The House Select Committee on Benghazi has been unable to corroborate Sharyl Attkisson's latest "bombshell" Benghazi exclusive, which claimed that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents" about the 2012 attacks before they were turned over to investigators. According to the committee's ranking Democrat, a "second witness" allegedly undermined the report.
In September, Attkisson reported for the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal that former State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell alleged he had witnessed an "after hours session" at State Department headquarters at which he was told that employees had been ordered to "pull out anything that might put anybody" in the department's leadership "in a bad light" before documents were handed over to the Accountability Review Board, which was investigating the attacks. Maxwell claimed the actions were "unethical." Fox News quickly trumpeted the story as "a smoking gun of a potential cover-up," claiming that it showed State had been "scrubbing the documents" which were "destroyed" on Clinton's behalf.
The implication that documents were withheld as Maxwell claimed -- which the State Department told Attkisson was "totally without merit" -- never really added up. Maxwell, one of four State employees to be disciplined for their role in the Benghazi attacks, had testified before two House committees and given multiple interviews in the 18 months before the Attkisson piece. But he reportedly never mentioned the alleged "after hours session" in those previous statements, instead focusing on how he was supposedly scapegoated to protect higher-ups at State from accountability. Slate's David Weigel called the discrepancy "baffling," writing of the account, "Holy ... what the ... why not mention that sooner? Previously, this was a story of a guy who was railroaded in order to protect the Clintons. It could have been a story about a guy who witnessed Clinton allies hiding evidence. ... Why hold off on the 'scrubbing' until now?"
Now, new evidence calls the story further into question. In a November 2014 letter just published by Mother Jones on the eve of the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings writes to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), stating that Maxwell had identified to the committee's Republican staff a "second witness that he claimed was present during this document review" who could "corroborate his allegations," but that the "second witness" denied Maxwell's claims when interviewed by Republican staff. Cummings further alleges that Republican staff deliberately hid this information from Democratic staff.
In the letter, after highlighting an October 17 Fox News interview in which Gowdy said he planned to investigate Maxwell's claims, Cummings writes:
In fact, several weeks before you made those public statements, your staff had already interviewed Mr. Maxwell, but they did not include, invite, or even notify Democratic Members or staff. Mr. Maxwell apparently identified for your staff a second witness that he claimed was present during this document review at the State Department. Mr. Maxwell identified this person as someone who could corroborate his allegations and someone he believes is credible.
Then, on October 16 -- one day before you appeared on Fox News -- your staff interviewed this second witness, again without including Democrats. However, this second witness did not substantiate Mr. Maxwell's claims. To the contrary, he did not recall having been in the document review session Mr. Maxwell described, and he said he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department. He further reported that he never engaged or was aware of any destruction of documents.
I did not discover any of this information from you or your staff but from the witnesses themselves. When my staff inquired with your staff about what they learned from the witness identified by Mr. Maxwell, your staff stated that he had worked at the State Department during the relevant time period. Beyond that, however, they reported: "we learned nothing else of note in our discussion, so we don't plan to conduct any additional follow-up."
I am sure you understand -- as a former prosecutor -- that evaluating the credibility of witnesses and their allegations depends on whether the information they provide can be corroborated. Although your staff stated that they learned nothing "of note," in fact they learned that this claim was not substantiated by a key witness. If our goal is the truth and not a preconceived political narrative, these interviews should have been conducted jointly, with both Democrats and Republicans present.
Gowdy has not directly addressed Cummings' claims about Maxwell's story, either in a staff statement or in a letter to the committee's Democrats released after Cummings' letter was published by Mother Jones. He instead warned that Cummings' "characterization of witness testimony... not only risks an adverse effect on the investigation but could also negatively impact the witness' careers."
Research provided by Sophia Tesfaye and Cal Colgan.
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has been invited by Republicans to testify at a hearing on President Obama's attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. Attkisson, who writes for the conservative Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal and has been praised by Fox News and Congressman Darrel Issa (R-CA) for her shoddy reporting, is currently involved in a lawsuit targeting the Department of Justice.
According to a report on Monday by The Hill, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that Attkisson "will testify during this week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Loretta Lynch, Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general."
Attkisson recently named outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ in a $35 million lawsuit alleging that federal officials hacked into her computers and phones from 2011 to 2013. Although CBS News confirmed that Attkisson's then work-issued laptop had been compromised by an unknown source, Attkisson's claim of "some government tie," suggesting the hack was conducted by government officials, has been called out for egregious inconsistencies. Nevertheless, Attkisson went on to claim that the alleged government hack had caused ongoing electronic malfunctions with the phone, television and cable systems in her home.
But in fact, computer security experts said video released by Attkisson as evidence of a hack on her personal computer actually appeared to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key. Attkisson subsequently went on to walk back claims that the alleged hack affected her other home technology. Attkisson admitted that the issues "may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion" into her work computer.
The Justice Department has denied Attkisson's allegations and a DOJ spokesperson told Business Insider in May 2013 that "to our knowledge, the Justice Department has never 'compromised' Ms. At[t]kisson's computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer, or other media device she may own or use."
But despite her legal fight with the DOJ, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, called Attkisson to speak on a panel of witnesses that include Catherine Engelbrecht, the president of the voter ID group True the Vote, a conservative media favorite that actively hypes virtually non-existent voter fraud. Attkisson was praised by Issa for her shoddy reporting, which has in the past been based off misleading leaks from Issa's committee. She has also been hailed as a great reporter by many of Fox News' on-air personalities, some of whom have based their Benghazi coverage on her misinformation.
CNN and Fox News repeatedly reported on the Keystone XL pipeline without connecting it to a major oil spill near the pipeline's proposed route. By contrast, MSNBC and others in the media have reported on the spill, which occurred in the Yellowstone River in Montana, in the context of concerns about Keystone XL's environmental risks.
Oil Pipeline Leaked 50,000 Gallons Of Crude Into Yellowstone River. On January 17, an oil pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline Co. spilled 1,200 barrels of crude oil -- or about 50,000 gallons -- into the Yellowstone River, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. Reuters reported:
A small but heavily subscribed pipeline that transports 42,000 barrels a day of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region is expected to remain closed on Tuesday after a weekend breach that spilled 1,200 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency in the state's eastern Dawson and Richland counties on Monday while towns and cities downstream, including Williston, North Dakota, are monitoring their water systems in case of contamination.
However the water supply of Glendive, the town of 5,000 about 10 miles (16 km) downstream of the spill, has already been tested and found to have elevated levels of hydrocarbons. Water intakes in the river for the city have been closed, according to the EPA. The company, EPA and other agencies are trying to get other drinking water supplies for Glendive, the EPA's Mylott said. [Reuters, 1/20/15]
Politico's Ken Vogel today examined how "the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them." Media Matters has similarly found that conservative media is infected with scams, touting cancer "cures," dubious financial companies, reverse mortgages, and fringe penny stocks.
Vogel noted the financial stakes of the proliferation of these shady groups:
A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million -- 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs. POLITICO's list is not all-inclusive, and some conservatives fret that it's almost impossible to identify all the groups that are out there, let alone to rein them in.
Vogel explained that Fox News contributor and influential conservative activist Erick Erickson is a frequent critic of these dubious PACs, yet the email list bearing his website has nonetheless promoted some of their efforts. Erickson told Vogel he does not control who rents his list, "and it horrifies me that the list sometimes get rented to some of these guys."
Media Matters has previously documented how conservatives have scammed their followers. Erickson, for example, was caught sending a plagiarized email (from Ann Coulter) endorsing a newsletter which purported to reveal a "secret" system to become "instant millionaires."
Here are 11 recent examples of how conservatives have been scamming their followers:
Rush Limbaugh fawned over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his potential to be the GOP's 2016 presidential nominee, seemingly impressed that some may have drawn comparisons between Walker's recent remarks and Rush's own rhetoric.
On the January 26 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh praised Walker's January 24 appearance at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a gathering of conservative activists, lawmakers, and 2016 hopefuls in Des Moines. Limbaugh raved that Walker "wowed them" at the Summit and suggested that Walker's speech was reminiscent of Limbaugh's own remarks at CPAC in 2009:
LIMBAUGH: Apparently he showed up and he made a speech on Saturday that had people telling [him] it reminded them of the speech I gave at CPAC. Now if that's true, that means that he went pedal to the metal, wall-to-wall conservativism with charisma and bold ideas and solutions based on his own policies.
Later in the show, Limbaugh instructed Republicans to treat Walker like Caesar, saying "I really think that Scott Walker is the kind of guy the Republicans need to hoist on one of those chairs they used to take Caesar through the crowds with."
A year after calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" at the gun industry's trade show, National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent revisited the comment, claiming it was "probably much too delicate" before describing his rationale for using the term in an interview with Guns.com.
Nugent faced widespread criticism in 2014 after telling Guns.com at the 2014 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, "I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist raised communist educated communist nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America."
Fallout from the "subhuman mongrel" comment proved damaging for the high-profile member of NRA leadership. In February 2014, Nugent's mere appearance at a campaign event with then Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott caused a national media controversy. His appearance drew condemnation even from top Republicans. The following summer, several of Nugent's concerts were canceled by organizers who cited past comments made by Nugent. Music industry experts have suggested that Nugent's inflammatory rhetoric may hurt his ability to book concerts.
Nugent returned to the SHOT show this year, once again appearing as a representative of Outdoor Channel, where he is a spokesman and host. Outdoor Channel is one of the top sponsors of SHOT Show, which is hosted annually by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Speaking to Guns.com, Nugent described his "subhuman mongrel" comment as "precious" and "probably much too delicate." In remarks that echoed the NRA's anti-federal law enforcement commentary of the 1990s, Nugent also said his "subhuman mongrel" phrase was inspired by "jackbooted thuggery" committed by "out of control government agents."
The rhetoric around the debunked right wing media meme about the existence of "no-go zones" throughout France, the United Kingdom, and the rest of Europe, ratcheted up last week. Driven by politics, viewers, listeners, and page views, even the multiple mea culpas from Fox News just last weekend haven't stopped the myth.
By the conservative telling, in these supposed "Muslim only" enclaves the population has "take[n] over parts of the country, entire portions, towns," (allegedly more than 700 in France alone!), and outside police are forbidden as extremism and Sharia Law flourish. And now, they present an active threat to the United States and our American values.
"If people don't want to come here to integrate and assimilate, what they're really trying to do is set up their own culture, their own communities," Louisiana Governor and potential 2016 GOP presidential contender Bobby Jindal said last week, continuing, "What they're really trying to do is overturn our culture. We need to recognize that threat." When criticized for the bogus claim, he pointed to the work of a foreign policy think tank led by Fox News contributor John Bolton.
On his radio show, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins warned that America has already succumbed to the spread of "no-go zones," blaming a failure to assimilate into American culture. "There are some areas in this country that, in effect, that has occurred. Dearborn, Michigan, is one of the places. There are some places in Minneapolis," he said. The Muslim-bashing continued on conservative outlets like Breitbart News and WND, which continued to post stories with inflammatory headlines like, "ISLAM EXPERTS: NO-GO ZONES LOOMING FOR AMERICA; Back Jindal's view non-assimilation is trouble because Muslims 'supremacist at core,'" and "EUROPEAN 'NO-GO' ZONES REMAIN UNASSIMILATED HOTBEDS OF RADICAL ISLAM."
While the narrative is long on fear mongering, it is short on actually examining the very real societal barriers, stigma, and racism that Muslim immigrants to Europe and their second and third generation children face as they actually try to assimilate. These barriers are mostly erected by the same society and government that accuses them of not wanting to assimilate, instead fueling Islamophobia and isolation.
It's compounded in France by decades of broken promises for investment, job training programs, improved schools, rhetoric of stemming the growing tide of racism, even calls for a Marshall Plan for the working-class suburbs that surround Paris. Instead, the problem has been left to fester, further isolating the Muslim community, as the far-right European anti-Muslim movement continues to grow.
I had the opportunity to work for a number of years on a project through the French American Foundation and the American Embassy in France aimed at helping and encouraging young minority candidates, many of whom were especially inspired by President Obama's election. A majority of them were Muslim and from the banlieue. Contrary to conservative propaganda, they saw themselves as French first, period. They were passionate about their county, incredibly smart, insightful and committed to serving France by being a part of the political system, and each talked about having to work overtime to illustrate their assimilation in the face of increasing racial tensions in France.
A number of cities in Texas have taken the historic step of passing non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, only to see those laws challenged by the extreme right-wing U.S. Pastor Council -- a group that has called Houston Mayor Annise Parker a "sodomite" and labeled gay people "forces of spiritual darkness."
On January 20, opponents of an LGBT non-discrimination law recently enacted in Plano, Texas, announced that they had collected enough signatures to put the measure up for a public repeal vote. The effort had been organized by the Texas Pastor Council, a group that's become a political force for anti-LGBT activists across the state.
In 2003, extremist Texas pastor Dave Welch founded the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) "to bring a united, Biblical voice to the city, state and even nation." Though HAPC is described as an "affiliate" of the national U.S. Pastor Council (USPC) and Texas Pastor Council (TXPC), it's unclear if the organizations are actually distinguishable. All three are run by Welch, share the same website and contact information, and are often lumped together -- even on the USPC website.
CNN contributor Newt Gingrich revived a debunked claim about Boko Haram's designation as a terror group in order to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Speaking to attendees at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Gingrich claimed that the Obama administration, currently and during Clinton's tenure at the State Department, is not doing enough to confront terrorism threats. As evidence, Gingrich pointed to Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group based in Nigeria, saying, "Boko Haram has ten thousand fighters, and last year Boko Haram killed more people than Ebola. But the State Department for years, under Secretary Clinton, wouldn't even list them as a terrorist group."
The implicit argument of Gingrich's attack is dishonest -- experts, including a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria appointed by President Bush, opposed designating Boko Haram a terror group out of concern it would empower the extremist group. Instead, in 2012 the State Department under Clinton designated the individual leaders of Boko Haram as "foreign terrorists." Reuters reported that the move was historic, noting it was the "first time [State] has blacklisted members of the Islamist group." Boko Harm went on to receive designation as a terrorist group in 2013.
Gingrich's smear was right out of the conservative media playbook. Fox News and other right-wing outlets spent considerable time suggesting Clinton and the Obama administration tried to appease Boko Haram, even suggesting the administration was partially responsible for the failure to save 300 young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.