’t viewed as a confession of culpability in grotesque human rights violations. But that’s what happens when no accountability is imposed for one of the most shameful chapters in the war on terror.

  • Fox News repeatedly claims information obtained by torture led to Osama bin Laden’s death. It didn't.

    The 2014 Senate torture report revealed that the US collected key intelligence on bin Laden’s location without torture

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the coverage leading up to and following CIA acting Director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become director, multiple Fox News personalities and guests have asserted that torture helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. However, the Senate’s 2014 investigation of the CIA torture program indicates that there is no evidence for this claim. 

    In recent days, Fox figures and guests have made bold claims that torturing detainees at secret CIA prisons known as “black sites” resulted in valuable intelligence that helped track down the former leader of Al Qaeda:

    • On his May 7 Fox show, Sean Hannity cited an earlier guest to claim that if there had been “no waterboarding we wouldn't have found Osama bin Laden's courier and we wouldn't have gotten bin Laden.” Hannity made the same claim the following night. 
    • In an May 8 appearance on Fox’s The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that the torture program “gave us clues that led directly to helping identify the location of Osama Bin Laden.” Cheney repeated the claim two days later on Fox Business. 
    • On the May 9 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle asserted that “the water boarding led them to Osama Bin Laden's house.”
    • On May 10, all three co-hosts of Fox & Friends agreed that “you don’t get bin Laden” without torture.
    • On the May 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Geraldo Rivera commented that “torture in retrospect may seem regrettable, but there’s no denying that it did lead to the courier that did lead us to the terror mastermind” Osama bin Laden.

    In 2014, the Senate investigated the CIA’s torture program. According to a Vox summary of the 525-page document, the Senate report reveals that the CIA extracted “key intelligence” on bin Laden courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- “‘including information the CIA would later cite as pivotal’ in finding Bin Laden” -- by 2002. However, “the CIA didn't acquire any intelligence on al-Kuwaiti via torture until 2003. The CIA had begun trying to find and identify al-Kuwaiti well before any of that information was in.”

    In 2004, the CIA torture program did capture a man named Hassan Guhl who told the U.S. government that al-Kuwaiti was a bin Laden assistant and that the Al Qaeda leader "likely lived in a house with a family somewhere in Pakistan," according to Vox. However, “Ghul told the CIA all of that before they decided to torture him.” The Senate report explains that “during and after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, Ghul provided no other information of substance on al-Kuwaiti." From the Senate’s report on CIA torture, via NPR: