During President Donald Trump’s hourlong telephone interview this morning with Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, the two of them together spread a number of lies relating to two sets of conspiracy theories: that Trump was supposedly framed by the “deep state” for receiving help from Russia during the 2016 campaign, and that the process of voting by mail is rife with fraud, boosting Trump’s ongoing efforts to delegitimize votes cast against him through absentee and mail-in ballots.
Bartiromo herself was the one who teed up these topics, beginning with a specific assertion that is not only a false Republican talking point put out recently by Trump’s director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, but likely Russian disinformation, according to previous investigations.
“We now know from these documents that John Ratcliffe unveiled that it was Hillary Clinton's idea to tie you to Russia in some way,” Bartiromo said. “It was successful — the whole country was talking about it for 2-1/2 years.”
In fact, this assertion was previously rejected by both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee as having been a piece of Russian disinformation meant to distract from that country’s role in hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails — which would be why the U.S. government was never supposed to make such an allegation public before. However, Fox News has been loyally running with this message in the days since Ratcliffe put it out there, as the Trump administration floods the zone with as much disinformation as possible to deflect from the president’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis.
Fox News has repeatedly downplayed the continued evidence that Russian intelligence not only intervened on behalf of the Trump campaign with the hacking and release of the DNC emails, but also that the Trump campaign welcomed the help, that numerous people in the campaign had connections to the Russian government, and that Trump political associate Roger Stone was in communication with WikiLeaks, the site that released the hacked emails.
Discussing people from the 2016 Trump campaign who she suggested had been unfairly placed under investigation for political reasons, Bartiromo mentioned former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, saying “Their lives have been completely changed. … What else is needed to ensure that the American people understand what took place, trampling on American people’s rights and liberties before the election?”
The Horowitz report, which Trump further cited in the interview with Bartiromo for having cited faults in the Russia investigations, actually affirmed that the Trump-Russia investigation began in 2016 for wholly legitimate reasons: The FBI had received a tip from an official with a “Friendly Foreign Government” — now widely known to be Alexander Downer, then the Australian ambassador to the United Kingdom and also a former leader of Australia’s conservative party — that Papadopoulos had told him that “the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).”
The Horowitz report had also busted a lot of other right-wing myths about the investigation including those peddled by Bartiromo, such as the idea that Papadopoulos had been “entrapped’ by sources working on behalf of the American government. Papadopoulos’ main contact was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor suspected of connections to the Russian government — and the report affirmed that Mifsud was not an American contact.
This section of the president’s interview with Bartiromo then segued rather smoothly to another set of conspiracy theories, as Trump criticized his FBI Director Christopher Wray for not taking Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting seriously.
Bartiromo and Trump then continued in a familiar right-wing media pattern, distorting local reports of procedural errors among the great mass of mail-in ballots — some of which were later proved to be incorrect in the first place — to cast doubt on the entire election process.
Bartiromo then added: “What are you going to do about it, Mr. President? If they cheated in 2016, they’re going to cheat again. How are you going to stop this and ensure that you have the wherewithal to fight back if it’s all ballot lies?”
As just one example, Trump said: “Now when you send out millions of ballots, when you’re the sender, you can send them wherever you want. You can send them to Democrat areas, Republican areas, You don’t have to send them at all. Mailmen are being, as you know, indicted. One was indicted yesterday in New Jersey.”
That story about the indicted mail carrier in New Jersey, which was indeed mishandled by most of the local media, does not appear to have been election-related at all. The defendant is alleged to have simply thrown out a large bag of mail from his route, which naturally happened to contain a small percentage of absentee ballots. And on top of that, those requested ballots were headed out to residents in a pair of heavily Democratic towns — so to the degree this alleged crime would potentially impact the election, it would likely be to suppress a number of votes for former Vice President Joe Biden. (New Jersey is already expected to vote for Biden on the whole.)
Trump and his right-wing media allies are pushing a raft of similarly misleading local news stories to discredit absentee ballots cast during the coronavirus pandemic and spreading a variety of falsehoods about supposed mail-in voting fraud. Their goal is reportedly to use any potential lead that Trump might have from just the election night returns, before many of the absentee ballots are counted, to declare that he is the victor because only those initial, in-person votes are the real ones — as Bartiromo put it, by declaring that mail-in votes cast against Trump are “all ballot lies.”
With today’s interview, Fox is helping push this dangerous election misinformation to voters nationwide.