Fox News continued its scandal-mongering campaign with an attempt to connect a Department of the Interior (DOI) investigation of the Gibson Guitar Corporation to recent reports that the IRS paid undue scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, misrepresenting Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz's political donations to Republicans and Democrats to claim that the Gibson Guitar investigation was politically motivated.
In 2009 and 2011, agents from the DOI's Fish and Wildlife Bureau investigated Gibson Guitar premises on suspicion that the company had violated environmental protections by illegally importing certain types of wood. Gibson Guitar admitted that it "may have violated" Madagascan laws and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine. The 2011 investigation was widely reported on by the media, but at the time, only Fox baselessly speculated that the political leanings of Juszkiewicz were to blame for the investigation into Gibson Guitar.
On May 28, Fox & Friends co-hosts again focused on the Gibson Guitar DOI investigation, reaching to connect it to reports that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups, reports which Fox have relentlessly pushed to frame as part of a larger government scandal. Co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested that the existence of the IRS investigation report raised the possibility that Gibson Guitar may have been mistaken in thinking that its alleged improper use of "this eccentric, very rare wood was the reason why they were being investigated" by the DOI, and co-host Gretchen Carlson noted:
CARLSON: At the time there were whispers: oh, you know, the guy who runs the company is a conservative, he's given to Republicans in the past. Maybe that could have had something to do with it, because it turns out that they had done absolutely nothing wrong at the company. Well now some people are trying to put together the dots and draw the lines based on this IRS investigation. Could it be that some of these other things that were going on were also concerted targeted things?
But in 2011, Juszkiewicz himself directly pushed back against speculation that Gibson Guitar was targeted for political reasons. As The Wall Street Journal reported (emphasis added):
The fact that Gibson was singled out when other guitar makers use the same woods has fed speculation that the company was targeted--because it is not unionized, perhaps, or didn't donate enough to the Democratic Party.
"I don't think it's a political issue," Mr. Juszkiewicz says, shaking his head. "But I will say this: I wrote a letter to President Obama. I spelled out what happened. I said: You know, we got raided and here are the facts, I think it's unfair. What do you think we should do? No response."
Furthermore, in attempting to frame Juszkiewicz as a victim of political targeting, Carlson highlighted the fact that he had "given to Republicans in the past." However, Juszkiewicz's own campaign donations reveal that he donated to both Republican and Democratic campaigns in the 2012 cycle. An OpenSecrets.org search of political donation listed under the name Henry Juszkiewicz from "Gibson Guitar" from the 2008, 2010, and 2012 cycles yielded this list:
The vast majority Juszkiewicz's contributions went to the Consumer Electronics Association, which donated $163,300 to Republicans and $69,900 to Democrats in the 2012 cycle.
As Media Matters previously reported, there were legal reasons why Gibson Guitar was singled out for investigation. Quinnipiac University School of Law professor John Thomas noted that while other companies also import unfinished wood from India, irregularities on Gibson Guitar's paperwork raised red flags, and court documents have suggested that Gibson Guitar "knew that it was buying illegal woods" from Madagascar:
My take is that the 2009 and 2011 seizures are related in that Gibson's conduct has given USFW [US Fish and Wildlife Service] officials probable cause to be suspicious of Gibson's wood-buying activities. In 2008, Gibson, Martin, and Taylor officials [Guitar companies] toured Madagascar and observed the illegal logging operations. Martin and Taylor promptly stopped using Madagascar woods; Gibson did not. Internal Gibson emails, as quoted by the US Attorney's office appear to indicate that Gibson knew that it was buying illegal woods. Federal officials seized that wood and as per the 2008 Lacey Act amendments, need not charge Gibson with a crime. Gibson must prove the legality of the wood to secure its return. Gibson has been unable to do that. [After the November 2009 raid, Gibson stopped buying wood from Madagascar.]
The 2011 seizure concerned Indian woods that would be legal but for the thickness. I believe that USFW is investigating because of suspicions due to 1) Gibson using the same wood supplier as it did for the Madagascar woods, 2) irregularities in the wood designations on the paperwork that could be due to innocent error or intentional attempt to deceive officials as to the thickness of the wood and 3) though Gibson is the ultimate purchaser, the paperwork lists an intermediary, LMI, which delivers the wood to a warehouse near the Nashville airport. Gibson retrieves a bit of the wood at a time when it needs it.