Right-Wing Media’s “Shadow Government” Conspiracy Theory: Ben Rhodes Edition

››› ››› JARED HOLT

Right-wing media figures are hyping claims from the Washington Free Beacon suggesting former White House aide Ben Rhodes may be part of a “secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus,” beginning with recently resigned White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. The claims, which resemble similar allegations from The New York Post’s Paul Sperry, are largely based on anonymous sources.

Wash. Free Beacon Claims Former White House Aide Ben Rhodes Working On “Behind-The-Scenes” Effort To Sabotage Trump

Wash. Free Beacon Claims Rhodes Was Involved In “A Behind-The-Scenes Effort” To Take Down Flynn. The Washington Free Beacon reported that “multiple sources revealed” that Ben Rhodes, a White House aide to former President Barack Obama, was involved in “a behind-the-scenes effort ... to plant a series of damaging stories about” Michael Flynn, leading him to resign as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser. The report, which leaned heavily on anonymous sources, stated that Rhodes aimed to “handicap the Trump administration's efforts to disclose secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration.” From the February 14 article:

The abrupt resignation Monday evening of White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is the culmination of a secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus and preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, according to multiple sources in and out of the White House who described to the Washington Free Beacon a behind-the-scenes effort by these officials to plant a series of damaging stories about Flynn in the national media.

The effort, said to include former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes—the architect of a separate White House effort to create what he described as a pro-Iran echo chamber—included a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn's credibility, multiple sources revealed.

The operation primarily focused on discrediting Flynn, an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, in order to handicap the Trump administration's efforts to disclose secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration. [Washington Free Beacon, 2/14/17]

Pro-Trump Media Outlets Have Blamed Secret Obama “Shadow Government” For Massive Anti-Trump Protests. Trump loyalist media outlets -- including Fox News and various fake news purveyors -- echoed New York Post columnist Paul Sperry’s claims that Obama is establishing a “shadow government” through the nonprofit organization Organizing for Action (OFA), with an “army of agitators -- numbering more than 30,000” -- working to organize protests against Trump and to “sabotage” his administration. [Media Matters, 2/14/17]

Right-Wing Media Echo Anonymous Claims Made In Wash. Free Beacon Article

Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: “There’s Some Thoughts That Maybe Ben Rhodes Is Behind The Ousting Of Mike Flynn.” Fox News host Brian Kilmeade indirectly cited Washington Free Beacon’s article to suggest that Rhodes was “behind the ousting of Mike Flynn and some of the orchestration of some of the things that came out” that led to Flynn’s resignation. Kilmeade also suggested that “there’s a sense” that former Obama officials have “a plan put in place” to “make Donald Trump's administration implode.” From the February 15 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): You saw how devastated [Obama] was and the look on his whole staff’s face when Donald Trump won. And there’s a sense that there is a plan put in place at that moment to really make Donald Trump's administration implode. And now there’s some thoughts that maybe Ben Rhodes is behind the ousting of Mike Flynn and some of the orchestration of some of the things that came out, because Mike Flynn was the biggest critic of the Iranian deal. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/15/17]

Fox’s Bill Hemmer Asks Trey Gowdy If Rhodes Is Someone He “Would Consider” To Be Responsible For Leaks. Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) if Rhodes was a person Gowdy “would consider” to be behind leaks that led to Flynn’s resignation, adding that “others have put his name on the table in the past 24 hours.” From the February 15 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): Who’s behind the leaks?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC): No idea, Bill. I don't like unauthorized disclosures. The word leak is such a benign term. It’s an unauthorized disclosure, which may be illegal. I don't have any idea who it is. I can tell you there is an insatiable appetite for leaks in this town, both on the receiving end and on the giving end. You didn't hear me talking about WikiLeaks, because that was an unauthorized hack. I'm old school. I don't think you ought to disclose things that are intended to be kept confidential or classified.

HEMMER: Would Ben Rhodes be a person you would consider? Who worked in the Obama White House for eight years?

GOWDY: It wouldn't be fair to Mr. Rhodes or anyone else for me to throw out a name. I have no idea who did it. I think it’s a separate inquiry from the substance of the leak. But when you have a classified transcript that makes its way into the public domain, I know the care that the intelligence community, for the most part, takes to protect classified information. The fact that you would leak it to the media is in some instances a crime. It’s not just a leak. It’s a crime.

HEMMER: Well, the reason I mention Mr. Rhodes is because others have put his name on the table in the past 24 hours. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/15/17]

Radio Host Rush Limbaugh: Obama’s “Shadow Government” Is “Led By Ben Rhodes … To Protect His Nuclear Deal With Iran.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that “the shadow government that Obama has” is being “led by Ben Rhodes” in order to “protect his nuclear deal with Iran.” From the February 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): There is so much speculation. There is so much imagination. There is so much leaking. There are so many people lying. There are so many reporters not caring what’s true and what isn't. As long as it can cast doubt and cast a shadow on Trump, they’re happy to report it.

One of the things that they are reporting is that the shadow government that Obama has -- led by Ben Rhodes, who was one of his primary advisers, and whose brother is at CBS News, as an aside -- one of the things that drive-bys are reporting that cannot be confirmed. It's another one of these things that it's -- well, it’s not really a leak. Some drive-bys claim they have Obama people telling them this, but it's strange, it's a tough thing, but I’ll just tell you what it is. According to noted drive-by media people, the primary reason that Obama has established a shadow government is to protect his nuclear deal with Iran. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/15/17]

Fox’s Catherine Herridge Reports Wash. Free Beacon’s Claims That Rhodes “Is A Main Driver Of The Leaks.” Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge recycled claims from Washington Free Beacon’s article that Rhodes “is a main driver of the leaks.” Herridge identified Rhodes as a person “at the center of the Iran deal and the scandal over the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.” From the February 15 edition of Fox News’ The First 100 Days:

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: A handful of names are circulating here in Washington tonight, based on access to the highly restricted intelligence and the leaker’s motivation. Fox News is contacting former intelligence and Obama administration officials separately and directly. Meantime, the Washington Free Beacon reports that former White House aide Ben Rhodes, at the center of the Iran deal and the scandal over the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, is a main driver of the leaks. There is no immediate comment from Rhodes tonight. [Fox News, The First 100 Days, 2/15/17]

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