Fox News Sunday selected Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, attorneys who represented witnesses at a Republican-led hearing on the attacks at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, for its "power players of the week," an unfortunate choice given that both individuals misled Fox News and its viewers about allegations of threats and intimidation against their clients and about efforts by the administration to prevent their clients from testifying.
Though Fox News Sunday aired certain aspects of Toensing and diGenova's biographies, the segment neglected to mention that the two have a history of poor professional conduct, including criticism from a Democratic congressman for inappropriate behavior and actions while they worked as congressional investigators due to their constant media appearances attacking President Clinton. They were also accused of having a conflict of interest for representing a Republican committee chairman under Justice Department investigation while simultaneously serving as special counsel to the committee in a separate investigation. More recently, Toensing pushed the false claim that outed CIA agent Valerie Plame had not been covert, in addition to other falsehoods.
On April 29, Fox's Special Report aired video of Toensing claiming that people who wanted to testify on Benghazi "have been threatened," which Fox & Friends aired the following morning. Toensing was also cited by Special Report on April 29 in reporting the allegations that "the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence" and that possible witnesses were having their careers threatened. And a May 6 FoxNews.com article by Fox Washington correspondents James Rosen and Chad Pergram sourced a claim that a witness named Mark Thompson "has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress" to diGenova, who was representing Thompson.
But testimony by the witnesses at a GOP-led hearing on May 8 and subsequent interviews of their attorneys on Fox News revealed that Toensing and diGenova misled the network by claiming that their clients had suffered threats, intimidation, and orders to keep quiet. When asked on Fox's Your World on May 9 about claims that Thompson had been threatened, diGenova replied that Thompson "actually hasn't said that," and explained that his client "didn't feel intimidated."
Gregory Hicks, another witness at the hearing -- represented by Toensing -- explained under questioning that he had not been told not to speak to congressional investigators, only that he was required to have a State Department attorney present while doing so. Hicks also explained that, in contrast to claims that the administration tried to silence him, he was interviewed twice by the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board that was created to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Hicks' testimony further contradicted Toensing's April 29 claim to Special Report that careers were being threatened when he explained that "the overriding factor" in his determination to not return to his post in Libya was to remain with his family in the United States.
A Wall Street Journal article highlighted Republican complaints that references to Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations were removed from unclassified talking points on the Benghazi, Libya, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility but failed to note that those references were removed to avoid compromising a criminal investigation and tipping off those terrorist organizations.
In a May 14 article about the Obama administration's release of more than 100 pages of emails showing the editing process behind unclassified talking points about the Benghazi attacks, the Journal channeled Republican critiques that references to Al Qaeda were removed to intentionally mislead the American public about what occurred in Benghazi:
The talking points were meant to provide a first public account of the attacks on U.S. posts in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The very first set of talking points said "extremists with ties to al Qaeda" took part in the attacks. The final product made no reference to al Qaeda, but to extremists.
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice used the talking points as the basis of the administration's explanation of what happened in the assault in a series of television interviews Sept. 16, 2012, five days after the attacks.
Republicans have said the talking points show the administration misled the public about the role of al Qaeda. Democrats charge the GOP with trying to damage the standing of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a 2016 Democratic presidential prospect.
But the removal of references to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations weren't designed to mislead anybody but terrorists. The New York Times reported in November that former CIA Director David Petraeus told lawmakers in congressional testimony that the names of terrorist organizations suspected of participating in the attacks "were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them."
Additionally, the release of the talking points emails shows that the CIA's general counsel was concerned about naming specific groups because it could "conflict with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this." The emails also show State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland expressing concern that naming the terrorist groups possibly involved might "prejudice the investigation."
In contrast to the Journal's report, The Washington Post included explanations about why references to specific terrorist organizations were removed from the talking points:
According to the e-mails and initial CIA-drafted talking points, the agency believed the attack included a mix of Islamist extremists from Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and angry demonstrators.
White House officials did not challenge that analysis, the e-mails show, nor did they object to its inclusion in the public talking points.
But CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the only indication the CIA had at that point that Ansar al-Sharia was involved was a single piece of intelligence, whose existence it did not want to reveal lest its sources and methods be compromised.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal provided incomplete reporting of GOP criticism that President Obama downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. None of these newspapers provided their readers with Obama's actual comments labeling the attacks an "act of terror," thereby giving undue weight to Republican attacks.
David Martosko of the Daily Mail Online provided former Vice President Dick Cheney a platform to criticize the Obama administration's failure to anticipate the September 11, 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, without noting that seven attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities occurred during the Bush administration.
In his article, Martosko quotes Cheney saying that the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks was "a failure of leadership" for not anticipating an attack on September 11, which Cheney said the Bush administration always expected following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Martosko's interview of Cheney was promoted by the Drudge Report, Fox Nation, and Breitbart.com.
But none of these outlets promoting Cheney's opinion noted that the U.S. suffered fatal attacks on embassies and consulates during the Bush administration. Between 2002 and 2008, seven attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates took place in Pakistan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Serbia, and Yemen.
Additionally, there have been many attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets -- including embassies -- for decades, and far more have occurred during previous administrations than under President Obama. Mother Jones put together the following graphic based on data from the State Department and the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism:
Cheney also served as Secretary of Defense during George H.W. Bush's presidency, when there were many times more attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets than under Obama.
Leaders from Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith have condemned Glenn Beck for depicting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as giving a Nazi salute in a speech Beck gave at the National Rifle Association's annual convention.
On May 4, Glenn Beck delivered a keynote speech to the National Rifle Association's 2013 annual convention. During the speech, he criticized Mayor Bloomberg and showed an image depicting Bloomberg with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband.
On May 7, ABC News reported that Beck "aroused criticism by a major Jewish group for depicting the mayor giving a Nazi salute." Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, told ABC News:
While he doesn't say it, it seems Glenn Beck is implying through an image of Mayor Bloomberg in an apparent Hitlerian salute is that the mayor's policies on gun ownership and other issues are turning New York city into a Nazi-like state. That suggestion is outrageous, insensitive and deeply offensive on so many levels ... Glenn Beck should know better. He has drawn similar inappropriate analogies to the Holocaust before. We wish he would stop trivializing the history of the Holocaust to score partisan political points.
B'nai B'rith, a Jewish humanitarian and human rights organization, made a similar statement to ABC News:
This is yet another example of the increasingly loose use of Holocaust-era imagery to denigrate one's opponents. No matter how heated an issue becomes, such provocative comparisons are always inappropriate and unacceptable.
On his May 7 radio show, Glenn Beck decided that he was the victim of a smear by ABC News and demanded an apology, saying that he imposed Bloomberg's likeness on an image of Lenin, not a Nazi, though he acknowledged that the pose was "a sieg heil salute":
UPDATE: The National Jewish Democratic Council has released a statement calling on the NRA and Republican leaders to condemn Beck's actions:
Glenn Beck's use of disgusting imagery, showing a leading Jewish American as a Nazi, at the National Rifle Association's convention was deeply offensive. The NRA and Republican leaders must stand with the ADL and B'nai B'rith in condemning Glenn Beck--especially those who selected him to give the NRA's keynote address. This isn't only about what Beck said, but the disturbing fact that his stunt was embraced with applause and cheers by attendees at the NRA's national convention. The NRA's crowd is the Republican base and all Americans must take note.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier misrepresented the testimony of a witness for the Republican-led hearing investigating the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. While the witness reportedly told congressional investigators that a small group of special forces were told not to board an aircraft heading to Benghazi to help with the attacks -- an aircraft that departed after an attack that killed two more Americans occurred -- Baier claimed the witness said the special forces team would have arrived in time for that attack.
The GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing on the September 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi on May 8. The committee had released a list of several witnesses that will be called on to testify, among them Gregory Hicks, who was the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya.
During the May 6 edition of Special Report, anchor Bret Baier claimed that Hicks said in his testimony that a team of special forces troops would have arrived in time for an attack on the CIA annex had they not been told not to go [emphasis added]:
BAIER: Charles, in this testimony that -- we have already seen some of this interview with Greg Hicks, the number two guy, again, on the ground, he specifically says that special forces in Tripoli were told to stand down and not get on a C-130 that was going to go from Tripoli to Benghazi that would have been there in time for the second attack, the second wave. They were told to not get on that plane.
Baier's claim is contradicted by Hicks' testimony, a statement from one of the lead Republican congressmen investigating the attacks, and of the timeline of events from the attacks.
Transcripts of an interview Greg Hicks gave to congressional investigators show that he said that the flight these special forces were scheduled to take, but did not, was scheduled to take off after 6:00 a.m., local time -- approximately 45 minutes after the attack at the CIA annex that killed two people [emphasis added]:
Q: And was there a second team that was organized? Could you tell us about the second team?
A: Right. The second team -- the Defense Attache worked assiduously all night long to try to get the Libyan military to respond in some way. Early in the morning -- sorry, after we were formally notified by the Prime Minister, who called me, that Chris had passed, the Libyan military agreed to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and carry additional personnel to Benghazi as reinforcements. Because we at that time -- at that time, the third attack, the mortar attack at 5:15, had not yet occurred, if I remember correctly.
Q: So what time did the second rescue team ??
A: Well, again, they flew -- I think that flight took off sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a member of the House Oversight Committee who has actively pursued investigations into the Benghazi attacks, told The Washington Post that the special forces team that Hicks and Baier are referring to "would have arrived after the attack":
Chaffetz said the troops who were not allowed to travel to Benghazi would have arrived after the attack on the CIA base but may have provided first aid to wounded personnel. He noted that the order to keep them from traveling was given before the second attack.
Fox News is denying the partisan nature of the Republican campaign to tar Obama administration officials with allegations of misconduct following the September 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. A Republican-led hearing on the issue follows recent claims of a Republican lawyer -- whose partiality has been questioned -- that she is representing Benghazi "whistleblowers," and comes only weeks after the release of a partisan congressional report on Benghazi authored by five Republican committee chairmen.
On Wednesday, May 8, the GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee is scheduled to hold a new hearing, titled: "Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage." The hearing will include three named witnesses -- the so-called whistleblowers -- one of whom has testified in Congress about the Benghazi incident before.
During a May 6 discussion about the hearing on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade declared that "politics is out, and whistleblowers are in," apparently deciding that because there are self-identified whistleblowers on an issue, it's no longer a politicized topic. Kilmeade subsequently complained that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn't pursue Benghazi as an issue enough during his campaign. He then returned to denying that the GOP's obsession with Benghazi is "politically driven":
KILMEADE: [A]nyone who says this is politically driven, or it's against the president, that's out the window. Because if there's a non-political season in this world in American politics, it's now. The mid-terms aren't close --
STEVE DOOCY [co-host]: Sure.
KILMEADE: And the president is not running.
Beyond the Republican-controlled House continuing to hold hearings on Benghazi, the lawyers claiming to represent some of the witnesses at the hearing, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, are long-time Republicans known for pushing false claims in the media and for having conflicts of interest in their professional work. In November, Toensing pushed a false link between the Benghazi attack and the resignation of former CIA director David Petraeus. Toensing also pushed the false claim that former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame was not, in fact, covert, and that her position was widely known. Additionally, Toensing and diGenova were involved in a 1998 news report about President Clinton that was discredited and later retracted. They have also been criticized for a conflict of interest for serving in a dual role in separate Justice Department investigations and for dropping "the air of impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism required" by their roles as leaders of a congressional investigation.
A congressional report on Benghazi that was hyped by Fox News to smear Hillary Clinton was authored by five Republican committee chairmen. The ranking Democrats on those committees sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner criticizing him for releasing such a partisan report, which they said is "unnecessarily politicizing our national security":
We are writing to strongly object to your decision to issue a partisan Republican staff report on Benghazi and dispense with House procedures for vetting official committee reports to correct inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. By abandoning regular order and excluding Democratic Members entirely from this process, you are unnecessarily politicizing our national security and casting aside the system used by the House for generations to avoid making obvious mistakes, errors, and omissions.
That report, which singled out Clinton for supposedly signing a cable about security concerns in Benghazi in the months before the attack, was undermined by media reports which showed that every cable that leaves the State Department bears the name of the Secretary of State, regardless if the secretary saw or approved it. A member of the independent Accountability Review Board that investigated the Benghazi attack called these accusations by the GOP against Clinton "total bullshit," and the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler called the claims "absurd." In a Fact Checker blog post he concluded that Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa had "no basis or evidence to show that Clinton had anything to do with this cable."
Fox News is using the claims of discredited Republican lawyers famous for their attacks on Democrats to accuse unnamed Obama administration officials of issuing threats to witnesses to prevent their testimony on the attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Former Reagan administration official Victoria Toensing and her husband and legal partner Joseph diGenova have claimed that they represent one of four "whistleblowers" to the Benghazi attack, and that those witnesses have been threatened by administration officials to prevent their testimony. Fox is portraying these allegations as part of a federal "cover-up," a claim that belies the fact that witnesses to the Benghazi attack have spoken to the FBI and an independent State Department investigation, and that some senators received their testimony. The State Department has said it is not aware of any employees claiming to be whistleblowers or attorneys attempting to gain security clearance to represent them.
On the April 30 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy cited allegations from the Republican lawyers to claim that unnamed Benghazi witnesses have been "threatened" by the Obama administration and are scared of speaking out. An on-screen graphic from Fox implied the State Department is preventing witnesses from giving testimony about the attacks:
But Toensing and diGenova are not merely unbiased advocates for whistleblowers, but rather GOP partisans who have been discredited from their unprofessional conduct and lies in earlier investigations.
A 1998 Washington Post profile of the couple reported, "Name a high-profile investigation in this city and chances are the prosecutorial pair is involved," pointing out their roles defending Republicans and investigating Democrats. Their actions came under fire with Democratic Congressman Bill Clay criticizing Toensing and diGenova for "relinquish[ing] the air of impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism" required when they were working as congressional investigators for a House Education and Workforce subcommittee, due to their constant media appearances attacking President Clinton. The pair were also accused of having a conflict of interest for serving representing a Republican committee chairman under Justice Department investigation at the same time they were serving as special counsel to the committee in a separate investigation.
More recently, Toensing pushed the falsehood that covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was outed to the media in 2003, did not have covert status. She has continued to make media appearances pushing false attacks on the Obama administration and has written columns for FoxNews.com attacking their response to Benghazi and calling for a special counsel to investigate other matters.
The claims by Fox and others that these witnesses are being prevented from testifying about the attacks as part of a government "cover-up" is undermined by the fact that witnesses have been interviewed by the FBI for its on-going criminal investigation into the attack and spoken to investigators from the State Department's independent review of the event. The Senate Intelligence committee reportedly received redacted transcripts from the FBI interviews of the survivors and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has said he's spoken with some of the survivors.
Furthermore, Fox's own guests have explained that government employees engaged in intelligence and other clandestine work, or witnesses in an on-going criminal investigation, simply wouldn't be able to talk about their experiences in public.
Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog further discredited "absurd" claims by congressional Republicans, pushed by Fox News, that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally approved a reduction in security at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that was attacked on September 11, 2012.
Fox News has spent days promoting a GOP attack on Clinton based on a partisan House report released April 23 that claims Secretary Clinton had seen and denied requests for more security at the Benghazi facility. Special Report host Bret Baier hyped it as a "scathing indictment" the night the report was released and national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin quoted the report's attacks on Clinton. On April 24, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed GOP House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa about the report, claiming that it "sharply contradicts [Clinton's] sworn testimony" that she had not seen any cables about security concerns regarding the Benghazi facility. Fox News also conducted a poll that coincided with the release of the GOP report, which asked voters how they felt about Clinton saying she had not seen the Benghazi security cables.
Kessler examined Kilmeade's interview of Issa over the issue, and explained that the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual stipulates that the department's communications centers add the secretary's names to all messages that go out to overseas posts. Former senior State Department officials who worked under Republican secretaries also confirmed this procedure:
"A very small fraction would be seen by the Secretary of State," said R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who was undersecretary of state for political affairs under Rice.
Burns said he would only show a cable to Rice if it had very sensitive instructions for an ambassador and he wanted to be sure she agreed with his draft language. But generally he said the secretary is much too busy and would never see the cables. He added that sometimes even assistant secretaries would not view cables that are sent out under the secretary's "signature."
Burns noted that the confusion over "signature" is a common misunderstanding about State Department cables. He frequently has to correct historians from overseas who mistakenly believe the secretary's name at the bottom of the cable has much meaning.
"I can say that from being there with one secretary and reviewing the work of many other secretaries in my academic research, there are many, many cables the secretary never sees," said Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin L. Powell. "From time to time, the deputy may 'chop' [approve], the undersecretary may 'chop', or the assistant secretary or office director may 'chop' -- and the cable goes."
Kessler concluded: "At this point, Issa has no basis or evidence to show that Clinton had anything to do with this cable," and awarded the claim Four Pinnochios, the highest rating for a false claim.
Other news reports had already undermined this Fox-based smear against Clinton, with The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and a Foreign Policy national security reporter explaining that official cables are routinely sent out bearing the secretary's name. A member of the independent State Department Accountability Review Board that examined the Benghazi attack said that it's "total bullshit" to claim that Clinton saw or sent a specific cable because it bore her signature, as "[m]illions of cable come into" the State Department every year, all addressed to the secretary, and it's "the normal procedure" that "[e]very single cable going out is signed 'Clinton.' "
Fox News is expressing unfounded "concerns" about the developer of an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center who has recently purchased other buildings in the area. The network spent years smearing the center as a potential haven for terrorists and objecting to its construction with anti-Muslim bigotry.
Fox host Patti Ann Browne reported on Fox & Friends First that "[t]here are new concerns this morning the money man behind the ground zero mosque may be planning a mega mosque" after Sharif El-Gamal, who developed the planned Islamic community center called Park51, bought another building in downtown Manhattan that gives him control of several adjacent properties.
Fox News didn't say why rumors of a possible "mega mosque" would create "concerns," but the network has a history of Islamophobic attacks against El-Gamal and the Islamic community center known as Park51 when it was being planned for the same area.
In August 2010, Fox campaigned against Park51 by labeling it as a potential haven for terrorists. Former Fox News contributor Dick Morris claimed that it would become a "command center for terrorists" and would be used to "train and recruit Sharia law advocates who become terrorists." A year later, Morris said that Park 51 would "train the same kind of terrorists" as the 9-11 hijackers. Fox host Eric Bolling said it could be "a meeting place for ... some of the biggest terrorist minds." Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested that the building could harbor a terrorist cell. Fox News also strained to tie one of Park51's financial backers to the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas.
Fox guests also compared Park51 to a monument to the 9-11 terrorists and likened it to monuments to past enemies of America. On Happening Now in August 2010, Jay Sekulow called it "a 15-story monument to what happened on 9-11" and likened it to "a monument to kamikaze pilots at the site of the Arizona at Pearl Harbor." Former Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said of the building: "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor." Jeanine Pirro, who is now a Fox News host, smeared Park 51 by saying, "if you're a student of history, you know that mosques are often built to trumpet their victories."
Fox News figures also argued that Muslims in downtown Manhattan shouldn't exercise their freedom of religion in the area. Fox host Steve Doocy suggested that the Park51 developers show "sensitivity" and asked "[w]hy does it have to be so close" to the World Trade Center site, saying that "[t]here are a whole bunch" of mosques elsewhere in New York City. Gingrich said on Fox & Friends that "if they want to build this mosque in the South Bronx, I'm all for it." Former Fox News contributor Sarah Palin called Park 51 "a knife in the collective heart of Americans" and said "we are all about religious tolerance" but suggested that Americans wanted the center to be moved "down the road."
As Fox News was engaging in its campaign against Park51, bigoted protests sprung up to oppose the site and other Islamic properties around the nation, and acts of violence were committed against mosque properties. It remains to be seen whether Fox News will return to its history of Islamophobia as it covers a possible new mosque in downtown Manhattan.