Inspector General’s Report Busts Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories
Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
The long-awaited Justice Department inspector general report on the Trump-Russia investigation is out, busting a multitude of right-wing media notions about a supposed political agenda to go after then-candidate Donald Trump.
Not that it’s likely to make much of a difference on Fox News. Sean Hannity has already declared: “Well, everything we said, everything we reported, everything we told you was dead-on center accurate.” (And as we shall see, he is no small player himself in the hype and lies that have been spread here.)
But how do the various Fox News claims and conspiracy theories stack up to the facts in the new IG report? The clips below are are just a small sample of each of these talking points; all of these lines were repeated or inferred countless times in the past few years.
“No predicate” for the investigation? Wrong.
The report makes it clear how the investigation began in 2016: The FBI received a tip from an official with a “Friendly Foreign Government” — known to be Alexander Downer, then the Australian High Commissioner (ambassador) to the United Kingdom and also a former leader of Australia’s main conservative party — that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos said 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).” In addition, the report states that, “at the time, FBI officials involved in opening the investigation had reason to believe that Russia may have been connected to the Wikileaks disclosures that occurred earlier in July 2016, and were aware of information regarding Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections.”
As for any role of the infamous campaign research dossier by Christopher Steele in starting the investigation? According to the report, “These [FBI] officials, though, did not become aware of Steele’s election reporting until weeks later and we therefore determined that Steele’s reports played no role in the Crossfire Hurricane opening.”
An accompanying letter by FBI Director Christopher Wray summarizes the report’s findings of the investigation’s legitimacy, albeit also noting some procedural irregularities:
The Report concludes that the FBl’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation and related investigations of certain individuals were opened in 2016 for an authorized purpose and with adequate factual predication. The Report also details instances in which certain FBI personnel, at times during the 2016-2017 period reviewed by the OJG, did not comply with existing policies, neglected to exercise appropriate diligence, or otherwise failed to meet the standard of conduct that the FBI expects of its employees — and that our country expects of the FBI.
But back on the January 23, 2018, edition of Fox News’ Hannity, for example the eponymous host declared: “The entire basis of Robert Mueller’s so-called investigation is based and predicated on a lie … The only evidence we do have tonight is that Hillary Clinton bought and paid for a salacious phony document filled with Russian lies to try and influence all of you during that election. That’s what Mueller should really be looking into.”
On the May 17, 2018, edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News legal analyst Andy McCarthy declared that “they did not have a criminal predicate to open an investigation on Trump … And what they did was use their counterintelligence powers covertly to investigate the Trump campaign during the stretch run of the campaign under circumstances where they did not have evidence that anyone had actually committed a crime.”
And on the March 26, 2019, edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria, anchor Maria Bartiromo repeatedly said there was “no predicate,” claiming, “They launched the investigation into candidate Donald Trump with no reason. They have nothing to base it on, other than the flimsy dossier.”
Was there an FBI “informant” or “spy” in the Trump campaign? Not relating to this investigation.
Interestingly, the report says there were individuals involved with Trump who were already FBI contacts — known as “confidential human sources” (CHSs) — but they did not have any substantial involvement in this particular investigation:
In addition, we identified several individuals who had either a connection to candidate Trump or a role in the Trump campaign, and were also FBI CHSs, but who were not tasked as part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. One such CHS did provide the Crossfire Hurricane team with general information about Crossfire Hurricane subjects Carter Page and Paul Manafort, but we found that this CHS had no further involvement in the investigation.
The bottom line: “Additionally, we found no evidence that the FBI attempted to place any CHSs within the Trump campaign, recruit members of the Trump campaign as CHSs, or task CHSs to report on the Trump campaign.”
Instead, the FBI had contacts interact from outside the campaign, by speaking to people who were involved in it:
We found no evidence that the FBI placed any CHSs or UCEs within the Trump campaign or tasked any CHSs or UCEs to report on the Trump campaign. However, through our review, we determined that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Crossfire Hurricane team tasked four CHSs and a few UCEs [“Under Cover Employees”], which resulted in interactions with Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and a high-level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation. We found that the Crossfire Hurricane team tasked CHSs to interact with Page and Papadopoulos both during the time Page and Papadopoulos were advisors for the Trump campaign, and after Page and Papadopoulos were no longer affiliated with the Trump campaign.
In other words, as the old saying goes: “Loose lips sink ships.”
On the May 11, 2018, of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-hosts Pete Hegseth, Steve Doocy, and Ainsley Earhardt played up the conspiracy theory that the FBI had a “spy” in the campaign (or an “informant,” as stated by Rush Limbaugh in a featured video clip) in order to “frame candidate Donald Trump.”
On the May 15, 2018, edition of Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor Sara Carter said there was an “informant” placed in the campaign — and even suggested Hannity would recognize their initials.
On the May 17, 2018, edition of Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, guest host David Asman declared that “apparently the DOJ put a spy in the Trump campaign. This has never been done before — and again, by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump.” His guest, Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett, castigated the FBI for planting “an undercover informant that they were utilizing — a spy, a mole — trying to get people to say something incriminating, to entrap them.”
Joseph Mifsud — secret U.S. intelligence asset? Nope.
Back in 2016, Joseph Mifsud was the Maltese professor suspected of being a connection between Papadopoulos and the Russian government. Mifsud’s current whereabouts are unknown, but right-wingers have continually insisted that he must have really been an American intelligence asset, not Russian, and part of the plot to frame Trump.
But what does the IG report say?
We also investigated an allegation, raised by Papadopoulos, that the FBI used Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese citizen who was living in London and serving as a university professor, to pass information to Papadopoulos in April 2016 as a set up, so that the FBI could predicate the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Papadopoulos raised this possibility during his October 25, 2018 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, by stating that Mifsud might have been “working with the FBI and this was some sort of operation” to entrap Papadopoulos. The FBI’s Delta files contain no evidence that Mifsud has ever acted as an FBI CHS, and none of the witnesses we interviewed or documents we reviewed had any information to support such an allegation.
On the October 6 edition of Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures, Bartiromo interviewed Papadopoulos himself while displaying an on-screen graphic called the “Papadopoulos international entrapment timeline,” which included his meetings with Mifsud.
And on the August 19 edition of Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox contributor John Solomon described a “very plausible explanation” offered by Mifsud’s attorney, saying there would be proof that Mifsud was “a long-time Western intelligence collaborator who was tasked specifically with reaching out to Papadopoulos and making connections for him in Russia. If that’s true, the beginning of the origins of the Russia case was a set up — It was a ruse from the beginning, a political dirty trick. We need to get to the bottom of that but there is some new evidence that’s starting to emerge there.”
On the October 1 edition of Fox News @ Night, Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz claimed that “Mifsud supposedly — supposedly, at least there’s some reporting on there — that he had engaged and actually done some work for the Department of Justice in the past.”
On the October 18 edition of Hannity, Jarrett told guest host Chaffetz: “Mifsud has always been a Western intelligence source. And in fact, he gives instructions to U.S. intelligence agents, including the FBI. So, think about this, our own asset is feeding disinformation to George Papadopoulos on purpose to set him up as a patsy to justify an investigation of Donald Trump.”