Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
President Donald Trump triggered turmoil in the Department of Justice (DOJ) last week after he tweeted public complaints about the sentencing recommendations for his longtime associate Roger Stone, after which Attorney General Bill Barr appeared to step in and interfere in the case. The incident rattled the legal community as fears escalated that an emboldened Trump — with Barr’s help — is politicizing the Justice Department for personal gain, prompting more than 2,000 former Department of Justice officials to sign a letter calling for Barr’s resignation and the Federal Judges Association to call an unprecedented emergency meeting.
Additional reporting revealed that Stone’s case was not the first time Barr’s Justice Department has intervened in legal matters close to Trump; NBC News reported on February 11 that Barr also intervened in the criminal investigations into former acting FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. On February 14, the Justice Department announced that McCabe would not be charged with lying to investigators, which Stone’s right-wing media defenders angrily insisted was an example of DOJ hypocrisy and further evidence of the “deep state” conspiracy theory against Trump.
Fox News host Sean Hannity, along with a slew of his network cohorts, has spent years advancing that conspiracy theory while relentlessly calling on Barr and the Justice Department to investigate and arrest Trump’s political opponents. Some of these Fox News figures calling for new investigations were implicated in Trump’s Ukraine scandal, such as contributor John Solomon and the GOP legal duo Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova. Others include Fox regulars Gregg Jarrett, Sara Carter, Dan Bongino, and Tom Fitton. The details among these calls vary, but they all carry the same theme: “Investigate the investigators,” or anyone else who has dared look into Trump’s misconduct over the last several years.
At the core of Hannity’s grievance is an overwhelming obsession with the idea that a bureaucratic “deep state” has been seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency since before the 2016 election. Every attempt to hold Trump accountable since then — the Mueller report, the Ukraine scandal that led to impeachment, and any other inconvenient fact about Trump that surfaces — has supposedly been evidence of the “deep state” trying to take down the president.
Given Trump’s long history of taking cues from Fox News and widespread concerns about the attorney general’s recent politicization of the Justice Department, it’s worth documenting the list of people whom Fox News has been relentlessly calling on Barr to investigate, arrest, or convict as part of this “deep state” conspiracy theory:
- Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
- Former FBI Director James Comey
- Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe
- Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates
- Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
- Former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr
- Former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr
- Former FBI agent Peter Strzok
- Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page
- Former FBI lawyer James Baker
- Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
- Former national security adviser Susan Rice
- Former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power
- Former CIA Director John Brennan
- Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch
- Former President Barack Obama
And here is more on the supposed reasons for investigating them, from Hannity himself.
Fox News on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and officials in the “deep state”
Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has long served as a boogeyman for right-wing circles to attack, but Trump’s 2016 election brought a newfound desire to “lock her up,” as evidenced in Trump supporters’ infamous rally chant. Specifically, Hannity now wants her arrested for the “phony dossier that was full of Russian lies” — commonly known as the Steele dossier — that her 2016 campaign obtained from opposition research firm Fusion GPS. Hannity claims this was the basis of the FISA warrant to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. (It wasn’t.) Nellie Ohr worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS; many on the right point to the fact that her husband, former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, is a high-ranking DOJ official as further evidence of the “deep state,” and Hannity has called for retaliatory investigations against both.
Fox News’ grievances against Clinton also include complaints that the Uranium One and email server scandals — flimsy right-wing conspiracy theories that have already been investigated and resulted in Clinton’s exoneration — were looked into by sham investigations led by former FBI Director James Comey. Hannity has called for Barr to reopen these investigations, often claiming that it’s hypocritical that Clinton hasn’t been treated as badly as he feels Trump has.
Hannity’s obsession with the “deep state” has led to his fixation on seeing punishment for the FBI investigators and anyone involved in Mueller’s investigation or in the events leading up to it. Hannity’s show spent months hyping up the DOJ’s internal inspector general report that looked into the investigators of the Mueller probe, compiled by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, in hopes that he would punish the people they’re hoping for. While the IG report did find some evidence of wrongdoing in the Mueller investigation, the conclusions were nowhere near the dramatic, nefarious conspiracy theory Hannity spent months weaving for his viewers. Refusing to falter, Hannity then turned his hopes to Barr, in his new role as attorney general, and federal prosecutor John Durham, who is currently leading a criminal inquiry into the origins of the Mueller investigation.
Hannity’s accusations are muddled and flimsy, but the core idea is that former and current officials associated with the FBI colluded with Clinton’s campaign to help her win, and when that didn’t succeed, they launched a sham investigation (the Mueller investigation) into Trump to undermine his presidency. In Hannity’s view, former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and former Deputy Attorneys General Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein knowingly lied to the FISA court by using Clinton’s “phony dossier that was full of Russian lies” to illegally target Carter Page without informing the court that it was unverified and came from Clinton.
Fox figures have also accused Comey of leaking classified information, which has since been disproven. Hannity also claims Comey, McCabe, Bruce Ohr, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page used their positions to “persecute those they disagreed with politically, all trying to get Hillary Clinton elected.” Hannity also claims McCabe lied to the inspector general and committed perjury.
According to Fox News personalities, former FBI lawyer James Baker, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and possibly former President Barack Obama himself also supposedly played a role in illegally leaking information toward the end of Obama’s presidency.
Here is just a small sample of the times Fox News figures have called for Barr to investigate individuals associated with the FBI, the Clintons, and the Obama administration:
- Last May, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski predicted on Lou Dobbs Tonight that “in March or April of next year, James Comey, Andy McCabe, Strzok and Page will be on trial for the crimes they committed.”
- On a December 2017 edition of Fox News @ Night, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton suggested that the FBI had been “compromised” and “turned into a KGB-type operation by the Obama administration.”
- A few months later, in February 2018, Fitton accused Obama of “presidential involvement in these sensitive criminal investigations,” referring to the investigation into Clinton’s emails and Mueller’s Russia investigation. Fitton added that he’s “always wondered why President Obama has skated really free from any serious inquiries about his involvement in the Russia investigations.”
- After the release of the Mueller report in March 2019, Hannity said that his “sources” were telling him “it’s all about to come cascading down” on those he claimed had “rigged the investigation into Hillary’s emails scandal” when there was “clear, compelling, incontrovertible evidence.” Hannity went on to call for the Trump administration to “fully expose every single one of these deep state actors,” saying, “James Comey, let’s start with him. Let’s start with Sally Yates. They need to be investigated. McCabe needs to be investigated.” He added, “Susan Rice, Samantha Powers, John Brennan, Clapper, Lynch — … they all must now be put under oath [and] investigated.”
- On February 7, 2019, Hannity asked, “When is anybody going to be held accountable” for the Mueller investigation. His guest Gregg Jarrett predicted on Hannity that Barr would open investigations into Clinton and others after being sworn in as attorney general.
- One week later, a Hannity panel consisting of Jarrett, Carter, and guest David Schoen argued that at least a “dozen” individuals essentially “sought a coup d’etat to overthrow the President of the United States.” The panel named McCabe, Rosenstein, Brennan, Clapper, Bruce and Nellie Ohr, and others.
- In March 2019, Hannity called out the supposed “rigged investigation into Hillary” by Comey, Baker, and others. He asked “how is it possible with all that evidence” that Mueller isn’t investigating FBI officials, Obama officials, and the Clintons. DiGenova responded that “it is quite obvious that there were crimes committed by people associated with the Clinton campaign” and others that “have been ignored.”
- In August 2019, Hannity told Republican members of Congress that a “little birdie” told him that “apparently the FBI … didn’t treat [Clinton’s] campaign the way they treated Donald Trump.” Hannity also attacked the Steele dossier, Comey, and FBI officials.
- After it was reported that the DOJ would not be charging McCabe, Hannity said that if there aren’t successful investigations against the senior officials involved in investigating Russian interference, “we’re not going to have a constitutional republic anymore.” He added, “There is a five-alarm fire going on, … and it affects every single player that we have now talked about, and all of the crimes we’ve exposed, and all of the corruption we’ve exposed, and all the abuse of power we’ve exposed.”
- After Barr announced counter-investigations into the Mueller investigation in April 2019, Hannity declared that “to date, we have been right about everything that has transpired surrounding the deep state’s abuse of power” and warned that “if we don’t investigate investigators, lock up the bad actors, this country will be over as we know it.” Joe diGenova called Comey a “dirty cop” and said that Barr will “conclude” that “it all started in the White House. Barack Obama knew about this from day one.” Victoria Toensing predicted Obama, Biden, Yates, Rice, and Comey may be implicated.
Fox News has been calling on Bill Barr to carry out retaliatory investigations
For more than a year, various Fox News personalities have assured viewers that there is one man who is capable of taking down everyone who they feel has wronged Trump: Bill Barr.
- In a segment from December 2018 attacking the Clintons, Strzok, Page, and Obama, Toensing assured Dan Bongino, who was a guest host on Hannity, that “if we get Bill Barr in as the attorney general,” their concerns “will be addressed.”
- During Barr’s confirmation hearing in February 2019, Hannity presented a “road map of corruption” of all the crimes he wanted Barr to investigate regarding the Mueller report, saying that there is “no shortage of corrupt Trump-haters to investigate.”
- In April 2019, Barr announced counter-investigations into the Mueller report. Fox contributor Sara Carter predicted that an “avalanche” of information would be revealed by Barr’s investigations, and there are “a number of indictments that are on the way.” She claimed that the investigations will “lead all the way back to the White House. … And I’m talking about the Obama administration.”
In September, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asked diGenova and Toensing, “How much are we going to be thanking Bill Barr ourselves?” DiGenova assured Dobbs that “Barr is a strong-willed individual” who “will not be afraid to bring cases that need to be brought.” DiGenova added that “the one thing he is going to do, I assure you,” is “to lower the hammer in a public way that’s going to be quite revealing to the American people.”