Looking for a partisan outrage to promote as Covid cases plummet and the U.S. economy continues to soar, Fox News, Trump and the ferocious Right Wing Noise Machine have gone all-in claiming Hillary Clinton’s campaign six years ago “spied” on the Republican candidate. The dreamt-up allegation comes courtesy of special counsel John Durham’s dishonest handiwork and his Trump-sanctioned investigation into Russiagate and the hollow claims that Trump had been the target of a massive deep state conspiracy.
The current caper has more holes than the GOP’s Benghazi production, but it’s sucking up lots of Beltway oxygen and generating right-wing hysteria which is the whole point — to create a spectacle of Democratic lawbreaking. (Trump’s demanding Durham’s defendant be executed.)
The good news is the mainstream media are not blindly repeating bogus claims about Clinton “spying,” for the simple reason that nobody has offered any proof.
The bad news is the same elite news outlets are stepping lightly around the real story at the center of the right-wing mob — the unethical nature of Durham’s work and how he’s clearly working with the far right to try to manufacture controversy where none exists.
In the ABC News report, it wasn’t until the ninth paragraph that that network spelled out, “nowhere in Durham's filing does he state that lawyers for the Clinton campaign paid a tech company to "infiltrate" servers belonging to Trump Tower and later the White House.” That crucial debunking should have been found in the first paragraph, if not the headline.
The New York Times dissected the phony spying claims, but its woefully soft headline claimed the right-wing “narrative” was merely “off track.” Off track? It’s a mountain of deliberate lies. A Washington Post report suggested Trump’s claims were built on “inaccurate Durham reporting,” which makes the whole thing sound innocuous.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal pretended it couldn’t figure out which side was telling the truth about the “spying” claims, and insisted Durham had simply “reignited disputes.”
By legitimizing the “spying” nonsense in any way, the press helps the GOP run interference on Trump’s 2016 ties to Russia, as well as the January 6 insurrection, by suggesting Clinton is the real traitor.
Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, initially appointed Durham to investigate alleged deep-state plotting within the FBI. Unable to find any proof, Durham has instead spent years helping the right-wing media create a fantasy storyline that the Clinton campaign in 2016 spread misinformation to the FBI and to the media that there was illegal collusion between Russian and Trump, and that somehow that Clinton strategy was against the law.
Along the way, Durham’s court filings have been irregular, unethical and “indecipherable,” as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough put it, as the prosecutor stuffs unsupported conspiracy theories into court records, designed to give the dishonest GOP media new nuggets of vague information, which they can conflate anyway they want, like Durham’s filing last week and Clinton being caught “spying” on Trump’s campaign.
“News organizations often struggle to debunk right-wing disinformation, a complicated undertaking that often ultimately muddies up the truth simply by virtue of covering it, which is what that disinformation is designed to do,” noted Greg Sargent at the Post.
Durham is taking advantage of longtime Beltway media traditions as he aggressively peddles misinformation. Traditions like, if someone has the title “special counsel” in front of their name, than that person is a serious, honest prosecutor doing serious, honest legal work and that they must be left alone to do their digging; their ethics and motivations should not be questioned. So far, that’s working for Durham, who appears to be working with the GOP political and media infrastructure within the Beltway.
Durham is Ken Starr II, and the press still hasn’t learned any lessons.
Here’s a quick example of the type of joke investigation Durham is overseeing. Last year, his shining moment was indicting Democratic cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussman on a single count of making a false statement to an FBI agent, five years after the fact. (The indictment had nothing to do with FBI misconduct, which was supposedly under investigation.)
Durham’s indictment, which is based on the testimony of one witness who has contradicted himself, claims Sussmann committed perjury by denying he was working for the Clinton campaign at the time he brought his information about Trump’s Russian ties to the FBI in 2016. The false statement claim is a laughably small crime to serve as the centerpiece of Durham’s $4 million investigation, which has produced two indictments. (By contrast, Robert Mueller indicted 34 people as part of his Russia probe.)
As journalist Marcy Wheeler details, Durham’s allegation is based on the central claim that Sussmann had secretly “coordinated with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign.” When Sussmann’s lawyers in a court filing last October demanded to know with whom Sussmann had directly plotted with on the Clinton campaign, Durham refused name anyone. That’s because at the time, Durham had not interviewed anyone with the Clinton campaign to see if Sussman had coordinated with them.
It’s amateur hour. “There’s tons of instances of where Durham demonstrably failed to do basic investigative work before charging Sussmann five years after a claimed lie,” notes Wheeler, who’s been picking apart Durham’s shoddy work for years.
When Fox News and Trump team up with a corrupt investigation, the role of the media isn’t to do neutral fact checks. It’s to call out the liars and the lies.