Fox News pushes false story that Biden “dismantled” an agency to evacuate Americans

Right-wing media are also attempting to credit Trump — as well as current Fox News contributor Mike Pompeo — for a State Department program first established under Obama

Fox News is pushing a story, also circulating through right-wing media, that the Biden administration shut down a Trump-era program to protect Americans such as those now trapped overseas in Afghanistan. But the network doesn’t seem to have checked whether this program actually existed in any real form. And moreover, the State Department’s capabilities to coordinate evacuations already existed — including a program that was initially set up under President Barack Obama, but which right-wing media are now attempting to attribute solely to President Donald Trump.

Fox ran an article online Wednesday night, with the seemingly damning headline “Biden admin moved to dismantle protections for citizens trapped overseas months before Kabul’s fall: memo.” The article referred to a State Department memo in June for the “discontinuation of the establishment, and the termination of, the Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau (CCR).” The article said that this bureau was “formed under Trump-era Secretary of State Mike Pompeo” — who is also a Fox News contributor and a possible presidential candidate.

Of course, the fact that the memo discontinued the “establishment” of an agency ought to have called into question whether the agency had actually been “formed” yet.

The article was updated a few hours later, inserting at the sixth paragraph a comment from a State Department spokesperson, explaining that the State Department already had all the capabilities that this agency supposedly would have provided.

A State Department spokesperson told Fox News in a Wednesday email that it “is important to note that not only would the proposed Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau not have introduced any new capabilities to the Department, it was never formally established.”

“Some administrative steps were taken before its establishment was paused, but the day-to-day operations of the team have not changed,” the spokesperson said.

“Every requirement the Department delivered on last year, and since the proposed establishment of the bureau, can be delivered on today in the same manner if appropriate to do so,” they continued.

One of the earliest mentions of this supposed agency having been abolished came during an appearance on Fox Business Cavuto: Coast to Coast, during an interview with Robert Charles, a former State Department official during the George W. Bush administration.

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Citation From the August 18, 2021, edition of Fox Business’ Cavuto: Coast to Coast

ROBERT CHARLES: I’m told that three weeks ago, the Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken actually signed a document that abolished the Crisis and Contingency Response Bureau because they didn't want to be accountable for the evacuation, and so they decided to blame the Defense Department in advance.

You don't abolish a bureau overnight. That’s the bureau, by the way, that Trump set up about 18 months ago to get more than a hundred thousand Americans from around the world home with COVID. So you know, the bottom line here is, this is complete and total irresponsibility. And I sort of wake up every morning believing that somehow this isn’t happening, but it is happening.

A search on Nexis did not find anything about this Crisis and Contingency Response Bureau in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic — to which Charles had attributed its creation — nor to the fall of Afghanistan.

Then at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the right-wing Washington Free Beacon posted an article claiming that the Biden administration had canceled “a program overseeing the protection and evacuation of American citizens stationed overseas in the case of an emergency, just as the Taliban was taking over Afghanistan.” The Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau “was established late last year by then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo” in a notification sent to Congress in October, the article claimed. The article also said that another State Department document “lists the CCR as a functioning bureau as recently as January of this year.” The article was also promoted on Twitter by former Trump administration official and frequent Fox News guest Richard Grenell.

About an hour later, the article was updated with a comment from an unnamed current State Department official: “The official maintained the CCR Bureau created by the Trump administration ‘was never established in the first place,’ a claim that multiple sources who spoke to the Free Beacon disputed.” (And interestingly enough, Fox’s first published version of this story later that night contained neither any comment from the State Department, nor any acknowledgment of the prior comment to the Free Beacon.)

By Wednesday night, Fox host Laura Ingraham sourced the story to both Fox’s own reporting, as well as the Free Beacon story.

“In fact, Fox News can just now report that a few weeks ago, the Biden State Department dissolved its Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau,” Ingraham said, against a backdrop of the Free Beacon headline. “So as the Talibans are gaining ground, Biden's team of incompetence killed the Trump-era program to oversee the evacuation of Americans from crisis zones around the world.”

During the opening block of Thursday morning’s Fox & Friends, Fox News correspondent Mark Meredith said the network had “learned that the Biden administration recently ended a program that some believe could have helped U.S. citizens trapped abroad.” Meredith did add the qualifier that “a State Department official says the program was never formally established and that the Department still has the resources it needs.” (At the same time, though, the Fox chyron said, “Biden Admin Tried to Dismantle Citizen Protections.”)

Later in the program, Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy faulted the Biden administration for having dismantled “plans” for an agency to assist in evacuations — thus downgrading it from having been a functioning bureau, as originally reported, while also sidestepping the question of whether the State Department already had all these capabilities in the first place.

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Citation From the August 19, 2021, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends

PETER DOOCY (FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT): American troops have evacuated more than 6,000 people so far. It's not clear how much faster that would have gone if the Biden State Department did not dismantle plans for a rapid hostage rescue team formed by the Trump admin, aimed at avoiding another Benghazi.

But a memo from June ordered the, quote, “discontinuation of the establishment, and termination of, the Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau.”

The flim-flam continued into the afternoon on Fox’s purported “straight news” program America Reports with John Roberts & Sandra Smith. Guest co-anchor Trace Gallagher discussed this supposed Trump-created agency: “The Biden administration facing backlash, after a State Department memo revealed officials dismantled a program designed to protect American citizens trapped abroad.”

Former Trump administration Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland told Gallagher: “The Biden administration says, ‘Oh, well, if Trump did it, if Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, did it, we’ve got to get rid of it.’ So here they did, they got rid of the one group that was poised to help with this great tragedy that's now unfolding in Afghanistan. It makes no sense to me, other than sheer political obstinacy and compulsion.”

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Citation From the August 19, 2021, edition of Fox News’ America Reports with John Roberts & Sandra Smith

Late Thursday morning, Trump emailed a link to another article posted Wednesday afternoon by right-wing commentator Raheem Kassam, titled “Joe Biden’s State Dept Halted A Trump-Era ‘Crisis Response’ Plan Aimed At Avoiding Benghazi-Style Evacuations Just MONTHS Before Taliban Takeover.

In his article, Kassam attempted to prove the existence of the CCR bureau by citing a prior source: “In a lengthy article in Vanity Fair from May 2021, the Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau (CCR) – also referred to in overlap with a predecessor/partner bureau called ‘OpMed’ is described as a ‘little-known team of medics and miracle workers—hidden deep within the U.S. Department of State.’”

However, the linked article at Vanity Fair, titled “Inside the Secretive Government Unit Saving American Lives Around the World,” never used the term for CCR at all, only ever referring to the existing Operational Medicine (OpMed) Directorate as “an office created under Barack Obama’s administration, in 2013, and expanded under Trump’s.” The piece also stated that the program had “emerged from the ashes of Benghazi,” — a reference to the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed several Americans — when the Obama administration created it in order to avoid such recurrences (a purpose that Kassam attributed solely to Trump).

The Vanity Fair article also contained a lengthy quote from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, extolling OpMed as “a lifeline for the Department of State and the American people,” including its assistance in the evacuations of 100,000 Americans early in the COVID-19 pandemic, which Robert Charles had claimed during his appearance on Fox Business was a program created by Trump.

Kassam appeared to have attempted to conflate CCR, which was never formally organized, with the existing OpMed program that was first established under Obama (and appears to still be functional) in an effort to rebrand the entire agency as if it had been founded by Trump.