The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox News editors “came to have doubts” about whether the network’s sole source for its subsequently retracted bombshell report that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich had delivered tens of thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks “actually existed,” according to a new report from Yahoo News.

In May 2017, FoxNews.com published a story from investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman which relied on an anonymous “federal investigator” from an unnamed agency to claim that Rich had provided WikiLeaks with the emails, contradicting the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russian intelligence operatives had done so. That story — and the network’s strident on-air segments about it — amplified a long-debunked conspiracy theory that had circulated online since Rich’s death 10 months earlier, engulfing his family in a new wave of pain and sorrow.

The FoxNews.com article collapsed within hours, and a week later, Fox retracted it, saying it “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.” The network promised an internal investigation into how it had published the report.

No findings from that internal probe have ever been publicly revealed. Yahoo News chief investigative reporter Michael Isikoff provides a possible explanation for why in a Tuesday story promoting “Conspiracyland,” a forthcoming Yahoo News podcast on the Rich conspiracy theories:

“Conspiracyland” quotes a source familiar with the network’s investigation saying that Fox executives grew frustrated they were unable to determine the identity of the other, and more important, source for the story: an anonymous “federal investigator” whose agency was never revealed. The Fox editors came to have doubts that the person was in fact who he claimed to be or whether the person actually existed, said the source.

“Conspiracyland” will also detail how Russian intelligence agents planted the initial spate of Rich conspiracy theories and then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s role in advancing the story, according to Isikoff.

Zimmerman reported that the unnamed “federal investigator” — whom Fox executives were reportedly unable to identify and whose existence Fox editors came to question — “said 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments between Democratic National Committee leaders, spanning from January 2015 through late May 2016, were transferred from Rich to” a WikiLeaks operative.

Over the next week, Fox commentators would trumpet this claim as evidence undermining the conclusion that Russia had provided the DNC emails and thus debunking “the whole Russia collusion narrative,” as star host Sean Hannity put it.

Publishing a story that purported to dispute the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies based on a single unnamed source was journalistically questionable. But if that source didn’t actually exist, it represents malpractice on a truly shocking level that the network would be loathe to reveal (Fox “declined to comment” to Isikoff, “citing ongoing litigation against the news network brought by the Rich family”). And this isn’t the first time Zimmerman’s use of anonymous sources has been called into question.

No one at Fox has been publicly disciplined for their role in the Rich mess, as Isikoff noted. Indeed, several key players were subsequently promoted.

The network raised Greg Wilson, who edited Zimmerman’s story, to managing editor of FoxNews.com the following month. Porter Berry, the executive producer of Hannity’s show as the host went on nightly diatribes about the Rich case, now oversees all of the network’s digital content as a Fox vice president. Laura Ingraham, who suggested on air that the Rich family was covering up his death for partisan gain, now has her own prime-time show.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman still has her job at Fox, and Hannity speaks every night to an audience of millions. This lack of accountability is typical at the network.

“Most other news outlets, these situations come up, but they are dealt with appropriately,” a senior Fox News employee told CNN about the network’s response to its Rich coverage in 2017. “People are fired, they are disciplined or whatever. But this is like classic Fox. No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn’t true.”

(In May, Media Matters published a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story — retracted seven days later — that promoted the conspiracy theory that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, and not the Russians, had provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, and the timeline of events.)

IMAGE: Murdered former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Keep reading... Show less

Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}