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How 2016 Failures Keep Haunting The Beltway Media

The Hillary Clinton exoneration tour continues, and with it comes the deafening silence from news organization that gleefully bought into GOP attacks on her during the 2016 campaign. Determined to never acknowledge their sweeping failures during the last presidential cycle, the Beltway media show no signs of having learned anything over the last four years. Indeed, newsrooms refuse to be transparent about what kinds of changes, if any, have been put into place to make sure the epic failures of 2016 are not repeated this election cycle. 

After Trump’s partisan Justice Department launched an investigation of the Clinton Foundation, in an obvious effort to “mollify conservatives” still obsessed with Clinton bashing, the inquiry has produced no proof of any wrongdoing, the Washington Post recently reported. The Clinton Foundation’s “corruption” was a GOP manufactured gotcha story that the press gleefully amplified for 18 months between 2015 and 2016. 

During that time, the New York Times and the Washington Post published more than 200 articles about the Clinton Foundation, according to Nexis.

Yet even today, you often get a blank stare today when you ask journalists about the 2016 media fiasco. They simply don’t see the failures, or won’t admit to them. Note that the editor who oversaw the Times’ disastrous campaign coverage four years was recently elevated up the masthead, landing one of the newspaper’s most senior positions. Institutionally, there is certainly little evidence that the Times brass feels like anything went wrong in 2016. 

For lots of Democrats and liberals, the failures of the 2016 coverage are obvious for all to see, as the press treated Trump like a celebrity while holding Clinton, the first woman presidential nominee, to ridiculous double standards. Fact: Trump refused

to make personal donations to any charities, while Clinton helped bankroll a wildly successful one. But she was the one relentlessly x-rayed by the media for a year on the topic of charities.

And for the record, the Times, which essentially sponsored the Clinton Foundation smear by teaming up with a Breitbart writer, still has not assigned a reporter to cover the latest exoneration of the Clinton Foundation. To date, the paper has only published a Reuters wire story, buried where nobody would notice it.

We’ve seen this shoulder shrug before. Last year, when a lengthy State Department investigation concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information in emails sent to and from Clinton’s private server while she was secretary of state, the Times covered the story on page 16 and devoted 649 words to that exoneration. Recall that during the final stretch before the 2016 campaign, the Times famously crammed three separate Clinton email stories onto its front page on the same day, signaling to readers that the story had reached epic, blockbuster proportions.

Reporting on the Justice Department’s exoneration of the Clinton Foundation, Vanity Fair presented the attacks on the charity as a baseless “conspiracy theory championed by conservatives.” CNN made the same point, stressing that “Trump” in 2016 was “making the case — with scant evidence — that Clinton was somehow using her official office to feather her own nest.”  The media in recent days have been clear, that the blame should lay with “conservatives” and “Trump,” who concocted the hollow Clinton Foundation gotcha story during the previous campaign. 

But that’s only half of the truth. The other half — the half that the press does not want to discuss in 2020 — is that the media willingly co-cosponsored that conspiracy theory and turned it into legitimate news. It was the Beltway press, dripping with contempt for Clinton, that breathlessly hyped the non-story for weeks and months in 2015 and 2016.  Today though, the mediawon’t come clean. Instead, editors and producers develop amnesia and insist it was only “conservatives” and “Trump” who peddled the Clinton Foundation smear. 

How did we get to such an absurd place, where the press depicted a wildly successful and transparent charity as some sort of ominous web of political deceit supposedly drenched in shadowy payments?

This paranoid fantasy was part of the all-consuming narrative depicting Clinton as a globally powerful villain who schemed around the world to line her pockets (while working 80 hours a week as Secretary of State). This preposterous theory suggested that not only did she serve in Obama’s cabinet but she was effectively president of the United States. It meant that Clinton must have dictated uranium policy and she who single-handedly signed off on the Uranium One deal — not in fact nearly a dozen federal U.S. agencies.

It was a deeply misogynistic tale that portrayed the first woman presidential nominee in American history as being deeply untrustworthy in a way that powerful men in Washington, D.C. are never shown. Rather than admiring Clinton’s decades worth of accomplishments, those achievements were held up to scorn as the press tried furiously to construct a storyline about her duplicitous ways, most famously surrounding her emails and the Clinton Foundation. 

The latter story was concocted in 2015 when Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins published Clinton Cash by longtime Republican partisan writer Peter Schweizer. A sloppy, book-length attack on Clinton Foundation donors, the book tried (and failed) to show how foundation donations corrupted Clinton’s decisions during her time as secretary of state; how the foundation acted as a side door for millionaires to buy influence inside the Clinton camp.  The New York Times and the Washington Post then teamed up with Schweizer and helped push his flawed Clinton opposition research. 

In many of those news accounts, the fact that the Clinton Foundation is a charity was often downplayed, including the organization’s pioneering mission to provide cheaper, better  medicine to millions of poor HIV/AIDS sufferers around the world. Or its innovative efforts on global healtheconomic inequalitychildhood obesity, and climate change

 “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation,” nonprofit analyst Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch  told CNN in 2016. 

Months later, after conceding that recent news reports hadn’t proven any actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking with the foundation or in its connection with the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state, editorials appearing in t Washington PostBoston Globe, and USA Today, among others, were nonetheless adamant: Shut it down. 

And now we know, via a handpicked Trump Justice Department prosecutor, that there was never any there there. The whole gotcha smear campaign was a joke, and the media played along. Sadly, there’s no indication any lessons have been learned for 2020.

IMAGE: Hillary Clinton attends a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, PA, October 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Former Clinton Aide Slams Times’ Stealth Correction On Uranium One

On Tuesday, tucked into a paragraph of an article on how President Donald Trump had battled investigations against him for the past two years, The New York Times made an astonishing, seemingly accidental confession about a massive failure in their coverage of the 2016 presidential election.

“Using Congress’s oversight powers, the Republican lawmakers succeeding in doing what Donald Trump could not realistically do on his own: forcing into the open some of the government’s most sensitive investigative files  including secret wiretaps and the existence of an F.B.I. informant  which were part of the Russia inquiry,” said the article. “House Republicans opened investigations into the F.B.I.’s handling of the Clinton email case and a debunked Obama-era uranium deal indirectly linked to Mrs. Clinton.”

It is remarkable that the Times casually mentioned the Uranium One deal as a “debunked” scandal, noted Nick Merrill, a former State Department official and adviser to Hillary Clinton, because it was the Times that promoted that story in the first place:

Nick Merrill@NickMerrill

For those who don’t recall or have appropriately suppressed all 2016 election memories, this story came in April of 2015, 12 days after HRC announced she was running for President.

271 people are talking about this

Nick Merrill@NickMerrill

Because the NYT ran it, it carried enormous weight despite it being the result of a deal struck between the NYT & a book project funded by Steve Bannon.

401 people are talking about this

Nick Merrill@NickMerrill

It was incredibly problematic for the campaign as the right pounced and we worked to debunk it. Only much later through a lot of hard work educating people on the facts was it more widely accepted that Uranium One was complete crap.

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One of the saddest parts of the story, notes Merrill, is that all of this drove donor funding away from the Clinton Foundation, as it tried to do life-saving work distributing medications and funding global development.

Nick Merrill@NickMerrill

Worst of all, it had lasting damage on the @ClintonFdn, diverting resources from programs that quite literally save lives across the globe.

232 people are talking about this

Nick Merrill@NickMerrill

As frustrating as all of this was, thankfully the Clinton Foundation & the incredible people there are committed & resilient, so they have continued to do remarkable work. Here’s a recent piece about CF’s comeback & it’s work in Puerto Rico. 

The Clintons’ “Comeback Foundation” aids hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

It has expanded its work worldwide with fresh momentum and more support.

339 people are talking about this
The New York Times has faced criticism for its coverage in the 2016 election. For example, a review of the paper’s coverage found that they “ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all the policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” The Clinton Cash saga is a major chapter in how the Times‘ editorial process fell short — and it arguably deserves more attention than a passing reference buried in an article on Trump.

Excerpt: It’s Even Worse Than You Think

As the 2016 presidential campaign began, Pulitzer-winning journalist David Cay Johnston wrote “21 Questions For Donald Trump” — a penetrating examination of the casino mogul’s shady past that became one of the most popular articles ever published by National Memo. In his new book It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What The Trump Administration Is Doing To America, Johnston demonstrates in comprehensive detail that the current regime in Washington is a  “kakistocracy,” meaning government by the least qualified and most venal. The following excerpt examines the damage done to American diplomacy through the lens of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, four months after he took office, and the speech he delivered at a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

During the presidential campaign, Trump stirred up crowds with lurid descriptions of ISIL’s beheadings. ISIL sought to inflame Americans and Europeans with its atrocious acts. But they served another purpose as well — frightening people in areas ISIL controlled so they would submit to its authority lest their heads come off.

Trump said nothing about Saudi Arabia beheading people, which government executioners did on average three times per week in 2015 and 2016. Nor did he protest executions via public stonings, another Saudi government technique to frighten its 28 million people into submission to the monarchy’s absolute rule. Burying people in the ground up to their necks so rocks could be thrown at their heads was both a brutal way to kill and a terrifying reminder of the regime’s barbaric views on official violence.

Sometimes beheaded bodies are crucified in Saudi Arabia, all this done in public as crowds watch what journalist John R. Bradley describes as the “only form of public entertainment” in Saudi Arabia, aside from soccer matches.

Qatar, the country the Saudis wanted to bring to heel, does not stage beheadings. The last Qatari execution occurred in 2003 when a firing squad ended the life of a convicted murderer. But it was Qatar that Trump denounced while he was in the Saudi kingdom, shocking its emir and many American diplomatic and military leaders because Qatar is crucial to American interests in that part of the world.

More than 11,000 American military personnel work out of the twenty-square-mile Al Udeid Air Base south of Doha, the capital of Qatar.

From there the Air Force directs American bombers and jet fighter attacks on ISIL, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Houthi rebels the Saudis want suppressed in Yemen. Americans at the airbase in Qatar also controlled drones used for surveillance of suspected Al Qaeda, Taliban, and other terrorist leaders, directing missile strikes at them and their entourages.

Trump’s Riyadh speech praising the Saudis and their Middle Eastern allies while condemning Qatar drew firm lines in the sand. “With God’s help, this summit will mark the beginning of the end for those who practice terror and spread its vile creed,” Trump said, adding, “there can be no coexistence with this violence. There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it.”

Those remarks indicate Trump was unaware, or did not care, that the Saudis are the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism, far exceeding the Ira- nian government that Trump frequently denounces for its support for terrorism. The State Department lists sixty-one terrorist organizations, all but two of which are aligned with Sunnis and the extreme Wahhabi sect that is officially endorsed in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis fund fifty-seven of those terrorist groups. Qatar, the country that Trump joined the Saudis and their allies in denouncing, was also involved in funding terrorist groups, though they committed their acts of political violence mostly in the Middle East.

All American presidents before Trump had, in varying degrees, modulated their remarks to avoid exacerbating the centuries-old rivalries within Islamic countries. Their carefully scripted and nuanced public statements and official actions reflected the intelligence assessment that taxpayers paid for so our officials would understand the Middle East. Previous presidents took care not to excite a viper’s nest of poisonous religious and political conflicts in that part of the world and to balance American interests among these contending factions.

Abandoning that history of thoughtful diplomacy, Trump went all in with the Saudis and their allies. He said he applauded the “Gulf Coopera- tion Council for blocking funders from using their countries as a financial base for terror, and designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization last year. Saudi Arabia also joined us this week in placing sanctions on one of the most senior leaders of Hezbollah.” While the designation did occur, it was likely window dressing to please Trump, not an actual severing of the relationship between rich Saudis who depend on the Saud family government for their fortunes and the dozens of terrorist groups they enable.

The official White House version of the speech, including capital letters, declared:

A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH. For our part, America is committed to adjusting our strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts. We will discard those strategies that have not worked—and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopt- ing a Principled Realism, rooted in common values and shared interests.

How attacking Qatar could be principled or realistic is something people deeply versed in the Middle East could not understand. It did, however, align with Trump’s desire to make American news organizations come to heel and present only news that in his opinion accurately reflects his actions.

We cannot know what Trump was thinking as he read his speech. He showed no sign then or later of realizing the irony of delivering these re- marks to a room filled with religious authoritarians whose governments and citizens finance terrorists, including the 9/11 hijackers. Nothing he said suggested that he understood the disputes among the various countries controlled by Sunni potentates and dictators.

Trump’s remarks also made no sense to those who know that Saudis fund the Taliban, the Afghan forces that harbored Osama bin Laden at the time of the 9/11 attack.

The Saudis surely have an interest in going after some terrorists. Their interest is in stopping terrorism by Shia Muslims, the branch of Islam dominant in Iran.

Trump had interests, too. At a 2015 rally in Mobile, Alabama, Trump said Saudis “buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 mil- lion. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.” Trump created more than a half dozen companies in Saudi Arabia. All were inactive, but he suggested that he had plans to build a golf course, hotel, or other property there.

A month after the inauguration, his sons opened the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai. A few weeks before taking office, Trump said that his partner in that venture, Hussain Sajwani, offered him a $2 billion deal. Trump said he rejected the offer out of concern that people would think he would “take advantage” of the presidency to make money.

Trump said he would have a conflict of interest regarding Turkey if he became president. “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” he told Breitbart in 2015. “It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.” Ivanka Trump tweeted thanks to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2012 for attending the launch of the Trump twin towers.

There was also a possible explanation for his attack on Qatar. Trump has a long history of being incredibly petty, his tweets showing his thin skin. Qatar Airways rented space in Trump Tower in 2008, but moved out in 2014, a slight Trump would likely not forget.

In Las Vegas, during the final presidential election debate, Trump had taken a very different tone about Saudi Arabia. Referring to gifts to the Clinton Global Initiative, a charity that helps poor people, Trump demanded that Hillary Clinton and her husband ‘‘give back the money you’ve taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so terrible.’’

Trump specified ‘‘Saudi Arabia giving $25 million, Qatar, all of these countries. You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people that push gays off . . . buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money.”

Trump’s flip-flop on the Saudis after the election showed how little he understands the Middle East by comparison with Hillary Clinton. As secretary of state, Clinton had a nuanced and deep understanding of the complexities of the Middle East and how all the governments there in some way support terrorists. In an email from February 14 that was revealed by WikiLeaks, she wrote that “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

Trump Justice: Sessions Revives Political Probe Of Clinton Foundation

At the urging of Republicans in Congress, the Trump Justice Department has reopened a blatantly political investigation of the Clinton Foundation. According to The Hill newspaper, Trump administration officials say that the investigation resumed “months ago,” and that prosecutors are again examining “pay to play” allegations that foundation donors received special treatment while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

The most specific accusation, leveled by right-wing media outlets and Congressional Republicans, concerns the sale of a Canadian mining concern called Uranium One to Rosatom, a firm controlled by Russian government.

Like various other specious claims about the foundation’s funding and activities, the Uranium One narrative originated in Clinton Cash — a 2015 book put together by author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon (with tax-exempt millions from the Mercer family) to target Hillary Clinton at the outset of her 2016 presidential campaign. Since then the pay-to-play allegations advanced by Schweizer and the book itself have been widely discredited.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump and his Republican allies have sought to revive the Uranium One story as a bitter rejoinder to the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race and collusion with the Trump campaign in that effort. The objective is to misdirect attention away from well-documented connections between Donald Trump and the Kremlin by fabricating a conspiracy that involves the Clintons, the Obama administration, and perhaps even the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller himself in assisting a Russian “takeover” of crucial U.S. uranium reserves.

Unfortunately for them, that story has more holes than a Trump golf course — beginning with the simple and uncontested fact that neither Hillary Clinton nor the Clinton Foundation had any way to control the sale of Uranium One. The sale was unanimously approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a high-level panel of federal agencies headed by the Treasury Department and the Pentagon. Although the State Department was one of nine agencies on CFIUS, Clinton personally played no role in the decision, which was also ratified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state of Texas (then governed by Rick Perry, now Trump’s energy secretary). Moreover, Rosatom cannot export so much as a gram of uranium from the continental United States without Washington’s express approval.

The background of these charges — and the true story of the Clinton Foundation’s vital, life-saving work around the world — may be found in my book Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, published in paperback with a new afterword last November. I explored the Uranium One story in an excerpt from the book that appeared here in September 2016.