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

CNN Hires Former Trump Administration Flack Sarah Isgur As Political Editor

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Early on in the Trump administration, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ran into a staffing problem as he took over the Department of Justice. According to The Washington Post, Sessions very much wanted to hire longtime Republican political operative Sarah Isgur as his chief spokeswoman, but she had “criticized [President Donald] Trump, repeatedly, during the 2016 Republican primaries,” and thus her “prospects for a Justice Department job stalled.” To break the logjam, the Post reported, Isgur paid Trump “a cordial visit during which she told the president she was on board with his agenda and would be honored to serve him.”

The incident was noteworthy when the Post reported it last April because it demonstrated both the president’s overriding need for loyalty and the willingness of Republican operatives to kiss Trump’s ring as a means of career advancement. The story has taken on new relevance now that the same Sarah Isgur who personally expressed her loyalty to the sitting president has reportedly been hired as a political editor at CNN.

In certain respects, this is a baffling move by CNN. According to Politico, which first broke the news, Isgur will assume her editorial role at the network in March and “will coordinate political coverage for the 2020 campaign.” Isgur is a career political operative — she’s worked for Sessions, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Republican National Committee, and Carly Fiorina’s failed 2016 presidential campaign — but there is no indication that she has ever worked in any capacity as a journalist (unless you count appearing as a pundit on cable news, which you should not). CNN has hired a person with zero experience producing news to oversee the production of news.

Not only that, but the network has turned over its 2020 political coverage to person who is more or less a walking conflict of interest. Politico notes that Isgur, because of her employment history, “will not play a role in covering the Department of Justice.” How on earth can a cable news channel have a political editor who can’t cover DOJ? The workings of the Justice Department are at the heart of some of the most critically important political stories of the Trump era. The Russia investigation and the special counsel’s office are going to be hugely important topics for the 2020 campaign, and Democratic candidates are likely going to spend considerable energy attacking DOJ policies that Isgur defended, such as Sessions’ legal assault on sanctuary laws for undocumented immigrants.

It doesn’t make much sense to have a political editor who has never worked in journalism, and it doesn’t make any sense to have a political editor who is walled off from important stories that will be central to the very coverage she is supposed to be coordinating. And those problems rest uneasily atop issues that arise from Isgur’s partisan leanings and her loyalties to current and former high-ranking Trump officials. Isgur’s presence will lead to persistent, difficult-to-answer questions about how her politics and conflicts of interest are shaping the network’s 2020 coverage.

CNN’s choice of a Trump administration veteran does, however, fit in with the network’s fantastically self-defeating strategy of hiring pro-Trump mercenaries who shill on behalf of a president and administration that delight in demonizing CNN. The journalism industry does not lack for talented, experienced professionals who are desperate for work, but CNN opted to give this important job to a Jeff Sessions acolyte who has never worked as a journalist. That sure feels like the network sabotaging its own interests in order to send a conciliatory message to a political movement that will always view it as an “enemy of the people.”

Sebastian Gorka, Scourge Of ‘The Swamp’, Cashes Out

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

It’s been almost a year since off-brand James Bond supervillain Sebastian Gorka was fired or resigned(definitely fired) from his ill-defined job in Donald Trump’s White House, and Gorka is still finding ways to monetize his seven months of public pseudo service. He’s followed some well-worn D.C. insider tracks by signing on as a Fox News contributor and guest lecturer at the Heritage Foundation, but he’s also running a side hustle squeezing speaking fees and the occasional “honorarium” out of Republican congressional candidates.

Since last December, Gorka has pulled in nearly $18,000 from GOP candidates seeking federal office, according to Federal Election Commission filings. His $2,500 check from Virginia’s E.W. Jackson, $5,000 speaking fee from Nevada Republican Danny Tarkanian, and $5,240 payment from Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward have been previously reported. But the FEC database recently added an additional $5,000 payment to Gorka from Ward’s campaign dated April 16 and tagged as “Event Cost – Speaker.”

In exchange for the thousands of dollars it costs to have Gorka speak on their behalf, these candidates get a full dose of the only commodity Gorka has to offer: his proximity to Trump.

Here’s one of the speeches Gorka gave on behalf of Kelli Ward — it largely consists of Gorka talking about how Trump is the greatest and oh by the way, he was once Gorka’s boss. “This is a woman who gets things done, just like somebody else I know. … I want to talk to you about my old boss, OK? … What’s he really like behind closed doors? What’s he like in the Oval? … We flew on Air Force One to Youngstown, Ohio.” In that same speech, in which he transformed his connections to the politically powerful into monetary gain for himself, Gorka railed against “the swamp.”

Obviously this is a good deal for Gorka; all he has to do is show up and ramble for a few minutes about the president and he gets a tidy little sum to finance his suede-vest-and-tourniquet lifestyle. But is it worth it for these campaigns to pay Gorka to hear him drone quite Britishly about the unblemished greatness of Donald Trump?

Yeah, probably … for now. Ever since the 2016 election, Republican politics has devolved into a grim and undignified competition over who can best communicate their slavish and self-debasing loyalty to the president. For as long as that dynamic lasts, having a Trump-adjacent minor celebrity like Gorka on hand to lend a bit of insider credibility doesn’t hurt, just so long as everyone agrees to overlook the fact that the transactional nature of the relationship is the very essence of the “swamp” they all claim to loathe.

Gorka’s sinecure at Fox News is also quite swampy. As I wrote when Gorka was first hired by the right-wing cable network as a “national security strategist,” Gorka had no actual national security role in the White House, and real security experts view him as a jumped-up charlatan. He’s functionally useless at the specific role Fox News hired him for, and Fox News apparently acknowledges as much.

The Daily Beast reported last week that the network has effectively banned Gorka from appearing on its supposed “hard news” programming and siloed him to its rabidly pro-Trump opinion shows: HannityFox & Friends, etc. “Fox’s news division simply does not view Gorka as credible enough to regularly comment on subjects on which Gorka has branded himself a longtime expert, or to analyze the administration of which he was a member,” The Daily Beast reported. (Gorka is also apparently passing around fake Fox News business cards, just to add to the aura of sadness.)

Once again, Gorka’s only valuable contribution to Fox News is his relationship to Trump, who apparently loves watching Gorka’s cable hits. The network’s pro-Trump propagandists understand this, so they invite the nominal “national security strategist” to bark about whatever story they’re chasing on a given evening. Sometimes those stories are national security-related, but more often than not Gorka is brought on to inveigh against the media or the Russia investigation or “the cesspit, the cesspool that is Hollywood.” It’s a racket that’s made possible only by the president’s affection for Gorka’s brand of combative nonsense.

Gorka is a bleak manifestation of this rancid era in politics. Through dogged loyalty to a corrupt politician, he briefly rose to an official position that far exceeded his qualifications. Now he’s running tidy little scams wherever he can and eagerly invoicing whomever is willing to hear increasingly stale anecdotes about his undistinguished few months spent in service to Donald Trump.

Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

That Heavily Hyped Memo Is Utterly Underwhelming — But Still It Makes Noise

After far more drama and tension than should have been necessary, the infamous House intelligence committee memo on alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI against President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was released. And it was, predictably, a hilarious and self-defeating flop, but that fact won’t discourage Trump’s most slavish acolytes from claiming the Russia “hoax” has been exposed.

This was actually a bit sad for me. I was holding out an irrational hope that House intelligence chair Rep. Devin Nunes, in the course of his day-to-day duties of abusing the committee’s oversight role to shield the president from political damage, might have accidentally stumbled into some real FBI malfeasance. After all, the government has granted itself vast surveillance powers and shielded itself from public accountability through secrecy and classification, making it extraordinarily difficult to know if and when abuses of those powers occur.

But, alas, the memo was a bust. It didn’t really tell us anything that hadn’t already been leaked or guessed, and it actually undermined a critical point Donald Trump and his defenders hoped the memo would bolster.

Nunes’ document alleges that FBI investigators relied in part on a dossier compiled by ex-MI6 officer Christopher Steele to obtain a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and that the government failed to “accurately provide an accounting of the relevant facts” about the dossier when applying for and reauthorizing the warrant. Those “relevant facts” do not have anything to do with the accuracy of the information contained within the dossier, which Nunes’ memo doesn’t address.

Rather, the memo complains that the government did not disclose the “political origins” of the dossier — specifically the fact that Democratic groups helped fund it and that Steele himself showed “clear evidence” of bias against Trump — when presenting its case before a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge. The memo doesn’t actually make any allegations, but it strongly implies that Justice Department officials deliberately withheld this information to illicitly obtain and reauthorize surveillance of Page.

None of us has any way of knowing how legally significant these claims of bias would have been, however, because Nunes’ memo doesn’t lay out the government’s case against Page in any detail. Nor does it provide the name of the FISC judge who heard the evidence. In fact, it doesn’t provide any information one would needto gauge the validity of its implications. Instead, the memo strongly suggests that the Steele dossier was the critical component to the case against Page (while it conveniently omits the fact that he was on the radar of counterintelligence officials as far back as 2013).

This is important because Trump and his defenders are heavily invested in the notion that the whole Russia investigation originated from the Steele dossier, which they loudly insist is discredited and total bunk. The memo, however, accidentally disproves that allegation. In a sloppy attempt to gild what is already an unimpressive lily, Nunes’ memo vaguely alleges bias by noting that investigators mentioned a different Trump associate, George Papadopoulos, in its warrant application for Page. “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016,” the memo notes, thus corroborating a New York Times report that the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts began with Papadopoulos, not the Steele dossier.

But all of this is immaterial to the people who had already decided what the memo would say before they even saw it. Nunes, with allies in the conservative media, mounted an effective PR campaign around this document while it was still under wraps and advertised it as an earth-shaking and world-historic revelation of anti-Trump corruption and bias at the highest levels of government. Sean Hannity (who is denying reports that he advised Trump to approve the memo’s release) hyped the memo earlier this week by saying “this makes Watergate like stealing a Snickers bar from a drug store.” Former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka grandiloquently declared that the memo’s revelations would be “100 times bigger” than the abuses that precipitated the American Revolution.

The memo, of course, comes nowhere close to matching that absurd hyperbole; it’s impossible to assert that the memo even points to a minor scandal at this point. So, now, these same Trump lackeys will set about to loudly exaggerating or flat-out lying about the memo’s contents so that it fits their pre-formed conclusion. It’s already happening: right-wing pundits are saying the “devastating” memo undermines special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump. The same people who spent weeks loudly demanding that the memo be released won’t be bothered by what the memo actually says. All they’re interested in his how they can use it to discredit the intensifying federal investigation into the president and his associates.