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Fox Executives And Anchor Tried To Subvert 2020 Election Night Reporting

Top Fox News executives interfered with the election projections of the network’s vaunted “decision desk” due to blowback from then-President Donald Trump, according to a new book. The reports — and the actions Fox took with regard to its decision desk following the 2020 election — demolish the network’s argument that its “news side” is a credible journalistic operation walled off from the “opinion side’s” Republican Party propaganda machine.

In The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser report that while Fox’s decision desk had been comfortable with its election night call that Joe Biden had won Arizona, “Fox executives were freaking out” that week as the network came “under tremendous pressure from Trump and his allies.” Fox’s call made it more difficult for Trump to subvert the election after declaring victory on election night, and he responded by successfully encouraging Fox viewers to switch to its competitors.

Jay Wallace, Fox’s president and executive editor, took a direct action overriding the decision desk in hopes of avoiding further criticism from Trump supporters on the Friday after election day, according to Baker and Glasser.

Wallace “overruled the Decision Desk team including Bill Sammon, Arnon Miskin, and Chris Stirewalt, refusing to let them call Nevada for Biden even after other networks did, a level of interference that had been unheard of in past elections,” they write. “The reason had little to do with Nevada. Because of the Arizona projection, calling Nevada would give Biden enough electoral votes for victory. Wallace did not want Fox to be the first to call the election and declare Biden president-elect.”

Wallace’s act followed two other proposals from senior Fox employees to interfere with the decision desk for Trump’s benefit, according to the book.

First, “at 8:30 the morning after the election, Suzanne Scott, the chief executive officer, even suggested that Fox should not call any more states until they were officially certified,” they reported. As Baker and Glasser noted, “official state certifications typically took days or even weeks and no network had ever waited until then before telling their viewers who had won.”

“A couple other top executives backed up Scott,” while Sammon, the Washington managing editor who directed the decision desk, advised against the move, according to the book. (That Sammon, who slanted Fox’s reporting to the right and bragged about falsely portraying Barack Obama as a socialist during the 2008 election, was the voice of reason here shows how far the network had gone.)

But two days later, they report that Fox chief political anchor Bret Baier sent Wallace an email arguing that Fox should reverse its Arizona call and instead project that Trump had won the state — even though he trailed at the time by more than 10,000 votes.

“The Trump campaign was really pissed,” he wrote in an email to Jay Wallace, the president and executive editor at Fox. “This situation is getting uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. I keep having to defend this on air.” He accused the Decision Desk of “holding on for pride” and added: “It’s hurting us. The sooner we pull it—even if it gives us major egg [on our faces]—and we put it back in his column the better we are in my opinion.

Fox executives sell ads by touting the purported firewall between the network’s right-wing “opinion side” and its respectable “news side.” But here we have the network’s top “news side” anchor imploring the head of “news side” programming to make the “news side” decision desk fraudulently award a state to Trump because his campaign was demanding it. That says more about Fox’s role as GOP propaganda than any “opinion side” monologue. (In a statement, Baier denied writing that the Trump campaign “was really pissed,” claiming that the quote was “from an external email that I referenced,” but complained only of the “context” of the remainder of the quotes.)

Wallace didn’t follow through on Baier’s proposal, but according to Baker and Glasser he blocked the decision desk’s Nevada call the following day. The day after that, Fox saw the writing on the wall and followed CNN, ABC, CBS, and The Associated Press in declaring that Biden had won the election.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The network’s brass subsequently established an incentive structure that would dissuade similar “news side” threats to Fox’s bottom line.

Baker and Glasser report that Sammon and Stirewalt were then “summarily fired,” with the announcement delayed until January and described as a “retirement” and part of a “restructuring,” respectively.

Over the months that followed, “opinion side” hosts Greg Gutfeld and Jesse Watters, who had both questioned the network’s Arizona call, were given their own weeknight shows. They each took over time slots that had previously been occupied by “news side” programs. Other prominent election deniers were also promoted and given increased prominence at the network.

Everyone who works at Fox now knows that if they help Republicans try to steal an election, they’ll be richly rewarded. If they try to interfere with that effort by accurately stating that the Democrats won, the network’s top executives may overrule them and they will find themselves looking for a new job.

Fox’s decision desk is now just another piece of the right’s election subversion machine — one its executives can deploy at will — and its projections should be treated as such. Any future Fox election calls that diverge from other networks to the benefit of the GOP should be treated with extreme skepticism.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Right-Wing Pundits Warn Graham: Don't Push Abortion Ban Before Midterm

Prominent right-wing commentators are condemning Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) proposed national abortion ban. But their concern isn’t that they oppose threatening doctors with up to five years in prison if they perform an abortion on a patient who has been pregnant for more than 15 weeks. It’s that they know Graham’s bill endangers the GOP’s chances of gaining power and thus having the opportunity to ban abortions.

Graham’s proposal, announced Tuesday, would implement a nationwide ceiling on abortion, banning abortions across the country after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while leaving in place all stricter state laws. He told reporters at a press conference announcing the bill, “If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we'll have a vote on our bill.”

The Republican Party’s platform states that “the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed,” and since GOP appointees to the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, red states have implemented sweeping abortion restrictions and in some cases near-total bans.

But some Republican leaders are trying to distance the party from Graham’s legislation, apparently fearing an electoral backlash that could swamp GOP efforts to take back the U.S. House and Senate. Fox News is largely ignoring the bill for the same reason. And some on the right are explicitly slamming Graham on those grounds.

“He wants Republicans to lose. This is sabotage,” Daily Wire host Matt Walsh argued on Wednesday.

On his own podcast, Charlie Kirk called Graham’s move “election interference,” saying that Democrats are “enthusiastic that Lindsey Graham is now making this all about the one issue Democrats actually can win suburban women on.”

And Fox’s Jesse Watters questioned the “timing” of the move during an interview with the South Carolina senator, telling him, “All the media and the Democrats are talking about federal abortion ban, federal abortion ban. You know that's not smart politics, right?”

Note that none of these right-wingers oppose federal abortion bans on the merits. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Walsh tweeted that “federal ban on abortion nationwide is the next step.” During his interview with Graham, Watters stressed that he agreed with the senator on the merits of the policy, just not the timing. And Kirk claimed during his anti-Graham rant that “as someone who is so pro-life, I would love a total abortion ban, 15 weeks is not enough.”

“But I’m also not dumb,” he alleged, adding that Graham had proposed his bill “25 days out from ballots going out.”

And there’s the rub.

The right wants abortion bans like the one Graham put forward. But its propagandists know that such bans are extremely unpopular, and that Republicans are better off keeping the public’s focus on issues like crime, where the GOP has plenty of grievances but no solutions. Then, if the GOP takes back Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024, its leaders can ram through its traditional and unpopular priorities like banning abortions, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and slashing the social safety net.

The biggest threat to Republican political victories is letting the public find out what the party would do if it wins, and the party’s media allies are well aware.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox-Inspired Durham Probe Of Russia Investigation Fizzles Out

Fox News spent years smearing the Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as a criminal conspiracy by Obama administration officials and the “deep state” against Donald Trump. The network’s campaign ultimately spawned a sprawling probe by special counsel John Durham that followed up on Fox’s call to “investigate the investigators.” But now that investigation is reportedly coming to an end, with little to show for itself other than additional Fox content.

Durham “appears to be winding down his three-year inquiry,” The New York Times reported Wednesday, noting that the grand jury he “has recently used to hear evidence has expired, and while he could convene another, there are currently no plans to do so.”

The special counsel ultimately developed cases against three individuals, but as the Times noted, “he has not charged any conspiracy or put any high-level officials on trial.” Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty for altering a document used to justify the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide and was sentenced to probation. Durham charged former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann with a single count of lying to an FBI agent, but he was found not guilty by a unanimous jury in May. The last remaining person on Durham’s public docket is Igor Danchenko, a Russian national who contributed to the Steele dossier and goes on trial next month on charges of making false statements to the FBI.

That’s a poor result for a probe that Fox hosts such as Sean Hannity had declared was necessary to target an anti-Trump conspiracy that featured an array of high-ranking public officials, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At one point, Hannity argued that if the investigation did not result in high-level convictions, “the great American republic will disintegrate before your eyes.”

But at the same time, the probe wasn’t a total loss — it provided Hannity and his ilk with a steady stream of content. I noted after the jury found Sussmann not guilty that Fox had aired more than 2,000 weekday segments that discussed Durham’s investigation or the origins of the Russia probe since his May 2019 appointment, with more than 500 coming after he was named special counsel in October 2020.

The network’s coverage has dwindled since then, but the damage has been done. Durham’s probe fit neatly into Hannity’s counternarrative, in which Trump and his associates were victims of a witch hunt and the real crimes were all committed by overzealous anti-Trump investigators. That conspiracy theory has foundered in court, and the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in December 2019 that the Russia probe was properly predicated.

Its legacy, however, will be in solidifying the GOP’s turn against the FBI and the Justice Department and setting the stage for the current vein of demagoguery against the various federal probes of Trump and his allies. Hannity sought to put Trump above the law, and, at least for Republicans, he succeeded.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

How Fox News And Trump Attempted To Frame John Kerry

Geoffrey Berman, a former top federal prosecutor during Donald Trump’s administration, reportedly writes in a new book that a spurious investigation of former Secretary of State John Kerry was set in motion in response to then-president Donald Trump’s May 2018 tweet accusing Kerry of “potentially illegal shadow diplomacy” with Iran. Trump’s tweet came in response to a report the then-president was watching at the time on Fox News, according to a Media Matters review.

As president, Trump reportedly watched hours of Fox programming a day and regularly tweeted his responses to what he was seeing on television in real-time or on tape-delay, as Media Matters extensively documented. The network’s commentators and coverage shaped the former president’s worldview – and thus his administration’s actions, including presidential pardons, federal contracting, legislative and communications strategy, pandemic policies, and much more.

Now it seems we can add a federal probe of one of Trump’s political opponents to the list. The New York Times reported Thursday that in a new book, Berman wrote that while he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Justice Department officials ordered him to investigate Kerry after Trump criticized Kerry’s “possibly illegal” behavior on Twitter. Those tweets have their roots in Fox’s coverage.

On May 7, 2018, Washington, D.C., was abuzz with the prospect that Trump might withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord that Kerry negotiated during the Obama administration. The president, meanwhile, spent the morning tweeting along with Fox & Friends, the Fox morning show, which he was apparently watching on tape-delay.

At 10:08 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted, “The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal. He was the one who created this MESS in the first place!” As I noted at the time, that tweet tracked with the content of a segment that had aired on Fox’s America’s Newsroom roughly an hour earlier.

During that segment, Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins discussed a Boston Globe report from a few days earlier about Kerry’s behind-the-scenes effort to salvage the Iran deal. Kerry “has been engaging in what some are calling shadow diplomacy,” Jenkins reported, using the same term Trump would in his subsequent tweet.

Immediately after Jenkins’ report, anchor Bill Hemmer turned to contributor Byron York, who said that Kerry’s actions were “a big deal” because Kerry was “meeting with foreign governments in an attempt to undermine the current U.S. administration.” York added that while “you will hear” that Kerry may have violated the Logan Act, “it likely does not apply here.”

Indeed, conservatives were raising the prospect that Kerry had violated the Logan Act – including Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy earlier that morning, in a segment the then-president likely watched. But as University of Texas School of Law professor Stephen Vladeck explained in the Globe report, that statute would not apply in this case, since Kerry was acting to maintain what was (at the time) current U.S. policy.

Trump’s tweet set off his supporters at the network, particularly Sean Hannity, who maintained dual roles as a close Trump adviser and primetime host. On his show that night, Hannity suggested that Kerry was “violating the law, the Logan Act,” and asked, “Where are the agents in the FBI and the DOJ breaking down John Kerry's door? Another blatant example of a two-tier justice system sadly in this country today.”

Later in the program, Hannity polled members of his panel as to whether Kerry had violated the Logan Act. After they all agreed that he had, Hannity said, “Let's see when that investigation begins.”

Fox’s criticism of Kerry continued into the next day on Fox & Friends, including a segment in which co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed his action “seems to be a violation of the Logan Act,” while his guest compared the former secretary of state to the Taliban. Roughly an hour after that, Trump tweeted, “John Kerry can’t get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it! Stay away from negotiations John, you are hurting your country!”

Later that day, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Iran deal.

Trump’s tweets had a major and immediate impact, Berman explained in his book. The Times reported:

On May 9, Mr. Berman writes, Justice Department officials told his office that it would be responsible for an investigation into Mr. Kerry’s Iran-related conduct. The F.B.I. would join the inquiry.

The focus was on the Logan Act, a rarely invoked 1799 statute barring private citizens from unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments, which has been criticized as unconstitutionally vague. Mr. Berman notes that no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under the law.

But, as he puts it, “The conduct that had annoyed the president was now a priority of the Department of Justice.”

Although Mr. Berman says he does not know what prompted the Justice Department to seek a Kerry investigation, “No one needed to talk with Trump to know what he wanted. You could read his tweets.”

According to the Times account, Berman wrote that in subsequent months, the Justice Department repeatedly pressured his office to move forward with the investigation of Kerry, particularly after Trump again tweeted about the purported crimes.

“They were asking us, basically, what’s taking so long? Why aren’t you going harder and faster at this enemy of the president? There was no other way for me to look at it,” he wrote.

Berman said that when his office told the Justice Department it would not be prosecuting Kerry following a year-long investigation, the case was passed to another U.S. attorney’s office. When that office also determined the case lacked merit, he wrote, “the Kerry investigation just quietly died — as it should have.”

Trump ultimately fired Berman in June 2020 during a purge of federal prosecutors seen as insufficiently loyal to him.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Carlson Reacts To Biden Speech With Indignation -- And Gross Hypocrisy

It should go without saying that the right-wing media’s incendiary response to President Joe Biden’s speech last week — on the looming threat to American democracy posed by “MAGA Republicans” who seek to subvert the results of elections — was deeply hypocritical. Right-wing demagogues buy summer homes with the proceeds of their rage against the left, and they supported former President Donald Trump as he attacked wide swathes of the population and triggered an insurrection. But now they are pretending to be deeply disturbed by Biden’s remarks, which they falsely claim were directed at every Republican voter.

It would take more time than I’m willing to spend to detail every instance of hypocrisy in the right-wing responses to Biden’s speech at Independence Hall. But here’s a telling example involving Tucker Carlson, the Fox News prime-time host who stands above all others as the face of that network.

While other networks were carrying Biden’s speech on Thursday, Carlson lashed out at him, then mischaracterized the remarks to his viewers as the president claiming “anyone who disagrees with him is a threat to the country.” Based on that false characterization, Carlson termed Biden’s remarks “very dangerous,” “totally immoral,” and “truly nuts and threatening to the future of the United States.”

Carlson was still using his fabricated version of Biden’s comments to frighten and anger his viewers five nights later. On Tuesday, he lashed out at cable news commentators who had praised the speech.

“It’s amazing how Soviet the whole thing is. Joe Biden calls for political purges and law enforcement crackdowns on his political opponents, and state media cheer him on,” Carlson said, simply making up topics that weren’t in the speech and getting mad about them.

He then complained that a speech about threats to American democracy focused on Trump and his closest allies rather than China or fentanyl, adding, “Like the obedient little servants they are, our media cheer him on. You have to wonder about their views on authoritarianism — obviously they’re for it.”

Carlson went on to describe the historian Jon Meacham, who reportedly “help[ed] with the framing” of the speech, as “our propagandist-in-chief.”

Speaking of authoritarianism, presidential calls for law enforcement crackdowns, and propaganda, Carlson’s monologues were reportedly the inspiration for then-President Trump’s remarks at his rally in front of Mount Rushmore on the eve of Independence Day, 2020.

“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children,” Trump claimed during the speech. He denounced “angry mobs [that] are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities” in order to take away “our country, and all of its values, history, and culture.”

“In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance,” Trump warned. “Make no mistake: This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.”

He told the cheering crowd that he was “deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”

Some commentators pointed out the authoritarian content of Trump’s remarks. “Trump’s own sense of emergency and claims of an imminent threat to the nation—as he narrowly conceives of it—represent the closest he has ever come to a fascist form of argumentation,” the historian of fascism Federico Finchelstein wrote in Foreign Policy. “Contrary to what he proclaimed at Mount Rushmore, it is Trump who is constantly undermining democracy and inclusion—and his nativist populism is anchored in the fascist past.”

But not Carlson. The Fox host described it as “the single best speech Donald Trump has ever given.”

“It was a roadmap for his reelection message, but more than that, it was a roadmap for the country itself,” he continued. “Equality, decency, pride in our nation — those were the themes.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Deeply Involved In Coup Plot, Gingrich Is Called By House Select Panel

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection sent a letter late last week to Fox contributor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich seeking his testimony. The committee says he advised former President Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election. Gingrich also frequently pushed conspiracy theories about what he described as a “stolen election” during his media appearances, according to a Media Matters review.

Gingrich’s role, the committee wrote, included providing Trump’s senior advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Miller with “detailed input into television advertisements that repeated and relied upon false claims of fraud.” Those ads ran in the days leading up to December 14, 2020, the day the Electoral College convened. In a December 8, 2020, email obtained by the committee, Gingrich wrote:

The goal is to arouse the country’s anger through new verifiable information the American people have never seen before[.] . . . If we inform the American people in a way they find convincing and it arouses their anger[,] they will then bring pressure on legislators and governors.

The letter further stated: “Information we have obtained also suggests you were involved in the fake elector scheme,” a Trumpist plot to create a dueling slate of electors pledged to the defeated president in states won by Joe Biden.

Gingrich similarly used his media appearances to “arouse the country’s anger” with false claims of voter fraud and to try to encourage Trump supporters to “bring pressure on legislators and governors.”

“I would say to every person in Georgia who favors Donald J. Trump: Go to the governor's mansion, physically. Go to the Capitol, physically,” Gingrich said during a November 18, 2020, interview on Fox host Sean Hannity’s nationally syndicated radio show. “Communicate that you're prepared to stand up for America and you're prepared to stand up for an honest election and that you are sick of politicians selling you out.”

On January 5, 2021 — less than 24 hours before a violent mob breached the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election — Gingrich told Hannity’s radio audience that “Biden may at some place get sworn in. But I think for 40 or 45% of the American people, he will never be seen as a legitimate president, because the very process that put him there is so totally corrupted.”

He added, “I think this is the most dangerous assault on the very nature of America, certainly in our lifetime, and maybe since the previous Civil War.”

Gingrich joined Fox as a contributor in 1999 and is known for his demagogic commentary. In recent weeks, he has warned that “a cult of anti-white racism” is attempting to “impose itself on the country” and alleged that the FBI, which “could actually be called the American Stasi,” had “declared war on the American people” by executing a judge-approved search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. A close Trump ally, he was considered for the vice president slot in 2016, and the pair were reportedly working together to craft a GOP platform for the 2022 midterm elections.

Gingrich made at least 24 appearances on Fox weekday programming between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021, according to Media Matters' internal database. Fox personalities constantly alleged during that period that the election had been rigged, often promoting conspiracy theories that have led to multiple lawsuits against the network.

The former speaker repeatedly argued that Democrats had used systemic voter fraud to steal several states from Trump.

  • On November 4, 2020, the day after Election Day, Gingrich suggested that Democrats had “a setup to steal the presidency by the Democrats” and specifically may have stolen votes in Pennsylvania and Nevada, which Biden won. He urged Trump to get Senate Republicans to “open up investigations on all these different states” and to “be prepared to file suit in every single state.”
  • That night, he claimed that Democrats “are breaking the law in every possible way. And the correct answer is fine, none of those votes count. If you are going to be corrupt and illegal, we don’t have to count your votes. That means automatically in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, in Georgia, that Trump will carry every single state by a surprising margin.” He added that Trump “either has to fight and protect America, or he has to surrender to corrupt forces.”
  • The next night, Gingrich claimed that Democrats are “trying to steal the presidency, and we should not allow them to do that.” He described the situation as a “crisis” comparable to “Washington on Christmas Eve” and “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” and urged then-Attorney General Bill Barr to arrest election workers who he baselessly claimed “are breaking the law.”
  • On November 8, 2020, the day after Fox and other news outlets called the election for Biden, Gingrich claimed Democrats stole “five or six states” in a “corrupt, stolen election.” He added that “these people are thieves” and cited a pollster to claim that “this clearly was a stolen election,” a remark Trump live-tweeted.
  • On December 7, 2020, Gingrich said, “The objective fact is I believe Trump probably did actually carry Georgia,” adding that in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, “Republicans simply have to turn out more votes than Stacey Abrams can steal.”
  • He pushed several conspiracy theories in a second interview the same day, including one in which he suggested voting machines may have been “rigged” because results supposedly “went through Barcelona, Spain, to Frankfurt, Germany to be counted.”

Since the January 6 insurrection, Gingrich has continued to use his Fox platform to allege that elections Republicans lose are implicitly the result of fraud; that the 2020 election in particular was stolen; and that the goal of Democratic voting reform measures is to “steal elections on a grand scale.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

For Right-Wing Pundits, Garland Is Damned If He Indicts Trump -- And Damned If He Doesn't

The Justice Department keeps revealing damning details about the ongoing investigation into Donald Trump’s illicit possession of highly classified documents and his alleged effort to conceal and retain those materials. That has some commentators arguing against an indictment of the former president on the grounds that it might spur a backlash from conservatives who will argue that Democrats have weaponized the DOJ.

Trump’s “defenders would claim that every person ostensibly committed to the dispassionate upholding of the rule of law is in fact motivated by rank partisanship and a drive to self-aggrandizement,” Damon Linker wrote last week in The New York Times. “This would be directed at the attorney general, the F.B.I., the Justice Department and other branches of the so-called deep state. The spectacle would be corrosive, in effect convincing most Republican voters that appeals to the rule of law are invariably a sham.”

But this smear of federal law enforcement cannot be staved off by declining to indict the former president, as Linker suggests. It is true that a bloc of Republicans and right-wing media personalities have spent the weeks since the FBI’s August 6 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort loudly arguing that the action was a partisan sham, and they would certainly continue to do so if he were indicted. Another faction, however, is now preparing to go after the Justice Department on the exact same grounds of Democratic partisanship if it decides not to indict the former president.

This damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t tendency runs through the columns of Andrew McCarthy, a Trump-skeptical legal commentator respected in higher-brow conservative circles. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor whose columns run in National Review and The New York Post and who regularly provides legal commentary in his role as a Fox News contributor.

McCarthy’s August 9 column, written in the immediate aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago search, provided a somewhat more sober version of the incendiary conspiracy theories of a justice system weaponized for Democratic benefit that were replete at the time on Fox. The National Review columnist argued that the Justice Department had “obviously” used concerns about classified information “as a pretext” to find evidence tying Trump to the January 6 insurrection. He warned against filing charges on such grounds, saying that such an indictment “would fuel the perception that Democrats are using the Justice Department as a political weapon.”

“The Biden Justice Department is under enormous pressure from the Democratic base to indict Trump, and it is straining to deliver,” McCarthy concluded.

A couple weeks later, McCarthy was still telling readers that any Trump indictment would be politically motivated. After reviewing the redacted affidavit supporting the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, he concluded that the Justice Department would be unlikely to indict the former president unless it had strong evidence to prosecute an obstruction of justice charge or Trump talked himself into an indictment.

“I don’t think the Justice Department and FBI want to prosecute Donald Trump on classified-information or document-retention offenses in light of all the considerable downsides of doing so,” McCarthy explained. But he added: “Of course, the Biden Justice Department has shown itself to be very responsive to the demands of Democrats’ progressive base. As the midterms approach, if the left’s rabid insistence on a Trump indictment gets intense enough, all bets are off.”

After Tuesday’s damning DOJ filing, however, McCarthy concluded in his August 31 column that the DOJ possesses “formidable” evidence of obstruction on Trump’s part and that Attorney General Merrick Garland will likely approve charges. That evidence is so damning, in fact, that McCarthy wrote that the only explanation for not indicting Trump would be that the DOJ is in the service of the partisan interests of the Democratic Party.

This is a serious obstruction case that appears as if it would not be difficult to prove. The Justice Department is under immense pressure from the Democratic base to indict Trump, and the jury pool in Washington, DC, where the government would file any indictment, is intensely anti-Trump. It is thus hard to imagine that Attorney General Merrick Garland will decide against filing charges.

The best hope Trump has of avoiding an indictment is that Democrats would rather run against a wounded Trump in 2024 than indict him in 2022.

Note that McCarthy left himself room to accuse Garland of partisanship regardless of what the attorney general does: If he files charges, it will be because his department is “under immense pressure from the Democratic base to indict Trump,” while if he refrains, the only explanation is that he thinks it will help Democrats by keeping Trump on the 2024 presidential ballot.

To his credit, when the facts change, McCarthy’s stated view changes. To his detriment, the throughline is that if the Justice Department doesn’t do what he wants, it must be because it’s run by Democratic partisans.

It’s easy to imagine that this line of reasoning might spread amid the faction of the GOP that would prefer to see another candidate — perhaps Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — on the ballot in 2024 in Trump’s stead. It gives such individuals a talking point that suggests moving on from Trump without actually criticizing his behavior: It’s the Democrats who want Trump to be the 2024 Republican nominee! You can tell that’s true because the Justice Department isn’t indicting him!

The staunchly pro-Trump faction, of course, has a different view.

The Justice Department would be wise to follow the facts wherever they may lead and make a decision about whether to indict Trump based on what it finds. Trying to avoid right-wing allegations of partisanship is futile — in that information ecosystem, such conspiracy theories are the coin of the realm.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Right-Wing Attacks On Mar-a-Lago Search Are Not Aging Well

After the FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and residence on August 8, the former president’s media allies had the opportunity to pause and consider the possibility that it might be part of a legitimate inquiry. Instead, they rushed to support the former president’s loud and incendiary claims that the FBI, the Justice Department, and President Joe Biden were conspiring against him in a partisan witch hunt.

That decision keeps looking worse as the Justice Department unveils new evidence about its investigation into Trump’s retention of government documents, including highly classified materials seized during the search. A Tuesday court filing by the Justice Department debunked several talking points Trump’s defenders in the right-wing press have offered over the past few weeks — but the former president’s propagandists show little sign of changing course.

Numerous Fox News personalities, for example, denounced the search on the grounds that the bureau should instead have subpoenaed the documents sought by federal officials. They argued that the former president would have willingly turned over whatever they sought and that getting a search warrant was an unnecessary escalation motivated by anti-Trump animus.

“Last night's raid of the former president's home had nothing to do with the retention of classified materials. You can handle missing records with a subpoena. You don't come kicking the doors in,” as Fox host Will Cain put it. “Everyone knows what this is really about. Finding something, anything, they can use to keep Donald Trump from running for president.”

But the DOJ filing indicates that the search came only after monthslong efforts to recover all the documents in Trump’s possession by other means. That included a grand jury subpoena served on May 11 requesting “any and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings.”

In response to the subpoena, the filing explains, Trump’s team provided the government dozens of documents with classified markings; Trump lawyer and former OAN host Christina Bobb attested that all documents responsive to the subpoena had been returned following a “diligent” search of the premises; and the FBI subsequently developed evidence that this was not true and additional classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago and that some “government records were likely concealed and removed” from the storeroom in which they had been held. This led the FBI to seek and receive a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, which uncovered a trove of additional documents bearing classification markings that had not been turned over as required by the earlier subpoena.

The filing includes a photo of documents with classification markings seized in that search.

So it was for many other talking points that Trump and his associates had promulgated and his media allies subsequently trumpeted. The Trump passports taken in the search and promptly returned, which his defenders portrayed as a “huge violation of the Fourth Amendment”? They had been mixed up with classified and government documents in Trump’s desk drawer and taken as “relevant evidence,” the filing states. The dubious notion that everything was fine because Trump had declassified all the documents while president, something he could supposedly do at will? According to the filing, Trump’s lawyers “never asserted that the former president had declassified the documents.”

Again, Trump’s propagandists had the option to wait for facts like these to come out. Instead, operating with remarkably little information beyond the public statements of the notoriously untruthful former president, they careened from one dubious talking point to the next.

In their quest to protect Trump, right-wing media figures have smeared the FBI as “the East German Stasi in the Cold War” and the Nazi “Gestapo,” and gone after the magistrate judge who signed off on the warrant. They’ve portrayed the search as “the worst attack on this republic in modern history” and a “preemptive coup” to prevent Trump’s reelection. They’ve warned that their viewers are next, as Biden is “at war with the American people.” They’ve presented a justification for political violence — one echoed by Trump’s own veiled threats. While they disingenuously complain about descriptions of “semi-fascism” in the GOP’s pro-Trump ranks, the former president’s supporters are targeting FBI offices and threatening federal officials.

The ongoing deflation of their inflammatory talking points does not seem to be generating a shift in behavior. Instead, Trump’s media allies are largely standing by him and searching for new defenses for his actions. On Wednesday morning, Fox hosted Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law and a network contributor who has repeatedly used her post to mislead about the search, to downplay the DOJ filing as “more of the same.” On Fox & Friends, Kristi Noem, the Republican governor of South Dakota, suggested that the FBI might have planted the classified documents it seized from Mar-a-Lago, while network host Dan Bongino speculated that the documents marked “TOP SECRET/SCI” weren’t actually classified.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox News Aflame With Indignation Over Biden's 'Semi-Fascism' Remark

How does one describe the philosophy of former President Donald Trump’s ultranationalist movement, whose most extreme adherents seek to subvert democracy, oppose the rule of law, and embrace political violence? President Joe Biden, who previously tried out “ultra-MAGA” as his umbrella term for the extreme elements of the GOP, used the term “semi-fascism” at a private reception on Friday.

That remark sent Republicans to their fainting couches over the weekend – even as some of the party’s leaders went out of their way to prove Biden right. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), amid heightened threats to federal law enforcement and government officials following the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, warned of “riots in the streets” if the former president were prosecuted over the reams of classified documents that were seized. And the following morning, Trump himself called for the reversal of the 2020 election and his own extralegal reinstallation as president. These are not idle threats – recall that Trump “summoned a violent mob” to Washington, D.C., which stormed the U.S. Capitol amid his extensive efforts to overturn his electoral defeat.

GOP politicians and their right-wing media propagandists could reject the extremists in their midst and try to establish guardrails to curb their rising influence. But the nascent freak-out over “semi-fascism” demonstrates that they prefer to treat Democratic denunciations of far-right extremism as attacks on themselves, their supporters, and their audience. That may serve to rile up Republican voters for forthcoming elections and to keep them fixed to right-wing media content. But it also ensures the ongoing takeover of the party by its most radical faction.

On Monday night, Fox News’ primetime hosts and their guests distorted Biden’s remarks to falsely accuse him of describing every single Republican voter as a fascist.

As Tucker Carlson put it, Democrats think that “anyone who disagrees with Joe Biden is by definition a fascist,” and Biden had proven it by purportedly declaring on Friday “that Republicans are ‘semi-fascists.’"

“So, that is effectively a declaration of war against half the country,” Carlson explained. “What do we do to fascists? Well, we fought a war to kill them."

But Biden did not actually describe every Republican as a fascist; he specifically described the “extreme MAGA philosophy” as “semi-fascism.” He has consistently been very clear – even generous – in differentiating between more extreme and more moderate elements of the GOP. He did so again hours after the “semi-fascism” remark. Speaking at a campaign rally in Maryland, Biden drew a line between “MAGA Republicans” who “refuse to accept the will of the people” and “embrace political violence,” and the “mainstream Republicans” whom he urged to oppose them.

Fox doesn’t want to establish such distinctions between right-wing extremists and mainstream Republicans – it wants to collapse them. It is difficult to create coherent guardrails when the face of your network is toasted by white nationalists for mainstreaming their massacre-spurring conspiracy theories, and so the network generally doesn’t try. In fact, one of the panelists Fox brought on to condemn Biden’s “semi-fascism” remark was senior columnist Kurt Schlicter, who routinely glorifies political violence and has urged Republicans to “use the law to ensure blue submission” and “imprison dissenters.” That sounds pretty fascistic!

The right has followed this playbook for more than a decade, insisting that all Democratic efforts to call out the most extreme elements of the right are attacks on every member of the party.

All the way back in 2009, right-wing pundits falsely depicted a Department of Homeland Security memo detailing the threat of right-wing extremism as an assault on “everyday conservatives” and anyone who “disagree[s] with that liberal path that President Obama's taken the country down.”

In 2016, they generated a pseudoscandal around Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s description of some Trump supporters as belonging to “a basket of deplorables” who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic,” which she contrasted to the “other basket of people ... who feel that the government has let them down.”

And days before the 2020 election, when Biden described a handful of Trump supporters who were interrupting one of his speeches as “ugly folks,” they pretended he was talking about all Trump supporters.

This disingenuous strategy is of a piece with one of Carlson’s most dishonest conspiracy theories. In the alternate reality that the Fox host creates for his audience, white nationalists and QAnon conspiracy theorists do not exist and the January 6 insurrection was a false flag. Since right-wing extremists aren’t real, Democratic efforts to curb their influence must be pretextual, and their real target must be his viewers.

The leading lights of the right are unwilling to reject the extremists in their midst. The result is a party that puts QAnon adherents in Congress; nominates a pro-Confederate candidate for Pennsylvania governor, several underqualified and unhinged Senate candidates, and a host of would-be election subverters to run state elections; and remains firmly under the thumb of a racist former game show host who tried to overturn the last election.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

How (And Why) The Far Right Demonized Dr. Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official and a public health adviser to seven presidents, announced on Monday that he plans to retire in December after more than 50 years of public service. President Joe Biden toasted Fauci as “a steady hand with wisdom and insight honed over decades” and praised his “unparalleled spirit, energy, and scientific integrity,” while top scientists touted his record of “sav[ing] countless lives.”

While Fauci once earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President George W. Bush, his impending retirement was not greeted with plaudits from the right. On Fox News that night, Tucker Carlson’s opening monologue described him as “a dangerous fraud, a man who has done things that in most countries, at most times in history, would be understood perfectly clearly to be very serious crimes.” The New York Post headlined its editorial the next day “Good riddance to dangerous Dr. Fauci,” while The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board concluded that “his legacy will be that millions of Americans will never trust government health experts in the same way again.”

Fauci, like everyone else involved in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 1 million Americans, does not have a perfect record. But he spent his career trying to remain impartial, avoid partisanship, and offer the best advice he could, and for decades, he was respected on both sides of the political aisle. That reputation ultimately could not survive the relentless propaganda of the right-wing press, which needed a coronavirus scapegoat and found one in the octogenarian scientist.

Right-wing propagandists began turning Fauci into their latest hate object in March 2020. At the time, states had imposed stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures that were recommended by the Trump administration to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Fox and other pro-Trump outlets consistently downplayed the threat posed by the virus and promoted a minimalistic response that dismissed such efforts in favor of snake oil miracle cures.

Trump’s media supporters could not or would not try to directly challenge the president, and settled instead on targeting Fauci, who was a face of the administration’s response. He initially drew their ire as a critic of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, the malaria drugs that Fox hosts and then the president had recommended as a coronavirus treatment (numerous studies have found the drugs ineffective) and as part of the supposed “ruling class” that could weather a long-term economic shutdown.

At the time, even right-wing pugilists like Fox’s Tucker Carlson were still pulling their punches. “Imagine another year of this,” he said on his April 3, 2020, show. “That would be national suicide, and yet, that is what Anthony Fauci is suggesting, at least.” But Carlson went on to acknowledge that Fauci wasn’t trying to “hurt America,” saying that he “seems like a very decent man” who was simply misguided.

That gentility would not last. The pro-Trump media — and Carlson in particular — became increasingly unhinged and vituperative toward Fauci as the pandemic wore on. Ultimately, the right-wing attacks on Fauci had dramatic impacts for the country.

By mid-May of 2020, Fox’s prime-time stars had decided that the crisis was over. When Fauci said in congressional testimony that it was not, and that the virus was likely to recur in the fall and winter, they began pushing for Trump to fire him. On programs that the Fox-obsessed president watched religiously, they portrayed Fauci as power-mad and using his influence to “favor what the Democrats want.” Those attacks continued over the following weeks and months.

In July, Trump began publicly echoing the right-wing media’s concerns about Fauci. The following month, the president appointed Scott Atlas, a radiologist and right-wing think tanker who caught his attention through frequent Fox appearances, to the White House coronavirus task force.

Atlas effectively displaced Fauci as Trump’s top coronavirus adviser, and used that position to promote a “herd immunity” strategy for coping with the virus. His actions ultimately helped bring about the very wave of hospitalizations and deaths Fauci had earned the opprobrium of the right for warning about months earlier.

But the right’s attacks on Fauci continued over the months and years to come.

Carlson was the scientist’s most implacable media foe. He described Fauci as an “elderly power-drunk epidemiologist”; “capricious and transparently political”; a “hypocritical buffoon”; an “oily politician on an ego trip”; and an “even shorter version of Benito Mussolini.” He denounced the scientist’s recommendations as “authoritarian,” falsely claimed that Fauci “helped to create” the coronavirus, and called for him to “never work in public policy again.”

Other right-wing pundits demonized Fauci as “one of the great criminals of our civilization” and a member of the “medical deep state” who was “on a jihad” against Trump and behaves “more like a monarch.” They called for an investigation into his purported crimes and fantasized about him being put in “leg irons” or even beheaded. They even accused him — falsely — of killing puppies, with one describing him as “the dog-murdering and orphan-killing doctor, Anthony Benito Fauci.”

Fox’s attacks on Fauci have become so habitual that they often seemed to serve as background noise on the right-wing channel. But at times, the network’s talking heads have issued comments so abhorrent that they trigger widespread public outrage and even a response from the network brass. Fox sidelined Lara Logan, a host on the network’s streaming service, after she compared Fauci to the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele during a November 2021 appearance. The following month, the network publicly defended host Jesse Watters after he drew controversy for exhorting an audience of young right-wing activists to “ambush” Fauci with a rhetorical “deadly” “kill shot.”

Amid the flurry of often violent public criticism, Fauci divulged that he regularly received threats. Earlier this month, a man was sentenced to more than three years in prison for sending Fauci emails with comments like “You and your entire family will be dragged into the street, beaten to death, and set on fire.”

Fauci’s retirement announcement has opened a debate about who might succeed him. But senior members of the U.S. medical establishment are warning that the right’s attacks on Fauci may limit the pool of applicants willing to try to fill his shoes.

“What keeps the former surgeon general [Jerome Adams] up at night is his fear that talented candidates won’t want these jobs after what Fauci and other public health officials have faced over the last few years,” Politico reported on Monday. “Fauci has received death threats, and his daughters have been harassed — and Adams worries that this vitriol is a big part of why Fauci is stepping down.”

When the next pandemic hits, the U.S. response might thus be hobbled, thanks to the right-wing media’s impulse to destroy a vital public servant for political gain.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Tucker Carlson's Inflammatory IRS Lies Were Debunked By Fox News Reporter (VIDEO)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed on Monday that the Biden administration is hiring “87,000 armed IRS agents to make sure you obey,” a wildly inflammatory and false claim that his network’s White House correspondent debunked a few days earlier.

Carlson returned from last week’s vacation with a wild rant about the FBI’s August 8 search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and residence, which uncovered 11 sets of classified documents, among other materials, that the former president took with him when he left the White House. The Fox host argued that the court-approved search was part of President Joe Biden’s “war on his own population,” specifically targeting “Trump voters” with “acts of aggression and hostility.”

Carlson went on to declare that “just in case you missed the theme here, they're hiring another 87,000 armed IRS agents just to make sure that you obey. Got it?” He was referencing a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden will sign into law on Tuesday, which provides $80 billion in funding to the IRS over ten years to raise $124 billion over the same period through increased enforcement targeted at individuals with incomes greater than $400,000.

But the IRA does not specifically provide for the hiring of 87,000 agents, and it certainly doesn’t call for them to be armed. Carlson is mashing together two misleading talking points that the right has taken up as part of its defense of wealthy tax cheats who face increased enforcement.

In recent days, Republicans and their propagandists have endlessly complained that the IRA funds “87,000 new IRS agents.” But that’s not true, as the Associated Press noted in a fact-check:

Last year, before the bill emerged, the Treasury Department had proposed a plan to hire roughly that many IRS employees over the next decade if it got the money. The IRS will be releasing final numbers for its hiring plans in the coming months, according to a Treasury official. But those employees will not all be hired at the same time, they will not all be auditors and many will be replacing employees who are expected to quit or retire, experts and officials say.

The IRS currently has about 80,000 employees, including clerical workers, customer service representatives, enforcement officials, and others. The agency has lost roughly 50,000 employees over the past five years due to attrition, according to the IRS. More than half of IRS employees who work in enforcement are currently eligible for retirement, said Natasha Sarin, the Treasury Department’s counselor for tax policy and implementation.

Carlson, in claiming that the 87,000 new hires will all be “armed,” is glomming on to last week’s right-wing frenzy over an IRS job posting for “Criminal Investigation Special Agents” which stated that the hires will “carry a firearm and be willing to use deadly force, if necessary.” Some online conspiracy theorists incorrectly interpreted this as a signal that the 87,000 new IRS employees supposedly hired under the IRA would all carry guns.

In fact, as the AP noted, special agents with IRS Criminal Investigation, a division which dates to 1919 and is the only one in which employees are armed, only constitute about 2.5 percent of the service’s total staff. “The job description does not apply to most potential new employees that the IRS will hire in the coming years,” according to the AP.

Carlson’s “news side” colleague, White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich, also posted a Twitter thread on Saturday debunking the claim that he made two days later. She reported that, per a treasury official, “a tiny fraction of the agency’s new hires, ~1%,” would be armed special agents. She also pointed out that those agents work on “big public corruption, narcotics, and money laundering cases” and would “never” come in contact with “the average American.”

Heinrich has just under 93,000 followers on Twitter, while Carlson’s Fox show regularly attracts more than 3 million viewers.

Carlson’s falsehood follows a week of unhinged demagoguery from Fox and others in the right-wing media that links the new IRS funding with the Mar-a-Lago search as dark signs that the Biden administration has weaponized the government against Americans. Fox pundits have described the potential wave of IRS hiring as an “economic, financial militia against regular people” deployed by those who “want to control you”; a “new army” that will “hunt down and kill middle class taxpayers”; a “new Gestapo” Biden will use in an “abusive, corrupt manner”; “a Praetorian Guard that will be unleashed again” to “grab all the cash they can by any means necessary”; and “part of an orchestrated campaign to target Americans and have the federal government be at war with those Americans.”

The out-of-control tenor of right-wing attacks on the IRS has triggered concerns that its employees may be subject to violence.

“Given the social media chatter we’re already seeing, it’s all too easy to imagine individuals using these conspiracy theories as justification for violence against public servants and their families,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said in a statement last week. “It’s unbelievable that we even need to say this, but there are not going to be 87,000 armed IRS agents going door-to-door with assault weapons. This is funding for answering phone calls and upgrading computer systems.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI director Christopher Wray, and the magistrate judge who signed off on the Mar-a-Lago search warrant have all received an uptick in death threats since last Monday’s search, leading to a joint intelligence bulletin from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security warning about the prospect of violence against federal officials.

On Friday, an armed Trump supporter who had called for the murder of federal agents following the search attacked the FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was later killed in a shoot-out with police.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox's Lara Trump Recites Litany Of Lies On Mar-A-Lago Search

When Donald Trump revealed last Monday night that the FBI had “raided” his Mar-a-Lago resort and residence, Fox News had an asset on its payroll uniquely positioned to provide its audience with insight: The former president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is a Fox contributor. But unfortunately for the network’s viewers, over the past week she's been using her network platform to mislead them.

Members of the Trump orbit, including Lara Trump’s husband, Eric, deployed to Fox last week offering the expected furious defenses of the former president and denunciations of the FBI’s probe. But if there’s any value whatsoever in putting a former president’s relative on staff, surely it is in the aftermath of such an event, when she might have both rare access to credible information and a willingness to reveal it.

In her five weekday Fox interviews last week to discuss the search, however, Lara Trump offered the same overheated narrative as her father-in-law's other defenders.

Hours after the news broke last Monday, she said the FBI’s search was “about weaponizing the justice system” to stop the former president from returning to office in 2024.

“I think for someone, and anyone, quite frankly, who loves this country and believes in America, this should shake you to your core what has happened today,” she said on Tucker Carlson Tonight. “If this is what they're able to do to the former president of the United States, think about what they could do to you, to anybody in America.”

“This sort of political harassment and targeting, these are things that happen in communist countries and Third World dictatorships, not in the United States of America,” she said Thursday night on the same program. “And I don't know how you come back from this, even if my father-in-law decides to run and wins in 2024 – which I believe if he decides to run, he will win.”

But a review of Lara Trump’s appearances reveals that she provided Fox’s audience with more than just unhinged zealotry. The Fox contributor and Trump family member repeatedly offered factual claims that were disproven as more information came to light over the course of the week.

The network’s viewers – far from receiving rare insight into the events from someone unusually close to the situation – were simply deceived.

Were the documents the FBI seized significant?

Lara Trump, in her initial appearances responding to the FBI’s search, falsely presented the documents seized by the FBI as harmless mementos saved by her father-in-law.

“Look, my father-in-law, as anybody knows who has been around him a lot, loves to save things like newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, photographs,” she claimed on Monday night.

“These are like, you know, clippings from newspapers, these are photographs,” she added on The Story the following afternoon.

But the materials, contra Lara Trump, were much more than a lovable packrat’s collection.

The FBI seized 11 sets of classified government documents, among other materials, according to the receipt provided to Trump’s legal team at the time of the search. Of those, one set was marked as classified at the “top secret/SCI” level, denoting information gleaned from sensitive intelligence sources. Four other sets were marked as “top secret,” the highest classification level, three sets as “secret,” and three sets as “confidential.”

Was Trump allowed to retain the documents?

Lara Trump falsely claimed that Trump had every right to be in possession of the documents he took from the White House at the end of his presidency and that the FBI subsequently seized.

She told Tucker Carlson Tonight guest host Will Cain last Monday night that the FBI was after “documents that he had every authority, Will, to take from the White House,” later adding that the former president had taken “some documents that he had every right to take, that every president does.”

In fact, under federal law, there are no documents that a former president can take with him at the conclusion of his term.

“For the past four decades, every presidential document – from notebook doodles to top-secret security plans – is supposed to go directly to the National Archives as the material is considered the property of the American people. So when former President Donald Trump left office on Jan. 20, 2021, all his records should have traveled from the White House to the National Archives,” NPR detailed on August 13.

Was the Trump team cooperating with the FBI?

Lara Trump falsely claimed that the FBI’s search had been an unnecessary escalation because the Trump team had been working with the government.

“Everybody has been cooperating, everybody from my father-in-law's team has been cooperating with the FBI, with any authority that asked for anything up until now and there was no need to make such a big scene, to do something this insane, quite frankly, to a former president,” she said last Monday.

“He was fully cooperating with authorities to then come to his house unannounced,” she added Tuesday.

In reality, the FBI’s search followed a 15-month government effort to seek the return of all White House documents taken by Trump which was repeatedly thwarted by the former president’s unwillingness to give them up. The National Archives had negotiated the voluntary return of 15 boxes of White House documents from Mar-a-Lago in January, some of which it determined were classified, and a grand jury issued a subpoena seeking more documents in the spring. A search warrant was sought only because the government believed, apparently correctly, that Trump continued to retain sensitive documents.

Did the FBI “break in” to Mar-a-Lago?

Lara Trump also used incendiary and false rhetoric to discuss the FBI’s search, describing its agents as “breaking in” to Trump’s home and ransacking its contents for its agents’ own personal use.

“It, of course, was a raid,” she said on Tuesday night’s Hannity. “It is ridiculous for anyone to call it anything other than that. I don't know what you call a bunch of people unannounced breaking into your home like this and taking whatever they want for themselves.”

“Breaking into the home and raiding the home of a former president of the United States, I mean, that is a very big deal,” she added on the Thursday edition of The Story.

In fact, the FBI agents came with a search warrant signed by a magistrate judge which specified that they could seize “physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed” under three federal statutes, not “whatever they want for themselves,” as Lara Trump suggested.

While the Fox contributor’s description of the FBI “breaking in” suggests agents busting down the door unannounced, they appear to have identified themselves upon arrival and broken a padlock on the door of the storeroom containing the documents.

Does the Trump team have a copy of the search warrant?

Lara Trump falsely claimed that the Trump team did not receive a copy of the search warrant, which details what investigators were seeking and what laws they convinced a judge may have been violated, as well as the inventory they provided of what they seized.

“Does he have, in his possession, the search warrant? Because I got mixed reports on this, whether or not he was ever served any document that said what they were looking for?” anchor Martha MacCallum asked on Tuesday’s edition of The Story.

“To my knowledge, Martha, no. I do not believe that he has anything like that, no,” Lara Trump replied.

But the Trump team had been provided with those documents. In fact, after a judge unsealed the warrant on Friday, Fox anchor Bret Baier revealed on-air that “Trump lawyers” had provided his network with a leaked copy of them hours earlier.

Did Trump keep nuclear documents at his Florida resort?

The Washington Post reported on Thursday night that “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought” at Mar-a-Lago. Lara Trump was on-air to respond within the hour.

“Did you see any nuclear reports at the Mar-a-Lago club, maybe around the pool by the lifeguard stand?” guest host Brian Kilmeade asked after reading from the article.

“Yeah, no, those were not disseminated freely at Mar-a-Lago. Of course not. But I mean, who knows?” she replied. “By the way, I think it's a mystery to a lot of people what could possibly rise to the level of not taking a bit of a different approach and instead raiding the former president's home.”

Based on Lara Trump’s past commentary, that is not an encouraging response.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox News Said FBI Should Have Issued Subpoena To Trump -- But It Did

Fox News personalities have repeatedly denounced Monday’s FBI execution of a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence by claiming that the agency should instead have subpoenaed the documents the former president illegally took from the White House, which the bureau was reportedly seeking. In their telling, Trump is a naif who may have accidentally taken some documents he should not have, but sending federal agents to seize the documents is a massive escalation which revealed that President Joe Biden’s administration is targeting a political opponent for partisan gain.

“All they needed to do was issue a simple subpoena, and that would have mandated that if there's anything left, you turn it over,” Sean Hannity asserted on his radio show on Wednesday.

“If Trump is not allowed to keep all this stuff, fine,” host Jesse Watters said on Fox that night. “Get a subpoena, he will give it back. It's not like Trump won't cooperate.”

There’s just one problem. Trump previously did get a subpoena seeking the documents, according to a new report, and the FBI only escalated to asking a judge for a search warrant after it became clear that Trump would not, in fact, cooperate.

The New York Times reported on Thursday:

Former President Donald J. Trump received a subpoena this spring in search of documents that federal investigators believed he had failed to turn over earlier in the year, when he returned boxes of material he had improperly taken with him upon moving out of the White House, three people familiar with the matter said.

The existence of the subpoena helps to flesh out the sequence of events that led to the search of Mr. Trump’s Florida home on Monday by F.B.I. agents seeking classified material they believed might still be there, even after efforts by the National Archives and the Justice Department to ensure that it had been returned.

While Fox is trying to defend Trump by suggesting that the FBI search came out of the blue, the timeline of events suggests the government continued escalating its investigative methods because it believed Trump continued to illegally retain documents that were “so sensitive in nature, and related to national security, that the Justice Department had to act."

  • The National Archives first reached out to Trump’s team about missing White House documents in May 2021 and spent months negotiating their voluntary return.
  • In January 2022, the agency was finally able to recover 15 boxes of White House documents from Mar-a-Lago. In February, it informed the Justice Department that it had determined some of the records were classified.
  • Then in the spring, a grand jury issued a subpoena seeking documents that were still at Trump’s residence.
  • On Monday, two months after the subpoena was issued, the FBI sent in agents to get the documents.

Here are some more Fox pundits who said the government should have gotten a subpoena for the documents rather than sending the FBI to get them.

  • Charlie Gasparino: “It looks like one of the worst abuses of justice that we've seen in a long time. I mean literally, they could have asked for the stuff, they could have subpoenaed the stuff but they came with FBI agents, guns out.” [Tucker Carlson Tonight, 8/10/22]
  • Byron York: “No subpoena for the documents. They didn't use any less intrusive method to get the documents and, bang, there's 30 FBI Agents at Mar-a-Lago. We don't know why that happened.” [America’s Newsroom, 8/11/22]
  • Lawrence Jones: “Why didn't they just subpoena the president to go through the documents? Why the raid, why the show of force?” [Fox & Friends, 8/9/22]
  • Will Cain: “Last night's rate of the former president's home had nothing to do with the retention of classified materials. You can handle missing records with a subpoena. You don't come kicking the doors and end up blowing open safes.” [Tucker Carlson Tonight, 8/9/22]

It was already laughable for the outlet to accuse others of excessive escalation while responding to a court-ordered search by calling it a historic “attack on this republic” by “lawless” “Gestapo”-like agents who are “at war with the American people.” It also turns out to be false.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

After FBI Search Of Mar-a-Lago, Fox News Again Incites Violence

Right-wing news outlets have a rage-based business model, converting unhinged rants to readers and revenues. But there are few precedents, in intensity or duration, for the frenzy that has consumed Fox News and other bastions of the MAGA media since the FBI carried out a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday. Their incendiary commentary, which posits that a criminal probe into the former president is intrinsically corrupt and part of an attack on his voters, is courting a paroxysm of political violence.

The FBI executed a warrant signed by a federal magistrate judge, reportedly seeking classified material that Trump illegally removed from the White House at the end of his term. Pundits on the right could be trying to lower the temperature by telling their audiences that there’s much we don’t know yet; a legal process is playing out; and Trump, like any American, is subject to the rule of law.

Instead, Fox and other right-wing outlets describe the search as “the worst attack on this republic in modern history,” part of a “preemptive coup” to prevent Trump’s reelection, and a sign the country is now a “tyranny.” They say the FBI is acting like “the East German Stasi in the Cold War” and the Nazi “Gestapo,” and call its agents part of a “lawless criminal organization” that “planted evidence,” bugged Trump’s bedroom, and may be planning his “assassination.”

And they are quick to tell their viewers that they should fear their own persecution in the wake of the search. According to right-wing outlets, “the real target of this investigation is you” and its perpetrators are “trying to show all of us that we'll be destroyed if we fight them” because they are “at war with the American people.”

“If this is what they're able to do to the former president of the United States, think about what they could do to you, to anybody in America,” warned Lara Trump, Fox contributor and Trump’s daughter-in-law.

That paranoia is everywhere within the right-wing bubble, and some are calling for direct action in response. On Fox, Jesse Watters suggested that “honest Americans” would respond to the search by getting “out on the streets” against the “corrupt government.” According to the network’s Will Cain, a “permanent national split” – in other words, another civil war – may be needed to rectify the situation. The militia-linked radio host Pete Santilli, meanwhile, argued that it may be necessary for MAGA supporters to “arm up and surround Mar-a-Lago to protect it, to protect life, liberty, and property.”

What might someone do if they are ensconced in the right-wing media bubble, trust these personalities, take their views seriously, and come to believe their claims that federal agents are Nazis waging war on the American public and threatening their own safety and the safety of their families? How far might they go?

This is not an idle question – extremism researchers are sounding the alarm about the prospect of pro-Trump violence. On Wednesday, Vice reported that “far-right extremists on pro-Donald Trump message boards and social networks are making violent, antisemitic threats” against the judge who reportedly signed off on the search warrant. reported the same day that “FBI agents, as well as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray, are experiencing an uptick in death threats” following the search.

“The posts on these pro-Trump forums tonight are as violent as I've seen them since before January 6th. Maybe even moreso,” NBC News’ Ben Collins reported on Monday night.

Collins’ comment in particular points to the risks Fox and its brethren are courting. We’ve seen over the years that when the right-wing media riles up its audience enough, the consequences can be dire. When they spent weeks after the 2020 election championing Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and warning their audiences that they would lose their country if his lies were not vindicated, the result was a violent mob of thousands Trump had summoned to Washington, D.C., storming the U.S. Capitol, assaulting scores of law enforcement officers, and threatening the continuation of our democratic system.

What conservative pundits appear to have learned from that deadly debacle is that they will face no consequences for inciting mob violence. No one seems to have lost their job or their audience for unduly inflaming their viewers. They correctly assume that they are under no restraints as they stoke fear and rage to turn profits and bolster the political power of the Republican Party so it can carry out its goals of cutting taxes for rich people and banning abortion. And that means that they may be pushing the country once more toward the precipice.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Right-Wing Media Echo Trump's Claim That FBI 'Planted Evidence' At Estate

The baseless claim that the FBI may have planted evidence while carrying out a court-approved search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday has surged through right-wing media, as the former president’s allies continue their effort to turn their audiences against the probe and shield Trump from accountability.

The FBI searched the premises after obtaining a warrant from a federal magistrate judge and “removed a number of boxes of documents” as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump had illegally “taken a trove of material with him to his home at Mar-a-Lago when he left the White House that included sensitive documents – and then, in the Justice Department’s view, had failed to fully comply with requests that he return the disputed material,” the New York Times reported. Politico concluded after consulting with legal experts on the handling of classified documents that “it’s highly unlikely the DOJ would have pursued – and a judge would have granted – such a politically explosive search warrant without extraordinary evidence.”

Trump could shed light on the events by releasing the copy of the search warrant his lawyers received at the time, which would detail what investigators were seeking and what laws they convinced a judge may have been violated, as well as the inventory they provided of what they seized. He reportedly has “no plans” to do so. Instead, Trump and his right-wing media supporters have responded with fury and conspiracy theories.

Trump’s propagandists began speculating on Tuesday that the FBI may have planted evidence at the scene. The notion first seems to have first surfaced in an interview with one of Trump’s lawyers, who suggested it was true, and spread rapidly throughout the day through the right-wing media ecosystem, including on Fox News. By Wednesday morning, Trump himself was nodding to it on his Truth Social platform.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; the conspiracy theory’s proponents have offered none at all. But the evidence or lack thereof is not the point — the theory serves as a hedge against the prospect that investigators eventually produce damning material gleaned from the search: They are priming their audiences to disbelieve the validity of that evidence.

The conspiracy theory first surfaced on Tuesday morning after Christina Bobb, a former host for the fringe-right One America News Network who now serves as one of Trump’s lawyers, said during an interview on the Trumpist streaming channel Real America’s Voice that she “was not allowed to observe” the search.

Host Karyn Turk returned to that point later in the interview, citing “people asking” in the stream’s chat whether anyone would have been able to see whether “something’s planted.” Bobb responded that “There is no security that something wasn't planted,” adding, “I’m not saying that that’s what they did.”

Over the course of the day, the theory was adopted by prominent right-wing media figures with close ties to Trump. Describing the search as evidence of “tyranny” and a “war on the American people,” Fox contributor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told Trumpist influencer Charlie Kirk, “You'll notice they didn't allow anybody on the Trump side into Mar-a-Lago. So we have no idea whether or not they planted evidence.”

“Yes, that's exactly right,” Kirk replied. “ I have a couple of thoughts. Number one, I wish I trusted our law enforcement. You need some form of law enforcement to have a civil society, but I'm right with you. I say, oh, they're planting evidence. How disappointing of a place we are in our country where our immediate reaction is that our own law enforcement agency might be planting evidence against a former president.”

The notion also surfaced on Infowars’ The Alex Jones Show, where former Trump White House aide Steve Bannon suggested that the FBI had been on a “planting expedition.”

“I wouldn't put it past them to have planted stuff – that – this is a criminal,” Bannon continued. “The FBI and the DOJ are essentially lawless criminal organizations.”

Jones, a notorious conspiracy theorist, replied, “Exactly. How do we know a hundred agents in there with their long history of planting things, didn't plant something classified?”

By late afternoon, the totally baseless claim hit Fox’s most-watched program, The Five, with co-host Jesse Watters asking, “How do we know they’re not planting evidence right now?”

Watters went further that night on his 7 p.m. ET show.

“What the FBI is probably doing is planting evidence, which is what they did during the Russia hoax. We also have a hunch they doctored evidence to get the warrant -- again, what they did during the Russia hoax,” he said during his opening monologue Wednesday night. “So, this is a big fishing expedition, using anything they can against Trump to take him out of the race for 2024.”

Watters also described the FBI as “bloodthirsty savages who want to see you humiliated and violated” and the search as “a threat to anybody who opposes them.”

Trump lawyer Alina Habba further fueled the conspiracy theory, telling Watters later in the program, “Quite honestly, I’m concerned they might have planted something. You know, at this point, who knows? I don’t trust the government, and that’s a very frightening thing as an American.”

On Wednesday morning, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt also nodded to the conspiracy theory. “His lawyer said they brought in backpacks, what was in those backpacks?” she asked. “Did they bring those in to fill them up or did they have something in there?"

This is how a conspiracy-minded talking point is constructed in real time. It is reminiscent of how right-wing media figures, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, attributed the widespread violence to antifa infiltrators. In that case too, the theory was floated without anything resembling credible proof. But that did not prevent it from becoming taken as gospel by a large swath of the right.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox News Attacks Law Enforcement (Again!) To Protect Trump’s Criminality

Shortly before 7 p.m. ET on Monday night, former President Donald Trump issued a press release confirming that the FBI had conducted a “raid” of the Mar-a-Lago resort which serves as one of his residences.

Details are scarce. Trump had been enmeshed in a long list of criminal probes at the time of the search, but The New York Times and The Washington Post are both reporting that the search was related to the former president’s potentially illegal removal of classified documents from the White House at the conclusion of his term, with the Post’s source stating it was “court-ordered.” The FBI and Justice Department have declined comment, following their typical procedure for press requests confirming active federal investigations.

Trump is using that information vacuum to put his own spin on the events, describing himself in his release as the victim of “prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President.” And his loyal henchmen at Fox News quickly adopted his talking points, denouncing the judge-approved search in the most demagogic terms imaginable on their Monday night programs as they sought to poison the well against any potential consequences for their beloved president.

Fox was created to protect Republican presidents from accountability. The network’s propagandists successfully convinced its viewers not to care about a wide array of Trump depravities, including the conduct that resulted in his impeachments for corruptly pressuring a foreign government for political gain and for inciting the January 6 coup attempt.

Now they’re trying to do it again. Below is a sample of Fox’s irresponsible, incendiary commentary on Monday night.

Jesse Watters claimed on his 7 p.m. ET show that the search “is going to absolutely enrage the country, especially the Republican base, a base that is clearly behind the ex-president.” He later called it “insane,” adding, “and the people in this country are not going to go for this.”

Later in the program, Watters said that Christopher Wray, the FBI director who was appointed by Trump, “has to be fired by the next Republican president. Got to be fired on day one. Don't even wait. Just fire him right off the jump because this guy is so corrupt.”

Talk radio host Buck Sexton told Watters that the situation “almost feels like a preemptive coup, we’ve heard so much about the insurrection and the coup, but this is preventing, this is meant to prevent Donald Trump from being able to run again.” He also called the search “the Rubicon being crossed” and “thug, police state tactics.”

He later added, “This is undermining our faith, not only in the peaceful transition of power, but of the executive arm of the government under an opposition party. Not to act like the Stasi, not to act like the secret police that we've seen in totalitarian regimes.”

“This is some Third World bullshit right here,” Fox host Dan Bongino told Watters. “Let me say it again: Third World bullshit.”

“I think there is going to be some more action you are going to see out on the streets from the base after they see this break tonight,” Watters concluded. “There are a lot of honest Americans that've had it with what this corrupt government and what the FBI has done."

Fox’s Will Cain, in for prime-time host Tucker Carlson, opened the 8 p.m. ET hour by asking, “Was there a legal basis? Or was this a partisan witch hunt?” His guests that night overwhelmingly said it was the latter.

They included former Trump aide Stephen Miller, who called the FBI executing a warrant against the former president’s residence “an abomination”; Trump’s daughter-in-law and Fox contributor Lara Trump, who said it was “about weaponizing the justice system as it has been so many times in the past against somebody who you politically do not like”; and former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon, who called on congressional Republicans to cut off funding for the FBI, saying that “the FBI, right now, is the Gestapo.”

Fox host and Trump adviser Sean Hannity opened his 9 p.m. ET show by mourning “a dark day for our republic, the Department of Justice, the rule of law, what looks to be potentially a shocking overreach – we'll find out in due time – that will have serious ramifications potentially for many, many years to come.” He added that “DOJ is now being used as a weapon against Biden’s top political rival, that’s the former president of the United States of America, Donald Trump.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Right-Wing Media Covering Up Mastriano's Anti-Semitic Alliances

Right-wing media outlets have ignored Republican gubernatorial nominee for Pennsylvania Doug Mastriano’s alliance with Andrew Torba, the virulent anti-Semite who runs Gab — a social media site notoriously frequented by white nationalists, including the shooter who killed 11 at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue in 2018. By ignoring Mastriano’s friendly dealings with bigots, right-wing media are complicit in ensuring that Torba’s ilk are accepted in the right-wing movement and the Republican Party it supports.

Mastriano, an election conspiracy theorist, right-wing extremist, and January 6 insurrectionist, has embraced Gab, praised Torba for “what you’ve done” in an interview with the infamous Jew-hater, and paid the platform $5,000 for consulting services, Media Matters reported earlier this month. Those revelations triggered weeks of criticism for the gubernatorial nominee, and on Thursday, Mastriano and Torba posted statements responding to the firestorm.

But as New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait pointed out, Mastriano did not condemn Torba as an anti-Semite or say he would cease their association. Instead, Mastriano wrote, “Andrew Torba doesn’t speak for me or my campaign. I reject anti-Semitism in any form,” before attacking the press for reporting on their association and his Democratic opponent, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Chait wrote that Mastriano’s failure to reject Torba indicates that white nationalists “now have a place within the coalition” of the Republican Party and signifies “the collapse of any efforts to bar Nazi-like extremists from any place of welcome within the party.”

The rot is deeper than he suggests, though. One way political parties maintain guardrails against extremism is by candidates like Mastriano rejecting people like Torba. But another way is for the party’s institutions to apply pressure on hesitant candidates to do so and reject those who refuse. And that does not seem to be happening here.

Mastriano’s alliance with white nationalists has not resulted in his exile from the GOP – in fact, earlier this week, the Associated Press published a story detailing how the party is “warming up” to him. The Republican Governors Association hosted a donor event for Mastriano just last week and has likewise avoided commenting specifically on the candidate cavorting with bigots. And Mastriano posted a selfie on Twitter outside Capitol Hill Club on Thursday afternoon with the note, “Meeting with our congressional delegation in Washington DC.”

One factor that may be discouraging the party’s entities from weighing in is that numerous GOP politicians have advertised on Gab, including Georgia Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Herschel Walker and Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Meanwhile, rank-and-file Republicans trapped within the right-wing media bubble are hearing nothing about the story. If you get your news exclusively from right-wing sources, you may be unaware that your coalition now apparently includes white supremacists.

Fox News has not mentioned the connection between the Republican gubernatorial nominee and the notorious anti-Semite even once, according to a Media Matters review. When Mastriano appeared on One Nation with Brian Kilmeade on Saturday evening and told Kilmeade’s audience “there’s nothing extreme about me,” the host did not bring up his ties to Torba.

That blackout exists across the spectrum of right-wing outlets. Fox’s far-right competitors, One America News Network and Newsmax, also have not covered the story. It has also not been mentioned on Fox News’ website or on other prominent sites like The Federalist, National Review, the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, Breitbart, and the Daily Wire (home of Ben Shapiro, who Torba has said “is not welcome in the movement” because of his Jewish faith) according to Google site searches.

Tucker Carlson, Fox’s most powerful host, has actually gone out of his way to downplay the extremism of Torba and Gab. When Gab was banned by the Google and Apple app stores for “hate speech” in 2017, Carlson condemned those companies for attacking a “pro-free speech platform” whose users he described as “people who just believe in free speech.” Carlson also hosted Torba on his show, allowing to promote himself as someone who simply “believed in free speech for everybody, individual liberty for everybody, and the free flow of information for everybody.”

The Fox host’s support for the platform was apparently undimmed by its link to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter: Last year, he described it as a “free speech alternative to corporate social media.”

Carlson has also described white supremacy as a hoax. Thanks to him and his colleagues, its adherents are now apparently just another faction of the GOP.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.