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Classified Document Double Standards at the MRC: The Trump Defense

When the FBI searched Donald Trump's compound to collect classified documents he had taken, the Media Research Center reflexively came to his aid.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/29/2023

Unlike Newsmax, the Media Research Center avoided immediately weighing in on the FBI search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago compound last August, apparently taking the time to figure out how to put the right spin on it to avoid having to label their beloved Trump a criminal. Its first post on the subject on Aug. 9, from Mark Finkelstein, whined that certain of the MRC's designated enemies were talking about the raid, like Joe Scarborough:
Some media people have been restrained, but MSNBC morning hothead Joe Scarborough was in all his predictable glory on today's Morning Joe over yesterday's FBI search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago.

Inevitably, Scarborough broke out his "fascist" shtick, using the term nine times in one exchange with Michael Steele in describing Trump and his followers.

The exchange ended with Scarborough literally screaming at the camera
"You break the law, you go to jail . . . In America -- even in the age of Trump! No! Man! Is above the law "
Steele, the former RNC Chairman turned “MSNBC Republican,” dutifully responded: "Amen brother. I can't say it better than that."

Alex Christy complained that NBC's Andrea Mitchell called out House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's kneejerk demand to investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland to punish him for approving the search:

On her Tuesday show on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell blasted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s “outrageous” pledge to investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland if the GOP were to regain the House in November in the aftermath of the FBI’s raid on former President Trump’s home.

After declaring that all the cries for the FBI and Justice Department to explain themselves are wrong because commenting on an on-going investigation would be improper, Mitchell focused on critics of the raid, “And yet, you have an unrestrained, you know, litany of comments from Trump World and as we’ll get to later with Ben Collins and others, you know, online, you know, threatening comments.”

Given the FBI's recent history, one can be critical without endorsing the behavior of the worst parts of the internet. Yet, Mitchell tied that to the ordinary pledge of one party promising to investigate the other if they take control of Congress, “Kevin McCarthy, with really, you have to say an outrageous attack on Merrick Garland. You know, you know, brace yourself when we take over, you know, clear your calendar, we’re going to investigate you.”

Curtis Houck, meanwhile, was giddy that his hated "liberal media" outlets called for transparency from the FBI and Garland, as if they weren't aware of the right-wing blowback they would face for the search and didn't have a plan or supporting evidence before approving it:

The “big three” networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC dedicated extensive time Tuesday morning to the stunning news that former President Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida home of Mar-a-Lago was raided Monday night by the FBI with a search warrant reportedly pursuant to a possible Presidential Records Act violation.

However, the liberal networks were surprisingly not ready to celebrate with ABC and CBS noting there’s been very little “transparency from the Justice Department or the FBI” and, if they had only sought boxes of presidential records, it would be correctly viewed as “overreach” by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Kevin Tober was similarly thrilled that some on CNN worried that the search was a "daring and dangerous move by the Department of Justice," and he gloated that ABC called for transparency as well. Nicholas Fondacaro, meanwhile, grumbled that an MSNBC analyst "suggest[ed] that the secrecy surrounding the raid was on par with the secrecy of the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden."

Aidan Moorehouse served up a different complaint:

With news of Trump’s home of Mar-a-Lago being raided by the FBI dominating the news, substitute host Dr. Jason Johnson brought on Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank on Monday night's ReidOut to spread fear that news of the raid would inspire a latter-day Timothy McVeigh to commit an act of terrorism comparable in scale to the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700.


Blaming Republicans for the Oklahoma City bombing is sadly not a new phenomenon, and the MRC reported it when they did it right after the bombing.

As for the bomber’s true motivation, Timothy McVeigh stated in a letter published after his execution in 2001, “When an aggressor force continually launches attacks from a particular base of operations, it is sound military strategy to take the fight to the enemy.”

Needless to say, somebody worried about federal overreach is not the same as someone who views the federal government as an enemy combatant.

And finally, the reaction of Trump supporters on the ground drive to Mar-a-Lago and protest the raid with signs and flags.

Moorehouse seems to have missed the past several years of right-wing ranting about the "Deep State," which, yes, does portray the federal government as enemy combatants. And pro-Trump activists are certainly seeing the Mar-a-Lago search as something an enemy combatant does.

Christy came back to whine that late-night comedians were making jokes about the search:

CBS The Late Show host Stephen Colbert must live a rather dull life because how else does one come to the conclusion that the FBI raid on former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home is like Christmas? Not only did Colbert compare the raid to that holiday on Tuesday, he also declared the related news headline “the most beautiful sentence America has ever produced.”

Colbert kicked off his opening monologue by reporting that while it may have been 96 degrees outside, “in here it's Christmas.”

To a rambunctious applause from the studio audience, Colbert continued, “Because yesterday, we all got the present we wanted: FBI agents raided Mar-a-Lago.”


Admitting to not knowing the context around something, but still comparing it to Christmas and treating it as historically positive development is why so many people have reacted to the raid with suspicion or even outright hostility.

Hostility? Wasn't this what Moorehouse was denying that Trumpies were engaging in after the raid?

The MRC continued to find ways to defend him and attack critics. An Aug. 10 post by Alex Christy cheering a right-winger spouting anti-FBI talking points at CNN's S.E. Cupp, who was pointing out that the raid showed the justice system working well, going on to add some talking points of his own: "Cupp and the rest of the media just don’t get it. If Trump were to be treated the same way as Hillary Clinton the raid would never have happened. Such double standards do raise questions that should not be dismissed as 'MAGA World talking points.'"

Another Aug. 10 post by Aidan Moorehouse complained that CNN commentators "were bemused why so many conservatives had such a negative reaction to the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, despite the news that the Bureau had foiled a plot by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to assassinate former National Security Adviser John Bolton":

Impeccable logic: if an organization does something well, that means it is functioning perfectly in every circumstance and incapable of having parts in need of reform.

After all, this is the FBI we’re talking about. It’s not like this law enforcement agency has ever fabricated evidence to gain a FISA warrant against Carter Page, or collaborated with the media to achieve maximum shock effect, or changed the words “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless” to avoid charging Hillary Clinton with a crime.

Moorehouse then threw in a little Clinton equivocation for good measure:

While it is possible that Trump did something wrong in these situations he’s currently being investigated for, the fact that Trump was raided by the FBI for what appears to be the potential mishandling of classified documents, while Clinton got away scot-free despite 30,000 of her emails being bleached from the face of the earth, ought to tell people like [Alyssa Farah] Griffin why Republicans are so wary of this latest investigation.

Tim Graham ranted on his Aug. 10 podcast that the raid is causing people to think Trump might be a bad person:

Biden's Attorney General approved an unprecedented raid on a former president's home, and we still don't know why. The newscasts are mostly calm, but not so for the Colberts and Scarboroughs. Colbert thinks it's Christmas, and Scarborough thinks the Fascists are having a Fascist fit.

Some on the Left smelled hypocrisy from the "Lock Her Up" folks on Hillary's deleted government emails. A truly objective media would apply a single standard to these issues of government documents. A truly objective media might also have a distaste for partisans suggesting the other party’s leaders should be in prison.

This is a fact. We have no precedent for a former president being raided by the FBI. We have no precedent for an attorney general whose Supreme Court nomination was ruined by the former president signing off on such a raid. We can easily predict how furiously the liberal media would have reacted if Trump’s Attorney General approved an FBI raid on the Clinton house in Chappaqua.

But in this case, we heard Andrea Mitchell condemn House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy for daring to speak ill of Merrick Garland. "Merrick Garland is the most careful, judicious to a fault some would say, you know, attorney general in this case."

A post by Mark Finkelstein complain that a CNN commentator "opined that there was more involved in the Mar-a-Lago raid than looking for evidence regarding classified documents. He suggested that the FBI was also looking for evidence of Trump's involvement with January 6th," and made the "bombshell prognostication" that Trump's arrest was "imminent," while the host "seemed to be insinuating the possibility that the FBI wanted to seize certain documents of a sensitive national-security nature before, e.g., Trump could peddle them to a hostile foreign power!" Finkelstein huffed that the host "offered no evidence in support of his audacious theory" -- but part of it eventually proved true.

In an Aug. 11 post, Margaret Buckley omitted context about a comment MSNBC's Joe Scarborough made while criticizing Republicans for their lemming-like defense of Trump:

Host Joe Scarborough pretended he is interested in helping the fate of the Republican Party, despite having publicly left it years ago. He insisted that GOP candidates are “underperforming” in special elections.

“They just can’t seem to connect the dots,” Scarborough states, “they keep careening closer and closer to a cliff of political oblivion.” He furthered his “analysis” by immaturely exclaiming this on national television: “They're going 'This is war, this is war! Let's tan our testicles!’" Real professional, Joe.

Actually, Buckley need to bring up those professionalism issues with right-wing Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who brought up the whole testicle-tanning thing in a special edition of his show a few months ago, positively portraying it as a way to improve one's testosterone levels.

Graham returned for an Aug. 11 post whining that NPR media reporter David Folkenflik pointed out how Republicans and right-wing media (like Graham's MRC) can't stop clinging to Trump. Instead of actually disproving it -- because he clearly can't -- Graham played his usual whataboutism:

It's amazing how credulous liberal journalists can be in assuming the Attorney General told no one in the White House he was going to approve a raid on Trump. Folkenflik would never assume Rupert Murdoch didn't know what was going on in his companies. As for apocalyptic terms, Folkenflik should look at NPR promoting Republicans as a "proto-authoritarian cult."

Graham linked back to a 2020 post he wrote attacking Folkenflik over that statement. He played whataboutism then too.

Finkelstein also returned, this time to complain about the "absolute ecstasy today over Donald Trump's potential legal woes" on "Morning Joe," whining further that "Mika and Joe amused themselves by repeatedly mentioning the many times that Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment during his deposition yesterday with lawyers for New York State Attorney General Letitia James."

Graham's Aug. 12 podcast whined again about Garland not being savaged by non-right-wing media the way he is in Graham's right-wing media bubble:

Attorney General Merrick Garland kept reporters and TV networks waiting (and filling air time) for more than a half-hour before he came out and made a brief statement and took no questions from reporters. It was not a demonstration of transparency after this unprecedented step of the FBI raiding the home of a former president like he was a criminal.

The networks tried to present Garland as reasonable and nonpartisan -- insisting of course, he must have a good reason for this raid. Then an ABC reporter turned to frighten the public with neo-Nazis ripping Garland on message boards -- he's Jewish -- and seemingly associated all Garland's critics with the worst extremists.

Finkelstein served up another whining post on Aug. 13, this one about a discussion of a Washington Post article claiming nuclear-related documents were among the classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago:

So the Washington Post, which broke the story, doesn't know what those documents are, or just how classified they might or might not be. It certainly can't say whether the FBI found what their anonymous sources were claiming as justification for this unprecedented don't-call-it-a-raid.

Finkelstein didn't mention that there is no reason for Trump to be possessing sensitive government documents, classified or not, now that is no longer president.

An Aug. 16 post by Catherine Salgado complained that Twitter put a filter over a link pushing an unproven conspiracy theory over the raid:

Shielding the FBI? Twitter restricted the link to a PJ Media article questioning the FBI’s motives for raiding former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

Bestselling author and PJ Media columnist Matt Margolis wrote an article for PJ Media titled, “Is This Proof the Mar-a-Lago Raid Was a Fishing Expedition?” In the article, Margolis pointed to comments from Trump’s lawyers and a Fox News report suggesting that the “revelations that the FBI took boxes of privileged documents supports the theory that the raid was a pretext” to search for other information to undermine Trump’s defense about the events of Jan. 6, rather than truly to seize “classified” documents.

Being a "bestselling author" doesn't exempt anyone from being held accountable for spreading falsehoods and conspiracy theories.

Graham wrote in an Aug. 17 post about an "incorrect tweet" regarding the raid:

Anonymous sources can cut both ways. After CBS anchor Norah O'Donnell sloppily tweeted an inaccurate claim that Trump was lying about the FBI taking his passports in the Mar-a-Lago raid, unnamed critics inside CBS pounced in a Tuesday New York Post story.
[T]he anchor attributed the information to a single source — a big no-no at CBS News, which has a strict two-source protocol, angry CBS sources told The Post. They added that the tweets also made it sound like O’Donnell was calling the former president a “liar.”

“This is an embarrassment for CBS that the face of your network can’t even make a second call to a Justice Department rep,” one livid source said. “It’s Journalism 101.”
The loathing of Trump routinely leads to sloppy, rushed reporting to paint Trump as perennially engulfed in damaging scandal.

In fact, O'Donnell's tweet was not particularly incorrect; she accurately quoted an official stating that the FBI was not in possession of Trump's passports, though it was murky whether it ever actually had possession of them. Trump claimed they were "stolen," but he's also an inveterate liar and there's no real reason to trust anything he or his subordinates have to say about, well, anything -- especially given that the raid was prompted by deception by these very same people about Trump's unauthorized possession of classified documents.

Of course, Graham is being a total hypocrite about anonymous sources, decrying them when the "liberal media" uses them but gleefully using them when they serve his partisan agenda -- as he did here in uncritically citing the anonymous source the New York Post used to bash O'Donnell. He will not apply the demands he makes of the "liberal" media to his own right-wing media operation -- that's cowardice and craven politics at work.

Graham is demonstrating another double standard as well: He will never call out erroneous tweets in his right-wing media bubble -- and certainly not ones from his boss, Brent Bozell.

And, throughout all of this, Graham never explained why someone's "incorrect tweet" deserved so much attention -- outside of the MRC's anti-media agenda, that is.

Finkelstein grumbled in an Aug. 21 post that "Donald Trump's lawyer-turned-rabid antagonist" Michael Cohen raised the possibility that Trump is using those classified documents "as a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's a way to extort America," declaring that to be "a wild conspiracy theory that could have been concocted by those thinking moon landing was staged. He followed by complaining in an Aug. 24 post that an MSNBC guest "floated the tantalizing-to-the-liberal-media possibility that Trump might have committed 'espionage' by profiting from the documents or handing them to a foreign power." Again, given what we know about Trump, none of this is outside the realm of possibility.

The pace of defend-and-attack finally slowed after that. A Sept. 7 post by Kathleen Krumhansl complained that "Reports of Florida federal judge Aileen Cannon granting Donald Trump's request for a special master to oversee the documents seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago was enough to send the Univision's morning news team into a TDS frenzy on Tuesday" -- but she hid the fact that Cannon was appointed by Trump, raising the likelihood that she is likely to rule in Trump's favor as payback for him granting her the judgeship.

Fondacaro lost it in an Oct. 31 post when "The View," which he is paid to hate-watch, had Halloween costumes created to represent FBI agents raiding Mar-a-Lago and Trump dressed as a toilet (representing his penchant for flushing documents): "While the cast didn’t dress up as the witches they are, they did think it was hilarious and appropriate to force kids to dress up as their favorite political obsessions and parade them around in a demented fashion show."

P.J. Gladnick used a Nov. 18 post to highlight a finding that investigators reportedly believe that Trump's document-hoarding was motivated by ego and trophy-collecting as evidence that "leftists were wrong to imply Donald Trump took classified documents to Mar-a-Lago to sell to our enemies." That's not exactly the own Gladnick thinks it is. A Dec. 25 post by Gladnick complained that a Washington Post article on the inside story of the Mar-a-Lago raid showed reluctance to do so, in contradiction to right-wing narratives portraying federal officials as reckless:

The FBI appears to be signaling via its trusted telegrapher The Washington Post that it is blaming others for its unprecedented raid on Donald Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago in August. It sure sounds like damage control by the FBI especially since its image has sunk to a new low in the wake of its attempt to control the news to protect the Biden campaign, as revealed in the Twitter Files. 

The six-byline article on Wednesday -- by Devlin Barrett, Jacqueline Alemany, Perry Stein, Josh Dawsey, Anne E. Marimow, and Carol D. Leonnig -- suggests gee, the FBI was really reluctant to barge into a president's home looking for federal documents. The headline was "Skepticism before a search: Inside the Trump Mar-a-Lago documents investigation: The FBI was initially reluctant to investigate Donald Trump’s possession of classified documents, and cautious when it did so."

The Post sextet insisted new Attorney General Merrick Garland "inherited a massive investigation into the pro-Trump riot" -- it was "massive" just two weeks in?


Ooops! So nothing really nefarious there. The FBI launched a raid of a former president's home due to a dispute over what amounted to a dispute over mementos. You don't need six reporters to wonder out loud if the Biden Justice Department raided Trump's home at a time when the January 6 Committee probe was dormant, and the breathless anti-Trump media needed a new "news hook" to keep up the "momentum."

The MRC and its fellow right-wingers got its own news hook a couple weeks later, when classified documents were found at properties frequented by Joe Biden -- and the double standard was exposed. Read more here.

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