A front-page Wall Street Journal report suggested that a top political appointee in Hillary Clinton's State Department improperly "blocked" documents sought under public records law. But even the article's anonymous sources don't support that allegation.
While career officials are supposed to make the final decisions on the release of documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is normal for political appointees to play a role in the process. As explained in a 2011 Inspector General report issued as part of an investigation into the role political appointees played in the FOIA processes of the Department of Homeland Security, both political and career officials "should undoubtedly ask questions and offer suggestions while a course of action is under consideration. This is the 'deliberative process' in which government employees must engage in order to make reasoned decisions. "The report noted that it is "appropriate that there be internal debate among DHS employees about DHS programs, and FOIA processing is no exception."
Echoing this understanding of how the FOIA process works, the Journal includes a State Department spokesman's comment that it is "entirely appropriate for certain Department personnel" to be consulted regarding FOIA requests, and a Clinton spokesman's statement that the focus of the article, former State Department chief of staff Cheryl Mills, "did not inappropriately interfere with the FOIA process."
Fox News' special based on discredited conservative journalist Peter Schweizer's book Clinton Cash dishonestly promoted several of the author's speculative attacks on Hillary Clinton.
In the April 24 special, The Tangled Clinton Web, host Bret Baier gave Schweizer a platform to discuss a series of stories that fail to connect the dots between donations to the Clinton Foundation, speaking fees earned by former President Bill Clinton, and policies supported by the State Department during Secretary Clinton's tenure in the Obama administration.
Schweizer is a Republican activist whose previous reporting has been marked by false claims and retractions.
Journalists who have reviewed Schweizer's Clinton book have noted that his reporting lacks a "smoking gun" to back up his suggestions of impropriety. Reporters have also pointed to several errors in his book. But host Bret Baier warned at the conclusion of the program that the claims could lead "people" to "worry that another Clinton administration could mean influence peddling on a scale never before imagined."
Schweizer and Baier tried to connect the decision by Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson to pay Bill Clinton for a speech in November 2011 with the exclusion of the telecommunications industry from sanctions against Iran, which does business with Ericsson.
From the special:
SCHWEIZER: Beginning in 2009, the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is coming under pressure in the United States, because it's selling telecom equipment to oppressive governments around the world. In the midst of all of this, they decide to pay Bill Clinton to give a speech for the first time ever. They pay him a whopping $750,000.
BAIER: Soon after, Hillary Clinton's State Department urged new, broader sanctions against Iran, but the guidelines did not include telecom, which is Ericsson's business.
In fact, the Iran sanctions in question actually took the form of executive actions from President Obama, and not State Department initiatives.
Baier and Schweizer provided no evidence that telecommunications were excluded from the sanctions as a result of the speech. In fact, the sanctions in question specifically targeted Iran's energy sector. As CNN reported at the time, "The U.S. government tightened restrictions on companies that provide Iran with equipment and expertise necessary to run its vast oil and chemical industry."
When Yahoo News reviewed the chapter of Clinton Cash featuring this allegation, they noted that there was "no smoking gun" connecting the speech and the sanctions. Yahoo News further noted that a Clinton aide pointed out that telecommunications manufacturers like Ericsson have not been added to the sanctions since Clinton left the State Department, casting doubt on the suggestion of a connection between the 2011 Bill Clinton speech and U.S. sanctions policy.
Schweizer and Baier baselessly suggest that a donation to the Clinton Foundation from Saudi Arabia's Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi caused the State Department to certify Ethiopia's human rights record, allowing them to receive U.S. aid.
Schweizer reports that Al-Amoudi's 2009 donation was highlighted at the time by "Ethiopian groups in the west, because they are very concerned about the repressive government in Ethiopia and the fact that Sheikh Al-Amoudi has a large business empire in Ethiopia." He goes on to connect these concerns to the fact that "when Hillary Clinton becomes secretary of state, one of the things that she needs to do is certify Ethiopia on human rights, but Hillary Clinton granted them a waiver which allowed them to continue U.S. assistance even though that they weren't complying with U.S. law."
But contrary to the special's suggestion that Ethiopia was allowed access to U.S. assistance directly because of this Clinton Foundation donation, that access predated and continued after Clinton left the State Department. In fact, the document Fox showed on-screen in support of their claim actually postdates her tenure.
As evidence of their theory, Fox aired an image of a Department of State Public Notice 8553, titled "Waiver of Restriction on Assistance to the Central Government of Ethiopia":
That waiver, signed by then-Deputy Secretary William J. Burns, is actually dated July 10, 2013 -- months after Clinton left office. It appears in the December 18, 2013, edition of the Federal Register, which also reports that identical waivers were granted to the governments of 11 other African nations.
Such aid is not a new phenomenon. The State Department's Agency for International Development has provided economic assistance to Ethiopia for decades, including throughout the Bush administration.
Baier and Schweizer baselessly suggested that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally approved a deal that eventually gave the Russian government ownership of U.S. uranium mines to benefit a Clinton Foundation donor.
During the segment, Schweizer detailed the sale of Uranium One, chaired by a Clinton Foundation donor, to the Russian state corporation Rosatom. He and Schweizer then had the following exchange:
BAIER: Now, does Secretary Clinton factor into this?
SCHWEIZER: For that deal to go through, it needs federal government approval and one of those people that has to approve that deal is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
NBC News has noted in discussing a similar story by The New York Times that this implication "doesn't hold up that well." Indeed, as Media Matters has noted:
Journalists have suggested that conservative author Peter Schweizer's forthcoming book attacking Hillary Clinton is more credible because he will follow it up with a similar book examining Jeb Bush. But according to his publisher, no such book is in the works: Schweizer's reporting on Bush will be published on the website of his non-profit organization.
Over the past few days numerous media outlets have begun reporting on allegations Schweizer makes in his forthcoming book Clinton Cash about allegedly unethical ties between the Clinton Foundation and actions Hillary Clinton purportedly made as secretary of state. Critics -- including Media Matters -- have noted that Schweizer is a Republican activist and strategist with a history of reporting errors.
Pushing back against this narrative, Bloomberg Politics reported on April 23 that in contrast to the "left-wing clamor that Schweizer is simply out to get Hillary Clinton," "Schweizer is working on a similar investigation of Jeb Bush's finances that he expects to publish this summer."
Picking up the story, Politico reported that Schweizer "is reportedly working on another book that he expects to release in the summer. Only this time, he'll be writing about Jeb Bush." CNN likewise reported that the "book on Bush... would be published this summer."
But HarperCollins, the publisher of Clinton Cash, denies that any such book is in the works.
A spokesperson for the publisher told Media Matters that the forthcoming work is "not a book" but rather a "report of the Government Accountability Institute," where Schweizer is president.
"We have nothing to do with it," she added.
Schweizer and GAI did not respond to requests for comment.
The New York Times is urging the Clinton Foundation to reinstitute a ban that never existed on accepting donations from foreign governments.
The Times editorial board wrote on April 23 that now that Hillary Clinton is running for president, the international nonprofit "needs to reinstate the ban on donations from foreign governments for the rest of her campaign -- the same prohibition that was in place when she was in the Obama administration." Likewise, an April 23 Times news article stated that the Foundation recently "limited donations from foreign governments," but that the new policy "stops short of Mrs. Clinton's agreement with the Obama administration, which prohibited all foreign government donations while she served as the nation's top diplomat."
In fact, the 2008 memorandum of understanding entered into by the Clinton Foundation and then-President-Elect Barack Obama did not ban foreign government donations. Instead, it stated that if Hillary Clinton were confirmed as secretary of state, the Foundation would "continue to perform" its activities "on behalf of existing foreign country contributors and in fulfillment of existing and on-going commitments."
The Clinton Foundation's board agreed earlier this month to return to a similar policy given Clinton's run for president. They will "permit donations from Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the U.K. -- countries that support or have supported Clinton Foundation programs on health, poverty and climate change," according to the Wall Street Journal.
A New York Times report suggested that the State Department's official reply to a congressional inquiry into personal email use by government employees showed malfeasance by Hillary Clinton and her former department. But according to documents obtained by Media Matters, other federal agencies responded in a similar manner, undermining the Times' report.
This additional context shows that rather than revealing a case of wrongdoing by Clinton, the Times has discovered that Cabinet agencies don't always respond to congressional inquiries quickly and in full.
The Times reported in an April 14 article that Clinton "was directly asked" in a December 13, 2012, letter from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa "whether she had used a private email account while serving as secretary of state" but that "Mrs. Clinton did not reply to the letter. And when the State Department answered in March 2013, nearly two months after she left office, it ignored the question and provided no response." According to the Times, State provided only a "description of the department's email policies" rather than a direct response to Issa's question.
Clinton was not the only one to receive such a letter. As the Times article notes, similar letters were sent to "other executive agencies" as part of a broad Oversight inquiry into the use of private email by government employees. The Hill embedded the letter, which includes a note indicating that it was sent out to 18 Cabinet secretaries on the same date.
The letter requested answers to eight specific questions, including "Have you or any senior agency official ever used a personal e-mail account to conduct official business?"
But in suggesting that Clinton had failed to respond promptly and with sufficient depth, the Times gave no indication it had attempted to compare State's response to those of the other agencies who also received the letter, to determine if State's response was actually unusual. The Times article, published two days after Clinton announced a presidential run, instead was based solely on a copy of Issa's letter and the State response that were obtained from "a congressional official."
Media Matters has obtained the responses from two other agencies: the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Both letters to Issa provide a description of department policies rather than direct responses to the congressional inquiry, and one was sent a month later than State's.
The Labor Department responded to Issa's letter on April 26, 2013. The congressional inquiry had been sent to then-Secretary Hilda Solis, who stepped down before Labor responded, just as Clinton had stepped down as Secretary of State between State's receipt of and response to Issa's letter.
In his response, Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs Brian Kennedy did not directly address Issa's inquiry about whether Solis had used personal email, instead stating that the Department "takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that DOL officials and employees are educated on and comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations governing official communications and document management policies" and providing a general overview of Department policies, specifically on social media.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development responded to Issa's inquiry on January 11, 2013. Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations Peter A. Kovar wrote that the "forwarding of HUD email by HUD employees to their personal email account is permitted only in narrow circumstances," but noted that "originators" of emails on any system are "responsible for determining the record value of any transmission." HUD did not directly address Issa's inquiry into whether former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan had ever used a personal email account to conduct government business.
The New York Times was previously forced to walk back their sloppy reporting on Clinton's personal email account and began to quietly reverse course on their stance on the matter after the publication's public editor conceded the original story "was not without fault" and "should have been much clearer about precisely what regulations might have been violated." Despite the initial report's suggestion that Clinton violated federal record keeping rules, the Times' key source later clarified that Clinton in fact did not "violate" the law. Others in the media have consequently retracted their own baseless claims made in the rush to scandalize Clinton's emails.
Media Matters for America is proud to present Killing Truth, senior fellow Eric Boehlert's eBook chronicling the many fabrications Bill O'Reilly has told about his life and reporting background.
Over the past six weeks, the Fox News host has been consumed by a media firestorm as reporters and advocates revealed that a variety of stories O'Reilly has told about his journalistic exploits during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, were inflated or false. Those tall tales include:
- O'Reilly claimed he reported from a war zone in the Falklands; the closest he got to that conflict was Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, a thousand miles away.
- O'Reilly claimed he witnessed civilians get killed during a protest in Buenos Aires; other reporters and a historian say no such deaths occurred.
- O'Reilly claimed he was on the doorstep of a figure connected to President Kennedy's assassination when that man committed suicide; this is debunked by significant evidence, including O'Reilly's own taped statement from the time.
- O'Reilly claimed he saw nuns get shot in the head in El Salvador; he later acknowledged he had only seen photos of the deceased.
- O'Reilly has told two different stories about his El Salvador reporting trip; in one he says he witnessed a firefight, but in the other he makes no mention of the dramatic events.
- O'Reilly claimed to have seen terror attacks in Northern Ireland; he later admitted he had only seen photos of those events.
- O'Reilly claimed to have been attacked by protestors while reporting for Inside Edition during the 1992 Los Angeles riots; this was subsequently disputed by six of his former colleagues.
Killing Truth makes the case that O'Reilly has stretched the truth again and again in order to build his reputation as a hardened reporter who doesn't just talk about violent conflicts but has risked his own life to witness them.
The eBook, available here, is timed to coincide with the release of O'Reilly's newest book, Bill O'Reilly's Legends and Lies: The Real West, the companion to a forthcoming Fox News miniseries on the Old West. The series reportedly promises to "separate the legend from the lie."
Here's an excerpt from Killing Truth:
As the face of Fox News, the most powerful cable news channel in the country, as well as a best-selling author, the controversy brought into focus O'Reilly's unique brand of pathology. He appears to be a man focused on reinventing a version of himself that's more compelling than the real thing. O'Reilly has insisted that while he might be a "champion bloviator" who sits behind a desk for a living, he earned that right to pontificate because he put in all the hard work as a fearless reporter who rushed into danger in the name of breaking news. "I bloviate about stuff I've seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven't," he once bragged.
Partisan misinformation is one thing. It's the Fox News hallmark after all, and O'Reilly has trafficked in that, enthusiastically, for decades. But there's something even more troubling about a broadcaster who not only makes up facts in pursuit of winning a political debate, but who makes up facts about his own life in order to portray himself as tougher, more accomplished, and more credible than he really is.
For a man who once bragged that he was the second most powerful man in America (behind only the President of the United States), O'Reilly seems desperately concerned with puffing up his resume by reimagining his past. Recall that O'Reilly wasn't always just a partisan player regurgitating Republican talking points for a living. He had a taste of the network news life, with stints at both CBS News and ABC News back in the 1980s. (He once had dreams of replacing Peter Jennings as ABC's nightly news anchor.) But they didn't work out. He was never more than a minor player at both networks, and to this day he seems unable to contain the lingering resentment.
Does that explain O'Reilly's need to rewrite his reporting past? It's possible. The lies of O'Reilly also seem closely connected with the persona of class resentment he's fed off for decades. With a professional chip on his shoulder about the inside elites who have tried to keep him down, and who are now supposedly offended by his professional success, the need to improve O'Reilly's past becomes paramount to that narrative.
On Tuesday, Bill O'Reilly will enter another network's studio for the first time since the wave of stories exposing his embellishments about his reporting background broke last month. According to O'Reilly's website, he will appear with David Letterman on CBS' The Late Show to promote the National Geographic Channel adaptation of his 2013 book, Killing Jesus.
O'Reilly has faced intense scrutiny over the past month as various outlets have uncovered discrepancies in stories the Fox News host has told about his work regarding the suicide of a figure linked to the investigation of John F. Kennedy's assassination and conflicts in El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Los Angeles, and Argentina.
O'Reilly has not been interviewed by a non-Fox journalist since the early days of the firestorm, instead issuing statements about aspects of it and referencing the controversy on his own show. There remain many lingering questions about O'Reilly's past statements.
National Geographic Channel is reportedly taking steps to ensure that tough questions about O'Reilly's embellishments don't interfere with the launch of their film. CNN reporter Tom Kludt -- who has reported extensively on the O'Reilly controversy -- said on Twitter this afternoon that the network had informed him that they had denied his credential to cover the program's premiere "out of respect" for the Fox host.
Bill O'Reilly has finally responded to the mounting evidence undermining his claim that he personally "heard" the shotgun blast that killed a figure linked to President Kennedy's assassination. Last night, O'Reilly directed viewers to a statement from his book publisher that highlighted the account of a former O'Reilly colleague. But even that former colleague -- who has since worked for Fox News and is now a freelance reporter -- is unable to corroborate O'Reilly's tale.
O'Reilly claimed in his books on Kennedy's death and on Fox News that he was outside the residence where George de Mohrenschildt, a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald, killed himself in Florida in 1977. At the time, O'Reilly was a reporter for Dallas' WFAA-TV.
Over the past weeks, that story has unraveled. Several of O'Reilly's former colleagues and other reporters who covered de Mohrenschildt have disputed the tale. CNN produced audio that included O'Reilly telling a congressional investigator "I'm coming to Florida" only after learning of de Mohrenschildt's suicide. And the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office death investigation report makes no mention of O'Reilly, strongly refuting the notion that he was at the residence at the time of the suicide.
O'Reilly had declined to directly address these discrepancies, while the publisher of his JFK books, Henry Holt and Co., released a statement standing by their author. Fox News has described O'Reilly as the victim of "an orchestrated campaign by far left advocates" and called responding to such allegations "an exercise in futility." But last night on his Fox News show, O'Reilly finally responded to what he termed "the far-left attacks on my reporting" of the JFK story by directing his viewers to a statement on the controversy that had been posted by his publisher.
The statement comes from O'Reilly's former WFAA colleague Bob Sirkin, who has previously said he was with O'Reilly in Florida on the day of de Mohrenschildt's suicide. Sirkin, a freelance reporter who has worked for Fox News, previously described himself as one of the few people at WFAA who got along "very well" with O'Reilly.
But even Sirkin, O'Reilly's defender, is unable to corroborate his claim that he heard the gunshot that killed de Mohrenschildt. He also offers no explanation for the existence of O'Reilly's own recorded remarks that he's not in Florida, and why the police report didn't mention of O'Reilly.
According to Sirkin, he and O'Reilly had "split up" that afternoon and did not "reconnect" until after the death. From the statement (all caps in original):
So following the hotel incident, O'Reilly and I split up, it's now early afternoon. Bill is going to the Manalapan home in which George de Mohrenschildt and his daughter were staying, this is the house where de Mohrenschildt's body was found. I on the other hand, go on to do some additional reporting, phoning in a report for WFAA into their newsroom. Later, after de Mohrenschildt allegedly committed suicide, O'Reilly and I reconnect at the house in Manalapan.
In an interview with Media Matters last month, Sirkin likewise said that he was unable to confirm O'Reilly's account of having heard the gunshot.
Sirkin previously wrote a September 2012 blog comment claiming he visited Florida with O'Reilly prior to de Mohrenschildt's suicide. The entry makes no mention of O'Reilly hearing the gunshot. As Washington Post writer Erik Wemple notes, "There's no mention of Sirkin and O'Reilly splitting up or of O'Reilly heading over to the house where de Mohrenschildt committed his last act." Sirkin emailed Wemple later stating that he didn't include that detail "because of brevity and because I was not with Bill when he claimed to have heard a shot."
Sirkin's statement to O'Reilly's publisher also includes information that undermines his claim that he and O'Reilly were in Florida on the day of de Mohrenschildt's death. Sirkin identifies the freelance cameraman who worked with them in Florida. (Note: while award-winning filmmaker Frank Eberling has previously attested to being Sirkin and O'Reilly's cameraman during their 1977 Florida trip, Sirkin's statement on the publisher's website, which appears to be a transcription of a verbal comment, identifies him as "Frank Everly.") Eberling told Media Matters last month that while he is unsure, he thinks O'Reilly arrived in Florida the day after the suicide.
That account is consistent with tape recordings of a phone conversation between O'Reilly and a congressional investigator on the day of the suicide. In the recordings, O'Reilly can be heard asking the congressional investigator where the suicide took place, if a gun was used, and saying "I'm coming down there tomorrow. I'm coming to Florida ... I'm going to get in there tomorrow."
Doug Fox, another of Sirkin and O'Reilly's former WFAA colleagues, claimed in an interview with Media Matters last month that he spoke to Sirkin "a few months ago" about seeing a story questioning O'Reilly's de Mohrenschildt reporting. According to Fox, Sirkin "called me and he didn't think the assertion was correct that O'Reilly heard the gunshot. Sirkin and I were in agreement that that's not what we recall happening down there. He said, 'It doesn't sound right to me, either.'" Sirkin responded by claiming that he had merely told Fox that he hadn't been present with O'Reilly for the gunshot.
O'Reilly has recently faced widespread criticism for a series of fabrications about his reporting career. On his program last night, he lashed out at his critics, including Media Matters, which he termed "the chief attack vehicle for the left."
UPDATE: Eberling disputed several aspects of Sirkin's story in an interview today with Media Matters' Joe Strupp.
While Sirkin claims that he and O'Reilly were in the area and using Eberling ("Everly" in the transcript) as their freelance cameraman on March 29, the day of de Mohrenschildt's death, Eberling recalls that he was working his regular job at the local ABC affiliate that day and did not meet up with the WFAA reporters until March 30.
"I highly doubt that [O'Reilly] actually was there when [the suicide] happened, I don't think he came into town until the next day," said Eberling.
Sirkin also writes that on March 29, he, O'Reilly, and Eberling were escorted off the property of the Breakers Hotel after trying to ambush de Mohrenschildt while he was being interviewed by investigative reporter Edward Jay Epstein in Epstein's hotel room. Eberling recalled a similar story, but puts it on March 30, and said the altercation occurred when O'Reilly attempted to speak with either congressional investigator Gaetan Fonzi or investigative reporter Willem Oltmans.
Asked about O'Reilly's claim of being on the porch when the suicide occurred, Eberling said, "That's something I would have remembered and I don't remember him saying that."
Conservative media have accused Hillary Clinton of hypocrisy, claiming that a U.S. ambassador was forced to resign for using a personal email account at the same time Clinton was engaged in a similar practice during her tenure. In fact, the ambassador in question was fired following an investigation that accused him of a vast array of failures and mismanagement, not just improper use of email.
Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney writes that the news of Hillary Clinton's private email account is significant because it could provide evidence of her aide Huma Abedin's purported ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, his latest effort to push the bigoted conspiracy theory for which he has been widely condemned.
Her emails are of particular interest insofar as Ms. Abedin has extensive ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. That's the Islamist organization whose self-declared mission is "destroying Western civilization from within."
The indispensable investigative group Judicial Watch has filed suit in federal court for access to these emails. It remains to be seen if they are provided and, if so, what they reveal about these ladies' contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood - and their damage-control concerning revelations about Ms. Abedin's connection to it.
Gaffney's think tank is responsible for the conspiracy theory that Abedin, who is "of mixed Indian and Pakistani heritage," has family connections to the Muslim Brotherhood that call into question her loyalty to the United States.
After then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) cited Gaffney's claims while questioning Abedin's "routine access to the secretary and to policy-making" in a 2012 letter to the State Department, she was widely denounced, including by Speaker John Boeher (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).