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Kathy Barnette, a candidate seeking the Republican nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania, seems like a natural fit for the MAGA media. Her campaign’s website plays up her role as a political commentator and is festooned with photos of her posing with Fox News personalities and appearing on the network’s sets. Indeed, Barnette built a public profile with regular appearances on Fox & Friends, the insipid morning show that also jump-started former President Donald Trump’s political career.
But with Republican leaders reportedly panicking in the wake of new polling that shows Barnette pulling even with the Trump-endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick in the primary, right-wing media figures like Fox’s Sean Hannity and Newsmax TV’s Greg Kelly are doing everything in their power to halt her rise. Both hosts ran lengthy segments on Wednesday night warning their viewers that her candidacy is too risky, armed with opposition research gleaned from her social media channels.
Hannity and Kelly are both backing Oz in the primary; Hannity brought on the candidate himself to discuss the oppo drop, while Kelly settled for a surrogate. They also might worry about the impact on Trump’s reputation if the candidate he endorsed falls short, especially Hannity, given his role in advising Trump to make that endorsement. Notably, their criticisms of Barnette run afoul of their own and their networks’ past promotions of the candidate.
Hannity argued Wednesday that Barnette puts the GOP’s chances of holding the seat at risk because she “has never been vetted.” After telling his viewers that she “has a very troubling history of attacking Donald J. Trump,” Hannity read from and displayed on-screen a series of her tweets from the 2016 presidential campaign criticizing the former president.
Adding that “more resurfaced tweets are even more disturbing,” he highlighted her past statement describing former President Barack Obama as “a Muslim” as well as an anti-gay remark. In those cases, Hannity appears to be condemning her for comments not too different from some of his own past commentary.
Hannity went on to praise Oz, whom he deemed “battle-tested,” saying he’s “been vetted and he can win in November” and adding that “Pennsylvania voters have a serious choice to make and the stakes could not be higher.” He then brought on Oz to respond, and the candidate used the opportunity to slam Barnette’s “homophobic comments” and called her “the best chance for Democrats to capture the Senate seat.”
The Fox host’s criticisms of Barnette are a stark reversal from his previous praise. He noted during the segment that he previously hosted Barnette, but that hardly does the appearance justice. When Hannity brought her on for a Fox interview after she announced her campaign in April 2021, he told her, “You would be the first African American woman as a Republican in the Senate. From all I could see, I hope that happens.”
Indeed, as late as April of this year, Hannity was saying on his radio show that while he was endorsing Oz in the race, he had “nothing bad to say” about Barnette. He went on to call her “a star,” adding: “I look forward to … supporting her in a future race. She's got a very bright future and I think the world of her.”
Hannity’s prime-time colleague Laura Ingraham seemed to allude to his broadside on Barnette on the next hour Wednesday night, when she commented, “Boy is the GOP oppo on her flowing.” She then interviewed McCormick, whose candidacy she appears to favor in the race.
Like Hannity, Newsmax’s Kelly also targeted Barnette’s MAGA bona fides on his Wednesday program, calling the candidate “a phony” who “was unvetted by the press.” But rather than arguing that she has made bigoted comments, his angle was that Barnette’s commentary on race shows that she is exessively left-wing.
Kelly aired video of Barnette, who is Black, highlighting the presence of slave cabins during a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation and arguing for a “balanced view of history.” Kelly commented, “She sounds woke!”
During a second segment, Kelly said Barnette “sounds like woke liberal Mayor Bill deBlasio.” He then aired a video of her saying that “systemic racism is very important to me” because she has a Black son and wants him to be treated fairly by the U.S. justice system. Kelly also aired a video of her saying she wanted to ensure that “George Floyd received justice,” adding, “I would have been out there right along beside each and every one of you who were protesting in Minneapolis.” Kelly went on to comment that Minneapolis “was on fire” and “nearly destroyed,” before airing video of a fiery scene.
Kelly also interviewed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Oz surrogate, to praise the Trump-endorsed candidate.
Kelly’s complaint that Barnette hasn’t been vetted might hold more water if his network hadn’t repeatedly hosted her and even sponsored a debate for the Pennsylvania Senate candidates she participated in.
Nothing Barnette did raised eyebrows for Hannity or Kelly until it became clear that her success could cost the Republican Party a Senate seat. But now that she’s in position to win a primary (and perhaps lose a general election), they are going to work.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
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Top Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have taken former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to task for alleged corruption and called on the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into his alleged quid-pro-quo with an influential pro-Trump developer from Arizona for a housing permit.
In a 37-page letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the committee chairman, and Katie Porter (D-CA), chair of the subcommittee on oversights and investigations, accused Bernhardt of misusing his office to effectuate “federal agency decision-making … in the interest of private gain rather than the American people.”
Bernhardt, the lawmakers said, pressed an official to approve a permit for developer Michael Ingram, a Republican donor, despite warnings from multiple officials that developments could harm endangered species.
From 2019 to 2021, Bernhardt led the U.S. Interior Department as its secretary. He was the department’s no-2 man in 2017 when a departmental agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), suddenly reversed its longtime demand for an environmental review of a proposed development of a 28,000-home residential area in Southern Arizona, known as Villages at Vigneto.
Grijalva and Porter said the committee opened an extensive investigation into the decision in 2017, after Steve Spangle, an FWS employee, complained to news outlets that he was politically pressured into approving the development when he was an Arizona Ecological Services Field Office supervisor.
Officials warned that issuing a Clean Water Act permit could threaten endangered species, such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo, in the area, which is home to birds and the northern Mexican garter snake, according to the Associated Press.
Bernhardt, the Democrat lawmakers write in their letter, met Ingram in August 2017 but didn’t disclose it in his public calendar or travel documents. Two weeks after that meeting, a phone call was allegedly placed to the Interior Associate Solicitor Peg Romanik, ordering him to reverse the FWS’s decision to block the project.
Two months later, Ingram donated $10,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, which was reportedly used in a collective GOP effort to funnel millions of dollars to reelect Trump. The permit was approved later that month, the lawmakers’ letter alleged. In the days that followed, Ingram and his associates made “highly unusual out-of-cycle donations” of almost $242,000 to Trump’s fund, the lawmakers complained.
“Evidence strongly suggests the decision was the result of a quid pro quo between Vigneto’s developer, Michael Ingram, and senior level officials in the Trump administration, potentially including then–DOI Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt,” the Democrat lawmakers wrote.
Ingram, the latter says, had “frequent access to high-ranking officials across the Trump administration,″including Bernhardt; Ryan Zinke, the Interior Secretary from 2017 to 2019; and Scott Pruitt, the 2017-2018 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“The findings of this investigation show us yet again that the previous administration cast career staff expertise aside while they handed out federal agency decisions to Trump’s buddies and big donors on a pay-to-play basis,” Grijalva said in a statement.
When reached for comment about the committee’s findings and letter, Bernhardt snapped, calling it “a pathetic attempt by career politicians to fabricate news.”
Lanny Davis, an attorney for Bernhardt’s company, El Dorado Holdings, called the committee’s findings “false, misleading, [and] unfair” and said it struck him “as reminiscent of McCarthyism’s use of innuendo as a surrogate for fact.”