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  • IJR Suspends Three Staffers For Pushing "Alt-Right"-Based Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Independent Journal Review (IJR) chief content officer Benny Johnson and two other IJR employees were indefinitely suspended after writing and publishing a baseless conspiracy theory -- originally pushed by “alt-right” fringe media -- which suggested that former President Barack Obama’s visit to Hawaii played a role in a ruling by a federal judge based there that froze President Donald Trump’s revised Muslim ban.

    On March 16, under Johnson’s direction, IJR published, then retracted, an article that attempted to “point out the timing and the opportunity” presented by Obama’s presence in Hawaii days before the judge’s ruling. The conspiracy theory was originally pushed by fringe and “alt-right” outlets such as Infowars and The Gateway Pundit, and it seemed to originate from a thread on the online anonymous message board Reddit. The outlandish theory even made its way to Donald Trump Jr., who retweeted a Twitter post that tied the judge to Obama.

    According to reports from Politico and Business Insider, after IJR investigated the publication of the baseless story, the site suspended Johnson and editors Kyle Becker and Becca Lower. In a statement, IJR founder Alex Skatell wrote that “we got it wrong and ultimately deserve all the criticism.” Business Insider noted that Johnson, who has been accused of plagiarism multiple times and has previously pushed false claims, “had been warned earlier that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but he assigned it to Becker anyway.”

    This is the second recent occasion in which a right-wing media figure has been disciplined for spreading unsubstantiated allegations and conspiracy theories about Obama. IJR’s actions came a day after reports emerged that Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano was being taken off the air “indefinitely” for promoting the false claim that Obama used the British government to spy on Trump.

  • Fox News Conspiracy Theory That Obama Asked British Intelligence To Wiretap Donald Trump Echoes RT Interview

    Spread By Infowars, Reddit, Breitbart, And Other Conspiracy Sites, The Wiretap Claim Goes Back To The Person Who Said There Was An Obama "Whitey" Tape

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, claimed that former President Barack Obama asked a British intelligence agency to spy on President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and the transition period and to provide the former president with transcripts of Trump's conversations. Napolitano’s claim can be traced in part back to an interview on the state-sponsored Russian network RT with a former CIA official who has accused John Kerry of war crimes, spread the 2008 rumor about a supposed recording of former first lady Michelle Obama “railing against ‘whitey,’” and now is floating "sedition" charges against former Obama officials.

  • Sean Hannity Asks WikiLeaks To Confirm His Russia-CIA Conspiracy Theory

    Hannity Has A History Of Courting WikiLeaks To Support His Trump Defenses

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Following Fox host Sean Hannity's March 8 conspiracy theory that the CIA framed the Russian government for election interference, Hannity tweeted at WikiLeaks on March 9 asking them to confirm his suspicion. This tweet is just the latest example of Hannity’s increasingly far-fetched attempts to defend President Donald Trump against any and all Russia-related allegations follows his months-long courting of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

    On March 9, Hannity tweeted at WikiLeaks, asking “Is it possible, likely or can you confirm instances where the CIA used Malware to ‘Attribute’ cyberattacks to other nations? Possibly Russia”:

    This is just the latest example of Hannity's embrace of WikiLeaks. Throughout the 2016 election, Hannity and WikiLeaks developed a relationship of mutual admiration and promotion of one another. Hannity, who called for Assange’s arrest in 2010, had a change of heart once WikiLeaks started attacking Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Hannity went on to host Assange for multiple interviews on his radio and television shows, and the Fox host has described Assange as “the modern day Woodward and Bernstein,” a reference to the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story. Hannity’s newfound love for WikiLeaks led him to defend the organization’s conduct, even after it was confirmed that the documents they published originated from Russian-backed hacking intended to interfere in the 2016 election, because WikiLeaks “reveal[ed] how corrupt the liberal media is.” WikiLeaks, in turn, has promoted Hannity’s Assange interviews several times and has twice recently tweeted a Hannity segment featuring right-wing talk radio host Laura Ingraham talking about the “deep state.” 

    Though Hannity has always fervently defended Trump and lashed out at the president’s critics -- including accusing the media of “purposefully distorting” Trump’s request that the Russian government “find the 30,000 emails that are missing” -- Hannity’s Trump defenses have become increasingly conspiratorial. Hannity decried the entire story of alleged ties between Trump and Russia as “politically motivated” “liberal fake news.” He also called the consensus of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to disrupt the election “fake news,” claiming that there are not 17 intelligence agencies (there are.) So far, Hannity’s conspiratorial navel-gazing has culminated (in addition to the aforementioned CIA conspiracy theory) in the absurd allegation that former President Barack Obama’s campaign database is proof of “a shadow government” undermining the Trump administration, a claim also made by several fake news purveyors.

  • A Short Guide To Mark Levin, Trump’s Likely Source For His Wiretapping Lie

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On March 4, President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama of ordering his phones in Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the 2016 election. Trump’s claim echoed points made by Mark Levin, a right-wing talk radio host with a history of anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ statements, climate denial, and racism. He also attacked Obama throughout his presidency, comparing him to dictators, accusing him of racism and anti-Semitism, and saying he had “planted the seeds of World War III.”

  • When Jeff Sessions Feverishly Urged The Recusal Of An Attorney General On Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In November, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) called on the sitting attorney general to recuse herself and appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations related to Hillary Clinton's use of private email. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are now demanding that now-Attorney General Sessions do the same thing amid reporting that he failed to acknowledge during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russia’s ambassador as a Donald Trump surrogate during the 2016 presidential campaign season.

    In a November 5 letter posted on FoxNews.com that was signed by Sessions, he berated then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for not recusing herself from the Clinton email investigation, and called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate instead:

    Attorney General Lynch and former President Clinton met on the Phoenix, Arizona tarmac days before Secretary Clinton was to be interviewed by the FBI for possible criminal activity. It has been reported that her staff ordered witnesses not to take pictures and no one was present during their 39-minute conversation. General Lynch never recused herself from decisions on the Clinton investigation after her self-admitted “mistake,” as it has also been reported that she continues to deny the FBI the authority to convene a Grand Jury, which is necessary for any meaningful investigation.

    It has also been reported that General Lynch opposed Director Comey from fulfilling his obligation to Congress by informing members of the discovery of 650,000 emails on Anthony Weiner’s and Huma Abedin’s computer, the existence of which had been concealed from government authorities.

    Recusal is a formal process. It is a written document specifically describing the scope of the recusal and designating the official in charge of the recused matter. If General Lynch went through the proper procedure for recusal, she has not publicly shared it.

    [...]

    In 1991-1992, a Special Counsel was appointed for three separate matters: House Bank, Iraqgate, and Inslaw. It was also done in 2003 in the Valerie Plame matter.

    Instead of moving with dispatch to ensure a vigorous investigation of Secretary Clinton, it appears that the Justice Department, along with State, have enabled the Clinton campaign to “slow roll” the inquiry.

    General Lynch continues to exert control of a matter that she should have assigned to another official.

    We are distressed by widespread and credible reports that FBI agents have been hindered by the Justice Department’s withholding of basic investigative tools, such as grand jury subpoenas, which are fundamental in a complex investigation.

    It is time to do what should have been done long ago – appoint a Special Counsel.

    Sessions doubled down on this claim during a November 6 interview on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures, saying “We need an independent person, person that's not politically connected, that people in America can have confidence in to take over this investigation and make sure it's done correctly, to bring charges if need. Hopefully not charges. Hopefully they're not needed. But there are some serious allegations here that the American people need to know are fully investigated”:

    MARIA BARTIROMO (HOST): I want to talk about this letter that you penned along with others like Rudy Giuliani, Frank Keating, Victoria Toensing and Henry McMaster. This is a letter basically saying, look, it is time for Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel because this brings me to the question of the morning after. Regardless who wins, Senator, you're going to have the next day and you're going to have real issues on the table. Will Hillary Clinton be able to make important decisions when she's got these investigations overhanging? What does the morning after look like for Trump? And what do you want to see in terms of this special counsel?

    SESSIONS: Well, you should never politicize criminal investigations or prosecutions. We should never do that. But the situation is such and the facts are such that we have an investigation going now, and there's a lack of confidence, in fact, zero confidence really that the attorney general is doing anything other than delaying this investigation and not pursuing it effectively. It's been ongoing for over a year. A special prosecutor would have been the appropriate thing to do to take it out of politics and maybe would already have been completed, but the rumors we hear are that the FBI is being obstructed and delayed and blocked by the Department of Justice, Attorney General Lynch. So, I think this is a serious matter. We've just got to have integrity in our criminal justice system. Everybody deserves a fair day in court, but we need a fair investigation, too, and I'm afraid that's not happening.

    BARTIROMO: Well, in the letter, you and your colleagues write, look, the Department of Justice has been thwarted by top officials' refusal to conduct a proper investigation of former Secretary [Hillary] Clinton's unsecured email server and the pay-for-play accusations. So if Donald Trump were to win the presidency, is he going to move to remove Loretta Lynch?

    SESSIONS: Well, of course, there will be a change in the attorney general, as well in every cabinet position. Remember, Loretta Lynch serves at the pleasure of President Obama. She doesn't have a termed office. She knows who appointed her and she knows whose pleasure she serves at. So we need an independent person, a person that's not politically connected that people in America can have confidence in to take over this investigation and make sure it's done correctly, to bring charges if need -- hopefully not charges. Hopefully they're not needed. But there are some serious allegations here that the American people need to know are fully investigated. You know, FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he found new evidence. He had no choice but to report to the American Congress where he had under oath testified the investigation was over. He had to correct that and say, this investigation is ongoing now. I'm sure it's significant or he wouldn't have announced that.

    BARTIROMO: Right, which is the question I'm trying to get at in terms of Hillary Clinton. Should she win the presidency, what is she going to do in terms of governance? Can she govern effectively if she's got these investigations going on? Will she have to change FBI directors knowing that Jim Comey is pursuing this? Or are we going to have four years of, you can't get anything done because of these investigations and the challenge from the Republicans like naming new Supreme Court justices?

    SESSIONS: Well, it is a dangerous thing, no doubt. It puts a cloud over her tenure as president. What is she going to do about the attorney general? Who will she appoint? Will it be an utter loyalist, as it appears Loretta Lynch is and Eric Holder was during his tenure, or will it be someone that has the respect of the American people who can handle a complex matter and do it right with confidence. To me, at this point, it's so off track and so badly handled that an independent counsel is the right thing, I have no doubt about that.

    Sessions is now facing demands from even Republican members of Congress that he recuse himself from the Department of Justice investigation into ties between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials, following revelations that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador but told his confirmation committee, under oath, that he had not met with any Russian officials. From The Washington Post:

    Top Republicans said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from federal investigations of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

    House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early Thursday that “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”

    Later, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement, “Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe.”

    [...]

    Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is also demanding a special counsel to investigate the Trump administration for ties to Russia, “given AG Sessions’ false statements about contacts with Russia.”

  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.