Fox News figures are adopting an impossible standard to launch unprovable allegations against Hillary Clinton, arguing that the absence of an email can insinuate that Clinton either withheld or destroyed evidence.
Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, claimed on the March 8 edition of CBS' Face The Nation that there are "gaps of months" in Clinton's email documents turned over by the State Department for the committee's investigation. To prove his claim, Gowdy referenced a photo of Clinton on her phone during a trip to Tripoli, Libya, and the absence of any email from that day related to Benghazi. According to Gowdy's logic: "It strains credibility to believe that if you're on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy that there's not a single document that's been turned over to Congress."
Fox News personalities quickly adopted Gowdy's absurd line of attack against Clinton. On his radio show, Sean Hannity asserted that "you can't tell me that it was an accident that 55,000 pages of emails were turned over but not one was about Benghazi." Fox contributor Andrew Napolitano took the attack further alleging that Clinton's control of her documents means Gowdy "does not know if she gave him everything he subpoenaed." Bill O'Reilly echoed Gowdy's allegations on the March 9 edition of his show, saying "there's already a gap brought out by Congressman Gowdy" because "the day that she traveled to Libya, there's no emails that came out on that and it's inconceivable that she wouldn't have any." And during an interview with Gowdy, Megyn Kelly agreed with demands that Clinton turn over her private email server stating that Clinton "chose to create a situation" where questions about her emails would need to be answered.
According to that fallacious reasoning, the absence of evidence proves wrongdoing on Clinton's part.
The reality is, the State Department turned over Clinton emails related to Benghazi to the Select Committee months ago. In a March 6 letter chastising Gowdy for "the very partisan and political turn" to issue a subpoena to Clinton, Democratic members of the House Select Committee noted that the State Department already turned over 300 Clinton emails related to Benghazi, and those emails confirm the findings of the Accountability Review Board:
These documents include no evidence to suggest that Secretary Clinton ordered the Secretary of Defense to "stand down," no evidence to suggest that she was personally involved in denying requests for security for Benghazi, and no evidence to suggest that she ordered the destruction of documents. Nothing in these emails contradicts or calls into question the findings of the independent Accountability Review Board.
From the February 15 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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From the January 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the January 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the January 28 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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Fox host Martha MacCallum rehashed Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson's repeatedly debunked allegation that Hillary Clinton's State Department staff had "sifted through" and removed damaging Benghazi documents before turning them over to investigators, just days after a second witness has allegedly undermined Attkisson's report according to a letter from the ranking Democrat on The House Select Committee on Benghazi.
In a September 2014 report for The Daily Signal, Sharyl Attkisson baselessly claimed that Hillary Clinton's State Department staff scrubbed "damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya." Although Attkisson's report was denied by the State Department and relied solely on speculations from disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell, Fox News quickly heralded it as a "bombshell" and "smoking gun."
A recently published November 2014 letter penned by the ranking Democrat on the House Benghazi Select Committee, Elijah Cummings, further undermined Attkisson's allegations, explaining that a second witness who Raymond Maxwell said could "corroborate his allegations" actually denied them, saying "he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department."
Despite the new developments, Fox News revived the discredited claim on the January 28 edition of America's Newsroom. Discussing the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, co-host Martha MacCallum attempted to assuage committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC)'s claim that the Obama administration is withholding Benghazi documents, pointing to "the story a while back about documents being sifted through at the State Department over a weekend." MacCallum also went on to suggest "it could be that some of what you're looking for simply isn't around anymore."
From the January 27 hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi:
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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 Darrell 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.
Fox News established close ties with Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, as each used one another to amplify smears against the Obama administration related to the Benghazi attacks in 2012. Now Graham is cashing in the credibility and profile Fox and Benghazi helped him build, announcing he's exploring a run for president in 2016.
From the January 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News revived the baseless conspiracy theory that the nearly three-year old federal investigation into former CIA director David Petraeus is an attempt by the Obama administration to silence Petraeus on the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
The New York Times reported on January 9 that the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors recommended federal charges against former CIA director David H. Petraeus for providing "classified information to a lover while he was director of the C.I.A." Petraeus subsequently resigned as director of the CIA after his affair was made public.
But on the January 12 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge lent credibility to GOP concerns that the federal investigation into David Petraeus is an attempt by the Obama administration to silence Petraeus' testimony on the 2012 Benghazi, Libya terrorist attacks.
The segment also included a statement from Thomas Dupree, former deputy assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, who explained that "just being quiet, staying mum, invoking your Fifth Amendment rights," while being charged with a felony "could be the safest course." Herridge ended her report noting that the GOP-led Benghazi select committee still hopes to call Petraeus as a witness in their investigation.
In 2012, Fox repeatedly pushed the baseless accusation that Petraeus was "being blackmailed by the White house to toe the company line." Fox's smear was parroted by radio host Rush Limbaugh who speculated that Petraeus resigned to escape an attempt by the Obama administration to manipulate him into lying about the Benghazi attack.
The imaginary scandal was later denounced on Fox News, when Fox's Geraldo Rivera called it "absolutely reckless," and pointed out that Petraeus himself cited his extramarital affair as the reason for his resignation.
From the December 21 edition of Fox News' Media Buzz:
Fox News is firing shots at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) after he criticized conservative attempts to delegitimize the Committee's report on Benghazi.
In November, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee released the results of a two-year investigation that "debunk[ed] a series of persistent allegations," pushed by conservative media, about the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Several Republican lawmakers publicly denounced the report, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who said on CNN that he thought the report "is full of crap." Talking Points Memo reported on December 12 that Rogers "brushed off" criticism from fellow Republicans unsatisfied with his committee's findings:
The Weekly Standard also published a piece quoting a number of members arguing that the Bengahzi report was incomplete. Rogers said those comments were just because the outcome wasn't what those members wanted.
"First of all, they didn't read the report. And unfortunately people wanted this report to be the expansive Benghazi report," Rogers told TPM and other reporters right after the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast. "I told everyone, including some members on my committee that it was not going to be an expansive Benghazi report. My jurisdiction -- the committee's jurisdiction was the lane of the intelligence community. So I think they wanted a report to come out to go after the State Department or the White House. That was not my goal. I put no piece of information in a finding if we couldn't corroborate the information. So one piece of testimony is not corroboration. I had to have other corroboration in order to do it."
Rogers said that none of the criticism has been on the findings.
Fox News host Andrea Tantaros responded by suggesting Rogers manipulated the report's conclusions to protect his wife, who was "doing some consulting on security on the ground at the time" of the Benghazi attacks. From the December 12 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered (emphasis added):
TANTAROS: And there's also questions about Mike Rogers, because he put out that report recently. And some Republicans on the committee are very unhappy with him. They have questions.
So he put out this report where he said, oh, nothing happened here, nothing to see here. No Republicans endorsed it. Wasn't his wife doing some consulting on security on theground at the time? So this isn't just a partisan issue. And it is, it is an issue now because the State Department just this week, and we talked about this a couple days ago, Harris, reported that our embassies are still not secure. So in the wake of the torture memo, have we learned anything?
Tantaros' attacks represent a new, more aggressive angle in Fox's ongoing attempt to discredit the report's findings.