CNS' War on Robert Mueller, Part 1
While the Mueller investigation was going on, CNSNews.com attacked its legitimacy by uncritically repeating pro-Trump talking points.
By Terry Krepel
The Trump years have demonstrated that the Media Research Center's "news" division, CNSNews.com, is little more than a nonprofit adjunct to the Trump White House press office, working to spin news to make the president look good. And that pro-Trump bias has rarely been more evident than in CNS' coverage of Robert Mueller and his investigation into various alleged Trump shenanigans, including possible collusion with Russian operatives and attempts to obstruct the investigation itself.
This adherence to the right-wing narrative occurred all through the investigation. For instance, it published a slew of articles in late 2017 and early 2018 promoting various and sundry attacks on the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation from Republicans and right-wing activists, including side issues such has the infamous Steele dossier and texts sent by FBI agents about whose sex lives the CNS was obsessed about:
In May 2018, when the Senate Judiciary Committee released the transcript of Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony about a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer and others in June 2016,in which the Trump campaign was reportedly offered Russian-linked intelligence damaging to Hillary Clinton, CNS didn't want to report on that. So, instead, its first story on the transcript release focused on a side issue.
"Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson Dined With Russian Lawyer Before & After Her Meeting at Trump Tower" read the headline on the article by Susan Jones, and it did indeed focus on how "Transcripts released Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee say that Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, had dinner with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya both the day before and the day after she met with Donald Trump, Jr. at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016."
How desperate was Jones to deflect from Trump Jr.'s actions? Jones admits that "Sen. Dianne Feinstein released the Simpson transcript earlier this year" -- in other words, the main part of her article was based on something that was released months ago, not the newly released transcripts.
The next day, Jones found a way to put a positive spin on the transcripts by portraying the meeting as ultimately useless:
Both sides came out of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower feeling misled and disappointed, transcripts show. So why did it happen and who benefited?
Of course, the point of the meeting -- if not ultimately fruitful -- was the Trump Jr. was clearly willing to collude with Russians. Jones didn't report that.
When Senate Republicans issued a report declaring there was no evidence the Trump campaign “colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government,” CNS editor in chief breathlessly touted it -- but didn't tell readers that the report came only from Republicans, or that Senate Democrats issued a separate report with different conclusions.
That was accompanied by another article from Jeffrey highlighting how "When former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper met with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on July 17, 2017 as part of the committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Clappers aid he had no evidence of collusion between the Russian and the Trump campaign." Jeffrey didn't mention that Clapper ceased being DNI at the end of President Obama's term, and therefore he would likely have no knowledge of findings of government investigations launched in the six months between his departure as DNI and his committee testimony or from any probes launched before he left.
As ConWebWatch documented, CNS also embraced a baseless conspiracy theory about the January 2019 arrest of Trump confidante Roger Stone, that Mueller tipped off CNN so it could cover Stone's arrest live (though it also endeavored to make the point that the charges against Stone "do not involve Russian collusion"). CNS also devoted copious space to promoting an unproven claim from its favorite right-wing radio host, Mark Levin, that Mueller's appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional.
The Manafort issue
ConWebWatch has documented how CNS furiously sought to separate charges against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort from Trump himself. But a December 2017 blog post by CNS managing editor Michael W. Chapman lovingly documenting a Fox Business TV appearance by Republican Rep. Jim Jordan touching on Manafort and other investigation side issues reached a level of mendaciousness that was surprising for someone who runs a purported "news" organization.
Chapman kicked things off by referencing "the salacious and false dossier about Donald Trump, paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee." In fact, several parts of the dossier have been verified and corroborated. Nevertheless, Chapman uncritically quoted Jordan dismissing the dossier as "a bunch of lies. ... It's a bunch of National Enquirer garbage and fake news in this thing."
Chapman then wrote: "It has been reported that former Trump campaign officials Carter Page and Paul Manafort were spied on in 2016 by U.S. intelligence agencies after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) granted warrants to do so." But the links Chapman used to back up those claims show that monitoring of Page and Manafort had begun before their affiliation with the Trump campaign -- thus undermining Chapman's argument.
Nevertheless, he continued:
On Dec. 23 it was reported that Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe will resign in March or April 2018, which is when his full pension and benefits would kick in. McCabe's wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, received a little more than $700,000 in payments from two Democratic PACs in 2015, one headed by Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe. (Jill McCabe, a left-wing Democrat, ran for a state senate seat that year.)
Again, there's a timeline issue that shoots down Chapman's conspiracy theory: The donation from McAuliffe's PAC to Jill McCabe's campaign were made several months before Andrew McCabe was named to the Hillary email investigation; indeed, Andrew McCabe wasn't assigned to the investigation until three months after Jill McCabe lost her election. This makes it highly unlikely, if not impossible, there was a quid pro quo.
Also, Chapman didn't back up his assertion that Jill McCabe was a "left-wing" Democrat, unless he's operating on a knee-jerk right-wing assumption that all Democrats are "left-wing."
The n0-collusion mantra
Another round of Mueller attacks came in February through Senate Republicans again insisting that their non-Mueller investigation found no collusion, and CNS served as dutiful stenographer to them.
Managing editor Michael W. Chapman led this particular bandwagon, with a Feb. 8 article headlined "Senate Chairman to CBS: Zero Evidence of 'Collusion by Trump Campaign and Russia.'" When NBC did a fuller story on this, Chapman breathlessly declared in a Feb. 12 post: "BREAKING: Senate Intelligence Cmte: No Direct Evidence of Russia-Trump Collusion."
Instead, CNS' Susan Jones touted the next day how "In an early morning tweet on Wednesday, President Trump pointed to the Senate intelligence committee: "THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA!" he wrote in all-caps." Jones did, surprisingly, note Democratic criticism of the GOP conclusion.
On Feb. 14, however, CNS' Michael Morris gave space to Dan Bongino, filling in for Levin, declaring that "[t]he Russian collusion fairytale is finally, fully, completely collapsing." This was followed by Jones giving a Feb. 18 platform to Rush Limbaugh to rant that "People such as Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein 'took it upon themselves to overthrow the election results of 2016,' while ignoring the 'real collusion' between the Clinton campaign and the Russians."
This attempt to downplay any link between Trump and Russia comes straight from the top. A Jan. 30 column by editor in chief Terry Jeffrey portraying Russian election interference as no big deal: "Which is a greater threat to the United States? A shipment of heroin smuggled across the Mexican border that ends up in your hometown? Or a series of Facebook posts made by a Russian operative in St. Petersburg that show up on your Facebook feed?" Jeffrey then huffed:
Yes, our government should work to stop foreign governments from hacking into U.S. computer systems and stealing data, or tampering with vote-counting systems.
As long as the Russians support the same candidate Jeffrey does, it must not be a problem, right?