Conservative media figures demanding ACORN investigation opposed, downplayed investigations of Bush scandals

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Conservative media figures including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Newt Gingrich have called for an investigation of ACORN's activities and its supposed link to President Obama and Democrats, often while spreading misinformation about ACORN. However, these same media figures opposed or downplayed investigations into scandals involving the Bush administration, including the controversial firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, the outing of the identity of Valerie Plame, and alleged torture and prisoner abuse by U.S. officials.

Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Gingrich opposed, downplayed investigations into Bush administration scandals

Plame investigation: Perjury and obstruction convictions, prosecutor said Libby's obstruction made it impossible to determine whether underlying crime had been committed. During an October 2005 press conference announcing the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then-chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said that obstruction by Libby had prevented his office from determining whether an underlying crime had been committed in the disclosure of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald reiterated this point in his 2007 sentencing memorandum, writing that "the reasons why Mr. Libby was not charged with an offense directly relating to his unauthorized disclosures of classified information regarding Ms. Wilson included, but were not limited to, the fact that Mr. Libby's false testimony obscured a confident determination of what in fact occurred." In response to the scandal regarding the outing of Plame:

  • Beck: Outing of Plame's identity was "nothing." In 2007, on his former CNN Headline News show, Beck said of the leaking of Plame's identity as a CIA operative: "[E]ven I said that Scooter Libby should go to jail and he should pay the price for lying to prosecutors, but it was over a CIA name thing, which was nothing. Nobody was held responsible. He did nothing wrong on that. He lied to prosecutors. The guy went to jail." Beck pooh-poohed the Plame scandal on the day that Libby was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the Plame case, saying: "[E]very other talk show tonight probably leading with the verdict of the Scooter Libby trial today. Quite frankly, here's really all you need to know. Politics, politics, politics. Blah, blah, blah. Scooter Libby, found guilty on four of the five counts of obstructing of -- obstructing justice and lying to the feds. Really, that's it. You know, oh, wait, there is one more thing. When will people in Washington ever learn it's not the crime, it's the cover-up? This doesn't affect anybody's life. Well, Scooter Libby's. But it doesn't affect mine, doesn't affect yours."
  • Limbaugh: "I think it was always a fraud." On the December 9, 2008, edition of his radio show, Limbaugh said: "We also know that Pat Fitzgerald, who was the special prosecutor in the leak of the name Valerie Plame as some sort of a CIA James Bond, which was -- I think it was always a fraud." Limbaugh has also spread the false claim that Richard Armitage alone was "the leaker" of Plame's identity and the baseless claim that Plame's neighbors were aware of her covert status.
  • Gingrich: "Wilson guaranteed that his wife would be outed." On the October 19, 2005, edition of Hannity & Colmes, Gingrich stated, "As you know, I've always been very doubtful about this whole case, because I always thought that [Plame's husband] ambassador [Joe] Wilson guaranteed that his wife would be outed when he became a public figure in a job that she had gotten for him."

U.S. attorney firings: Justice Department inspector general says further investigation needed to determine if criminal statutes were violated. A report on the U.S. attorney firings by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General stated:

[W]e believe a full investigation is necessary to determine whether other federal criminal statutes were violated with regard to the removal of [U.S. Attorney David] Iglesias. For example, Iglesias and others have alleged that he was removed in retaliation for his failure to accelerate the indictment of a public corruption case and his alleged failure to initiate voter fraud investigations. Iglesias said that Representative [Heather] Wilson, who was running for reelection in a close race, called him before the 2006 election and asked him about delays in public corruption cases being handled by his office, apparently referring to the courthouse case.


It is possible that those seeking Iglesias's removal did so simply because they believed he was not competently prosecuting worthwhile cases. However, if they attempted to pressure Iglesias to accelerate his charging decision in the courthouse case or to initiate voter fraud investigations to affect the outcome of the upcoming election, their conduct may have been criminal.

In response to the scandal regarding the firing of the U.S. attorneys:

  • Limbaugh makes false claims about U.S. attorney firings in order to downplay scandal. Limbaugh falsely claimed of the scandal that Bush "left a lot of Clinton U.S. attorneys in office, did not sweep them. Only in his second term did [Bush] start replacing some" U.S. attorneys. Limbaugh continued, "and the Democrats tried to impeach the attorney general at the time, Gonzales, for supposedly playing politics with the Justice Department. And of course the White House did not fire back, did not defend itself." In fact, Bush reportedly replaced 88 of the 93 U.S. attorneys with his own appointees during the first two years of his presidency.
  • Gingrich: "This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years I've been active in public life." On the April 8, 2007, edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Gingrich stated, "The president has every right to have the U.S. attorneys he wants. It is not a prerogative of the Senate or anyone else to question if he says he no longer pleases me, they're supposed to resign, period. This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years I've been active in public life."
  • O'Reilly cut off co-host's mike when she discussed U.S. attorney scandal, called firings "unimportant." Discussing the U.S. attorney firings in 2007 during his former radio program, The Radio Factor, O'Reilly told his listeners that the U.S. attorney scandal is unimportant because "[i]t has nothing to do with your life." After co-host Lis Wiehl insisted that it did matter, O'Reilly said: "And now you made a terrible mistake, and you're smarter than that, and you misled my audience, and I'm furious. I am furious at you." At one point during the broadcast, O'Reilly cut off Wiehl's mike after she accurately pointed out that the Bush administration had offered to allow White House staffers to appear before the congressional committees investigating the firings only if no transcript of the interviews is produced.

Alleged abuse and torture by U.S. officials: CIA IG report "identified concerns" about use of waterboarding, DoJ OPR "recommends that the Department reexamine previous decisions to decline prosecution in several cases." In its 2004 report, the CIA inspector general found:

Inasmuch as EITs have been used only since August 2002, and they have not all been used with every high value detainee, there is limited data on which to asses their individual effectiveness. This Review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances, and whether the fact that it is being applied in a manner different from its use in SERE training brings into question the continued applicability of the DoJ opinion to its use. Although the waterboard is the most intrusive of the EITs, the fact that precautions have been taken to provide on-site medical oversight in the use of all EITs is evidence that their use poses risks.

In his August 24 statement regarding the opening of the preliminary review into whether laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations," Attorney General Eric Holder stated:

The Office of Professional Responsibility has now submitted to me its report regarding the Office of Legal Counsel memoranda related to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. I hope to be able to make as much of that report available as possible after it undergoes a declassification review and other steps. Among other findings, the report recommends that the Department reexamine previous decisions to decline prosecution in several cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees.

In response to the scandal regarding alleged torture and prisoner abuse by U.S. officials:

  • Beck: The investigation "will destroy -- not only anybody advising the president, nobody is going to give advice to the president." From the April 22 edition of Beck's Fox News program [transcript from Nexis]:

BECK: Right. And the other part of that is, our CIA -- even though Barack Obama says, "Oh, we're not going after the CIA, we're not going to go after the guys who did any of these things," just the White House. If people are out in the field and they see the White House being taken down, a president being taken down or his closest advisors, and then I come to you and say, "Hey, by the way, I need you to go get this guy, get this guy, and go and get the information. It is just between us, me and you, CIA, that's it." Who in the right mind is going to do that?


BECK: Colonel, you tell me, who would serve in our military? This will destroy -- not only anybody advising the president, nobody is going to give advice to the president. This has -- this has almost -- this has almost -- this has never haven't -- this has never happened before.

OLIVER NORTH (Fox News host): Well .

BECK: We didn't go after Abraham Lincoln for habeas corpus. We didn't go after Truman. We didn't go after FDR. We didn't go after any of these guys on things like this, because it was wartime. Now we're going here. Who's going to advise the president and who's going to serve in our military?

  • Limbaugh: Obama is "declaring war against the CIA," "doing the bidding of terrorists." On August 25, Limbaugh asserted: "Now Obama, in declaring war against the CIA, picking up where his buddy Bill Ayers left off. It's the same mentality. We actually have an administration doing the bidding of terrorists." Limbaugh has also said that the investigation is "all about destroying United States national security."
  • O'Reilly claims Holder should be investigated, not Bush administration officials. Discussing the possibility that the Obama Justice Department could prosecute Bush administration officials who authorized torture, O'Reilly falsely claimed during the April 22 edition of his Fox News show that "Eric Holder and [former Attorney General] Janet Reno put the wall up between the FBI and the CIA, which led to the 9-11 attacks. If anybody should be prosecuted it's him. ... Holder is your guy." O'Reilly has also said that an investigation into torture allegations would result in "show trials." And in 2006, O'Reilly argued against an investigation into torture allegations made by FBI investigators, saying, "the FBI agents have never been on this program. We've never seen them, counselor. They won't step up. And until they do, they don't mean anything." Additionally, in 2005, O'Reilly used a State Department report on human rights around the world to argue that the Bush administration is adequately addressing allegations of torture by U.S. interrogators. In fact, the report did not examine alleged human rights violations by the United States.

Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Gingrich call for investigation of ACORN

Beck: Unless ACORN investigation "goes all the way to the top," including Congress and the White House, "it's all going to be a sham." During the September 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck, Beck said [transcript from Nexis]:

BECK: While the government is going to make speeches and throw you a bone of cutting off funding -- you know, we're going to cut off funding. Really? Until the Republicans and the Democrats rise together and demand a full independent rigorous investigation that doesn't concentrate just on the local level and these few dirtbags, but goes all the way to the top, to the power brokers at the highest levels of ACORN, and in our own halls of Congress, and this administration, it's all going to be a sham. You won't be able to trust anything in Washington.

O'Reilly: "Mr. Obama should order" the Justice Department to investigate ACORN. O'Reilly said of ACORN:

The president should be paying attention because political corruption is involved and that corruption involves taxpayer dollars. While it's true that ACORN is not Afghanistan or health care, it is a situation that should be investigated by the Justice Department. Mr. Obama should order that right now. It's what leaders do. [The O'Reilly Factor, 9/22/09]

Limbaugh: "What's really called for here, folks, is a genuine wide-scale investigation of ACORN activities." In his September 16 "Morning Update" (subscription required), Limbaugh stated:

What's really called for here, folks, is a genuine wide-scale investigation of ACORN activities. Will it happen? No. The Community Activist-in-Chief and his Democrat Party cannot afford to have the inner workings of their surrogates fully exposed. Obama is ACORN ... and verse-visa.

Gingrich calls for attorney general to "empower a U.S. justice task force to look at ACORN across the whole country." Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said on the September 15 edition of Hannity [transcript from Nexis]:

GINGRICH: Congressman John Boehner is introducing a Bill tonight to defund ACORN. I hope that the Congress is going to press not only to cut off all money to ACORN. I hope they're going to press to go back over the past five years and have a very careful audit to see whether or not, in fact, the U.S. taxpayer has been subsidizing a criminal organization.

I think these are amazing tapes. They're an extraordinary achievement. I don't see how any reasonable person can look at these tapes without believing that ACORN has engaged in a great deal of criminal behavior and needs to be thoroughly investigated. And it's a real test for the attorney general to see whether or not he is prepared to empower a U.S. justice task force to look at ACORN across the whole country. I think that's his job as attorney general.

Fox News hosts attack ACORN based on misinformation. Beck and other Fox News hosts have repeatedly attacked ACORN with misinformation in their campaign against the organization and its supposed ties to the Obama administration. For instance, Beck and Sean Hannity both ran with the false allegation that White House political affairs director Patrick Gaspard "was ACORN boss Bertha Lewis's political director in New York." Fox News hosts also frequently promoted the fake claim that an ACORN employee killed her husband without fact-checking the allegation or indicating that they had contacted ACORN for a response. Beck also hosted a guest to claim that the White House was connected to ACORN because a White House employee previously worked for an organization that has had a partnership with ACORN. Hannity has also advanced the false claim that Obama "earmarked eight and a half billion" for ACORN.

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