Not Just the Donald Trump Dinner: Dangers of the Kanye West – Nick Fuentes Partnership
At the beginning of 2022, white nationalist youth leader Nick Fuentes declared that he had no time for intimate relationships because he had chosen to be “an historical figure” leading “an historical right-wing movement.” It seemed like a ridiculous level of hubris coming from a then-23-year-old who had been kicked off both mainstream and conservative social media platforms, but just 10 months later, he was sitting down to dinner with two of the country’s most prominent political and cultural figures: former President Donald Trump and musician/businessman Kanye West, now known as Ye.
Even without the presence of the virulently bigoted and extremist Fuentes, the timing of Ye’s dinner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home would have been troubling. Ye had already begun a well-publicized descent into conspiracy theories and antisemitism. Since the widely condemned dinner, Ye’s antisemitic and anti-democratic entourage has grown even larger, with comic Owen Benjamin joining Fuentes, Stop the Steal’s Ali Alexander, and former Breitbart enfant terrible Milo Yiannopoulos.
On Dec. 1, Ye and Fuentes appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ online show for about three hours. Ye engaged in Holocaust denial and repeatedly expressed his admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazis, batting away every effort by Jones to downplay those comments, and repeated claims about his alleged persecution at the hands of “Zionists.” The brutally antisemitic Fuentes happily agreed, claiming among other things that Jewish scriptures justify pedophilia. Jones, meanwhile, claimed that Fuentes had been unfairly mischaracterized by the media—which is certainly not the case. Andrew Torba, the intensely antisemitic founder of Gab, a social media platform favored by far-right extremists, was giddy about the program, proclaiming ,”Overton Window: shattered. Obliterated. Never going back.”
On the InfoWars set, Ye praised Fuentes, suggesting that the 24-year-old would be president one day. Both wrapped their messages in claims to be speaking for Jesus Christ. Ye passed his phone around so that Jones and others in the studio could tweet messages to his more than 32 million followers, a huge promotional boon to Fuentes.
Ye devoting his huge platform to promoting antisemitism and promoters of Christian nationalist authoritarianism is very bad news. Possibly even worse has been Trump’s so-far adamant refusal to disavow Ye or Fuentes or their extremism in spite of repeated demands that he do so, even from his political allies. For white nationalists, the lack of denunciation read as an endorsement. Far-right authoritarian Vincent James, the treasurer of Fuentes’s America First organization, exulted this week that Trump’s refusal to disavow Fuentes was evidence that the group has successfully “infiltrated the mainstream flank of the GOP,” predicting that if Trump returns to the White House, Fuentes could be “the new Stephen Miller.”
Other Republican leaders have not covered themselves in glory, either, with many refusing to criticize Trump for the meeting, and others doing so only after days of pained silence.
Ye’s decision to use his time and cultural reach to spread extreme antisemitism comes during a time of rising violence and harassment against Jews in the U.S. He is promoting an extreme version of an already aggressive, exclusionary, and authoritarian Christian nationalism that undermines core American principles of pluralism, religious liberty, and church-state separation. His trajectory, and the platform he is offering to Fuentes and a growing group of far-right figures grabbing onto his media coattails, threatens to further normalize bigotry and undermine democracy.
Background: Where Did Nick Fuentes Come From?
Fuentes began building an online audience as an alt-right YouTuber while he was a teenager and college student. Right Wing Watch has covered him since 2017, the year in which he traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the notorious white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally at which a counterprotester was murdered.
Trump’s election energized white nationalists like Fuentes, and when Trump was defeated by Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, Fuentes was among the first to join Ali Alexander’s so-called “Stop the Steal” campaign to overturn the election. America First flags flew on the grounds of the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, and members of the movement have been charged and convicted with breaching the Capitol. Fuentes himself had VIP seating at Trump’s rally that day before joining the crowd that marched on the Capitol.
Fuentes’ enthusiastic participation in Stop the Steal helped him build connections within the MAGA movement, which he has used in an effort to spread and normalize his white nationalist and Christian nationalist beliefs. During a livestream show in which Fuentes referred to Jan. 6 as “U.S. Patriot Day,” Fuentes put it this way: receiving a subpoena from the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol provides him credibility, he said, and will help him get out his message about “white genocide.”
Fuentes reportedly came to Ye’s attention via Yiannopoulos, who is working on Ye’s campaign. A former Breitbart editor and gay right-wing cultural provocateur, Yiannopoulos now describes himself as an ex-gay and has become a militantly hard-right Catholic activist. Yiannopoulos, who interned with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s congressional office this year, was also credited with getting Greene to speak at Fuentes’s AFPAC conference. Yiannopoulos recently shared on his Telegram account a post in which Torba slammed Trump for “continuing to suck the boots of the Jewish powers that be who hate Jesus Christ, hate our country, and see us all as disposable cattle according to their ‘holy’ book.”
Normalizing Bigotry and Far-Right Extremism
As Torba exulted after the appearance of Ye and Fuentes on InfoWars, the elevation of Fuentes has the effect of normalizing his extremism and expanding his reach. Having been kicked off major social media platforms, Fuentes now operates his own streaming platform, Cozy.tv, which he uses to promote bigotry and espouse an extreme Christian nationalism, saying that Jews “hate Christ,” should be banned from holding office, and in fact should “get the fuck out” of this country. He has also invited other far-right extremists to use the Cozy.tv platform.
Fuentes also gleefully promotes anti-Black stereotypes and racism. During his livestream he has used the N-word and defended his use of it. He has declared, “Generation Z has got to recover the wisdom of our racist grandparents.” Fuentes often adopts a joking tone, making use of an alt-right strategy and Trumpian tactic of using humor and irony as cover for bigotry and extremism—even Holocaust denial—to court young white men to his ideology.
Fuentes has enmeshed his message with the rhetoric of the MAGA movement by adopting the “America First” rhetoric of the Trump campaign, a political slogan deployed by nativist, antisemitic, and fascist activists during the first part of the 20th century. Like former Trump aide Steve Bannon, Fuentes positions himself as being at war with establishment Republicans not sufficiently committed to an “America First” agenda. In December 2020, Fuentes warned that if the GOP did not do everything possible to keep Trump in power, “We are going to destroy the GOP.”
In December 2021, Elijah Schaffer, a former podcaster and host on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, gave Fuentes hours of time to spread his ideology via Schaffer’s ”Slightly Offensive” podcast and the “You Are Here” show, sympathetically characterizing Fuentes as having been mistreated and misrepresented by mainstream media. In his conversations with Schaffer, Fuentes took credit for pushing Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, another right-wing youth organizer with whom Fuentes has feuded, further to the right on immigration issues, and he celebrated Fox News powerhouse Tucker Carlson’s increasingly unabashed embrace of white nationalist rhetoric like the racist “great replacement” theory. In those interviews and his own livestreamed musings, Fuentes has highlighted his cozy relationships with far-right politicians, his role in the so-called “Stop the Steal” campaign, his white nationalism and Christian nationalism, his authoritarian views, his misogyny, and his efforts to bring the GOP further to the right. “You Are Here” show, sympathetically characterizing Fuentes as having been mistreated and misrepresented by mainstream media. In his conversations with Schaffer, Fuentes took credit for pushing Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, another right-wing youth organizer with whom Fuentes has feuded, further to the right on immigration issues, and he celebrated Fox News powerhouse Tucker Carlson’s increasingly unabashed embrace of white nationalist rhetoric like the racist “great replacement” theory. In those interviews and his own livestreamed musings, Fuentes has highlighted his cozy relationships with far-right politicians, his role in the so-called “Stop the Steal” campaign, his white nationalism and Christian nationalism, his authoritarian views, his misogyny, and his efforts to bring the GOP further to the right.
Fuentes’ Cozy Relationship with Right-Wing Politicians
While Fuentes’ extremism and overt white nationalism have gotten him kicked off social media platforms, including the GETTR site run by former Trump aide Jason Miller, he has developed relationships close to some prominent right-wing Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Trump-endorsed Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers.
At this year’s AFPAC conference, Greene was the honored guest, while Gosar, Rogers, and Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin sent video greetings. Gosar attended previous AFPAC gatherings in person. Greene has vigorously defended her decision to address the gathering, but recently, after days of critical media coverage of the recent Mar-a-Lago dinner, Greene declared that “of course” she denounced Fuentes and “his racists and antisemitic ideology.”
Fuentes is also adored by Rogers, the far-right Arizona state senator. In her video message to this year’s AFPAC, she told the groypers, “You and your fellow patriots are the future.” Just two months earlier, Fuentes had praised Rogers as “so freaking BASED,” and she responded by thanking him and declaring, “We love you.” Gosar cheered them on, an example of what Political Research Associates’ Ben Lorber calls a “call-and-response” relationship between Fuentes and his groypers and the rest of the MAGA right.
Fuentes’ relationship with MAGA stars like Gosar and Rogers has opened up the door for more white nationalists. At a satellite event organized by far-right groups during Turning Point USA’s gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, in December 2021, GOP figures mingled with an array of extremists, including “groypers” ideologically aligned with Fuentes.
Stop the Steal and Jan. 6
When it became clear that Trump would not accept his defeat in the presidential election, Fuentes was quick to respond to far-right activist Ali Alexander’s call to “stop the steal,” which gave Fuentes an opportunity to rub shoulders and share speaking platforms with other MAGA activists.
In November 2020, Fuentes spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally at the Arizona state capitol flanked by a U.S. flag emblazoned with his America First group’s logo. In a video posted by a local branch of the Arizona GOP, he claimed that “the Democrats hate us” and denounced the “globalist establishment that runs this country.” The following month, he organized a rally at the Pennsylvania state capitol, as he explained in a tweet, “to DEMAND that the State Legislature send their electors to vote for Trump!”
On Jan. 6, 2021, Fuentes was seated in the VIP section at Trump’s pre-insurrection rally and attended the protest outside the U.S. Capitol. The next month, he described the event in his keynote address at the America First Political Action Conference. He told the gathered groypers that when he saw patriots surrounding the building and police retreating, and heard that politicians were ”scurrying” to safety, “I said to myself, ‘This is awesome!’” Fuentes added, “We have been beat up and betrayed and spit on, stepped on, for decades, and to see the tables turned for once was a little bit refreshing actually.”
On the one-year anniversary of the insurrection, he celebrated it as “part of our new heritage.” After the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack subpoenaed Fuentes, he declared, “I’m trying to get out a very important message about white genocide and the destruction of our people.” Gosar posted in defense of “young conservative Christians like Nick Fuentes,” calling the subpoena “pure political persecution.”
Fuentes and Christian Nationalism
While Fuentes is most frequently described as a white nationalist, he is also an ardent Christian nationalist, a trait he shares with many religious-right leaders and influential Republican political operatives. Fuentes’ belief that Christianity, like whiteness, is essential to American culture and identity was on display at the 2021 America First Political Action Conference. If America loses its “white demographic core,” he warned the audience, “and if it loses its faith in Jesus Christ, this is not America anymore.”
“America is a Christian nation,” Fuentes said. “And that’s not just a slogan. When I say that America is a Christian nation, I’m saying that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and this is one nation under that God.” The crowd erupted more than once in chants of “Christ is King!” a battle cry also heard at Stop the Steal rallies, and a phrase Ali Alexander included in his Dec. 1 tweet from Ye’s phone.
Unlike many religious-right leaders, Fuentes does not try to make his Christian nationalism more politically palatable by using the label “Judeo-Christian” to describe the U.S. Far from it. On his Jan. 7 show, he said “We need people who are true believers, true lovers of God and of Jesus Christ—that is who we need leading the country.” He added that the country needs more people who will stand up and say, “I will never betray my country. I will never betray my people. I will never betray my moral convictions. And I will never betray my Lord and my savior and his name, his sacred name, Jesus Christ.’ And we’re going to say ‘Jesus Christ,’ not this, you know, ‘Judeo-Christian’ stuff. I spit, I spit on that.”
Fuentes vehemently denounces what he sees as the excessive influence of Zionism in the conservative movement and has a habit of pointing out media and conservative figures who are Jewish. He once railed against right-wing activist and Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh as a “Shabbos goy race traitor,” adding, “you work for Jews, you know.”
Fuentes shares with other Christian nationalists a penchant for describing current political struggles as a war between good and evil. “Never forget the people that are in charge, what they’re doing is wrong, we’re on the right side of history,” he told Schaffer in that Dec. 3 podcast interview. “This is not ambiguous. It is black and white. They are evil. And we, though imperfect, are the side that is professing a faith in Jesus Christ. We are the side that loves our country. We are the side that supports perennial traditional values.”
Fuentes: Christian Authoritarianism Preferable to Democracy
Fuentes’s Christian nationalism is intertwined with his expressed preference for Christian authoritarianism. One of the troubling findings from recent social science research on Christian nationalism is evidence that holding strong Christian nationalist views is strongly correlated not only with support for Trump and belief in the Big Lie, but also with the idea that authoritarian rule may be preferable to democratic rule and that violence might be necessary to achieve that rule by right-wing leaders.
Fuentes told Schaffer and his Blaze co-hosts last year that if Donald Trump had become a “tyrant,” refusing to step down, ignoring what Congress or the courts said, and declaring that he was going to stay in office for three terms, Fuentes would “be in favor of that 100 percent.” He said he fundamentally disagrees with conservatives who might be unhappy with the outcome of the election but supported the transition of power. Such people, he said, were “sacrificing the country” to “this so-called democracy and equality” rather than “have order, than have prosperity, than have excellence, than live in a great country.”
During the same show, he mused on Christian authoritarianism:
Specifically, when we think about what kind of government is best, or what we should have, you know, I look at, like, Christianity, I look at the Bible. In Heaven, it’s ordered as a kingdom, you know, it’s the kingdom of Heaven. It’s not the republic of Heaven. It’s not the state of Heaven. It’s a kingdom, there’s a king, and the authority and the unity of that authority proceeds from one rule.
And the church, the Catholic Church is structured this way, you know, the papacy, you’ve got one Pope at the top, and the unity of the dogma proceeds from him. And I think that similarly, a nation has to be structured this way, because human society is hierarchical, and people have to be ruled. And I believe that ultimately, there has to be authority for there to be law, for there to be order, for there to be any kind of semblance of coherence in a nation.
[T]he problem is not that there is power, that there is authority. There will always be authority. There has to be authority. The question is, who is going to wield it? And, you know, right-wing people have to do that, which is why I said earlier if Trump became like, you know, the Caesar of America, hypothetically, if he had got in in ’16 and said, ‘You know what, I’m not leaving. And the courts tell me that I have to leave, well, I’ll disobey them,’ and he went full, you know, Andrew Jackson, I would support it. I wouldn’t say, ‘This is authoritarianism. This is in principle wrong.’ I would say, ‘This is the right man for the job. This is a rightful ruler of America.’ And, you know, and I would be OK with that.
The support for authoritarianism isn’t just theoretical either. Fuentes joins many U.S. religious-right leaders in admiring Russian leader Vladimir Putin as well as Hungary’s strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has squelched dissent, eliminated checks and balances, and consolidated power in pursuit of his Christian nationalist vision.
Fuentes finds “Christian autocratic rule” an appealing alternative to liberal democracy, telling Schaffer, “This experiment of overthrowing the kings and overthrowing the gods—it’s been a complete disaster.”
Fuentes, Misogyny and Incel Culture
Fuentes, who frequently expresses his contempt for women and has repeatedly described himself as an incel, focuses on “red-pilling” young men, who he says are his target audience. Incel culture, which fosters misogyny among young men online, has been linked to multiple acts of violence against women.
Fuentes has joked about and cheered on domestic violence. During a Feb. 9 livestream, he said he thought it was “hilarious” when former NFL player Ray Rice beat up his fiancé, even as he called it “over the line.” He added that he supported musician Chris Brown when he assaulted Rihanna. Moments later, he said he is “against hitting women” just as he opposes war and other things that are “sometimes necessary.”
During his interview with Schaffer last December, Fuentes declared that he is “not a fan” of women, whom he considers “not fully rational.” He said he would consider getting married in order to produce a male heir to carry on his legacy. But he didn’t like the idea of living with a “nagging” woman for the rest of his life, adding that the idea was “a little nightmarish to me.”
Fuentes suggested that his preference would be to have women in the U.S. treated as they are in Saudi Arabia or in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Asked how gay people would be treated in an America run according to his wishes, he suggested it would be more like Russia, whose anti-LGBTQ laws have been warmly praised by American religious-right leaders.
Shifting the Right to the Right
Fuentes has explicitly stated that his strategy is to shift the entire right-wing movement further to the right, dragging the center and left in that direction as well. He and other extremists are working to make that happen by insinuating themselves into battles being waged by other camps of right-wing activists, including opposition to vaccine requirements, masks in schools, “critical race theory,” and LGBTQ-affirming policies. Fuentes gloated to Schaffer that TPUSA’s Kirk adopted more strident anti-immigrant positions since groypers publicly criticized Kirk on the issue, while acknowledging that Kirk may also have been following the lead of Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.
In a profile of Fuentes earlier this year, Political Research Associates’ Ben Lorber noted that Fuentes’ groypers “have become a countercultural presence, especially on the nationalist flank of the broader Gen Z Right, leaving their imprint on the culture—and with it, the politics—of a rising generation of conservative leaders.”
While Fuentes is persona non grata among many conservatives—he is banned from attending the Conservative Political Action Conference and Turning Point USA events—the influence of white nationalism can be seen everywhere from Fox News to the floor of Congress. And that was before Fuentes began reaping massive publicity from associating himself with Ye.
Less than two years after Rep. Steve King was stripped of his committee assignments for comments defending white nationalism, Rep. Gosar has received little pushback and no punishment from his colleagues for publicly embracing Fuentes and speaking at his conference. (When Gosar was stripped of his committee assignments late last year, it was for sharing an animated video portraying himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.) Incoming Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy has pledged to fully embrace Greene.
A week after Trump’s dinner with Fuentes, PBS NewsHour asked 57 Republican lawmakers if they would condemn the dinner, noting that GOP leaders had been “overwhelmingly” silent on the topic over the Thanksgiving weekend. Most did not respond, and among those who did, many made general condemnations of antisemitism without criticism Trump directly.
At the beginning of this year, Fuentes bragged on his streaming show that he had raised an “insane” amount of money for his Feb. 25 America First Political Action Conference, adding that people who fund the conference are also contributing to his America First Foundation’s plant to build a new “facility” with a studio.
Fuentes said then that America First would be doing “a lot of campaigning” in the 2022 midterm elections, adding that he had already spoken with “three or four major congressional candidates that we are going to be backing—phone-banking, door-knocking, monetary support, PACs, the works.” A week later, he claimed, “America First has allies in Congress, will be hosting a 1,000-person conference this February, has built its own censorship-proof streaming platform, controls conservative chapters on over 20 campuses and will be deploying hundreds of volunteers to five states this year for the midterms. 2022 is our year. We run this.”
It’s not clear how much of this was just bluster. Fuentes did speak with Joe Kent, the Trump-endorsed candidate who unseated Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Butler in this year’s GOP primary. When Fuentes began bragging about their conversation, Kent publicly distanced himself, but his association with Fuentes remained an issue in his campaign. Kent was defeated in the general election.
In October, when Fuentes was buoyed by visions of a “red wave” that would sweep Republicans into power and set the stage for Trump’s return to the White House after the 2024 elections, Fuentes pledged to spend the next two years raising an “army” of zealous groypers to infiltrate congressional and executive branch staff in preparation to take over the government from within.
An unknown number of groypers may also be following Fuentes’s encouragement to do the same with the Republican Party by running for positions in local party structures—a tactic also promoted by other far-right figures like Steve Bannon. During Fuentes’s Nov. 4 livestream, follower Alex Roncelli sent Fuentes a superchat message so he could brag about being elected as a GOP county chairman in Michigan.
After the far-right’s mostly dismal showing in the midterms, Fuentes fumed that the results were evidence of the need for a right-wing dictatorship to replace democracy. Since being drawn into Ye’s orbit and all-but-declared presidential campaign, Fuentes has stepped away from his daily livestream to make the most of the opportunity to use Ye’s cultural reach to spread his bigotry and extremism. He and Ye have big plans in the works; during the Dec. 1 InfoWars program, Ye told Jones that he and Fuentes are working on a new Constitution for the U.S.
The unwillingness of Trump and so many other Republican officials to disavow Fuentes even after his extremism was brought to light by national media are evidence that Fuentes and the “groypers” in his America First movement have indeed had success in insinuating themselves and their ideology into the Republican Party and broader right-wing movement. And with that newfound influence, they’re eager to bring the U.S. closer to their vision of a hard-right authoritarian government that imposes its vision on Americans and dominates its opponents “without mercy.”
This article was originally published by Right Wing Watch and appears here by permission.
Image by Evan El Amin via Shutterstock
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‘Hairsplitting Quibble’: Former US Attorney Scorches Durham for Focusing on ‘Useful Scapegoat’ While Ignoring Facts
Barb McQuade, the former U.S. Attorney and current professor of law, is taking now-former Special Counsel John Durham to the woodshed for his 306-page report publicly released Monday, the final work product of his failed four-year, multi-million dollar probe into the Dept. of Justice’s decision to investigate Russia’s efforts to attack the 2016 presidential election, and any involvement Donald Trump and his campaign may have had with that enemy foreign power.
Unlike then-Attorney General Bill Barr‘s fraudulent letter allegedly previewing the 2019 Mueller Report, a letter that so grossly mischaracterized that Special Counsel’s findings one federal judge called it “distorted” and “misleading,” Attorney General Merrick Garland offered neither introduction nor pushback, allowing Durham’s report to stand or fall on its own.
And fall it has.
In addition to initial condemnation from legal and political experts, journalists and professors who decimated Durham’s claims when the report became public Monday afternoon (and allegedly first leaked to a far-right wing news outlet), McQuade Tuesday explained in detail some of the duplicitous decision, errors, and omissions Durham made in what from the start was, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has said, “an effort to undermine the Russia investigation.”
In short, the Durham report was designed to be an investigation to prove Donald Trump’s false claims there was a “Russia hoax” and the FBI’s investigation was a “witch hunt.”
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In her 20-point Twitter thread, McQuade notes, “the Durham Report provides fuel for the false claim that the Russia probe was a hoax. Don’t fall for it. While Mueller found no conspiracy, he concluded that Russia worked to help Trump become president.”
“And rather than report Russia’s overtures to FBI, Trump’s campaign was willing to accept the help,” says McQuade, who is also a popular MSNBC legal analyst and the author of the upcoming book, “Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America.”
“Like Barr,” she says, “Durham says Mueller found no conspiracy between Trump and Russia but fails to mention the 2016 Trump Tower meeting to receive dirt on Clinton, sharing of polling data with Russian intel officer Konstantin Kilimnik, and coordinating of messaging with Wikileaks.”
“Durham also ignores Trump’s public statement, ‘Russia, if you’re listening …’ asking them to find Clinton’s missing emails, and the subsequent release of hacked emails hours after the release of the Access Hollywood tape,” she adds.
McQuade actually begins her dissection of Durham’s report with this: “After four years, review of 1 million documents, 490 interviews, his conclusion is that FBI should have opened a preliminary investigation (PI) instead of a full investigation (FI) in 2016.”
Fortunately, McQuade was a U.S. Attorney for seven years, and understands these nuances.
“The only difference between FI and PI is the duration and the authorities that may be used. This is a hairsplitting quibble, and one on which FBI officials routinely disagree,” she explains.
“Durham also minimizes the reasons FBI was alarmed enough to open a FI in 2016 based on information received from Australian diplomats about Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos,” she says.
“According to Aussies, Papadopoulos said, ‘Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs Clinton.'”
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And apparently unlike Durham, McQuade puts events into context.
“Papadopoulos’s statement came right after the DNC hack. FBI was properly concerned about Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election. This was an investigation into RUSSIA,” she declares.
More context from McQuade:
“Trump had other concerning ties to Russians: real estate deals, Miss Universe Pageant, loans from Russian lenders, Trump Tower Moscow project. Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort had lobbied for pro-Russian oligarchs.”
“Trump campaign members also had ties to Russia. Mike Flynn was paid $45,000 by Russia Today in 2015 for a speech he gave at a banquet where he sat next to Putin. He later lied to FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador about sanctions during the transition.”
“Carter Page had been seen meeting with Russian intel officers. It now appears that he was unaware that they were trying to recruit him. Papadopoulos worked to set up a meeting with Putin.”
Others are expressing frustration with the Durham report, including Rachel Cohen, the communications director for U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). Warner was the Vice Chairman (and is now Chairman) of the Senate Intelligence Committee when it “spent 3.5 years reviewing millions of documents and interviewing hundreds of witnesses and concluded the FBI had ample cause for concern in 2016. SSCI [U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] was led by Republicans at the time,” she notes.
Exasperated, she asks, “so we’re just doomed to do this again and again forever until we all die, am i getting that right?”
Pointing to this report, Cohen also rightly points out that the Dept. of Justice Inspector General “also investigated this and found no evidence of political bias in the launch of the initial FBI investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign.”
Meanwhile, McQuade returns to the infamous Steele Dossier, which, despite what many on the right have claimed, the Dossier was not fully debunked or disproved.
“Durham criticizes the FBI for relying on the Steele Dossier for the Carter Page FISA. Steele Dossier was not the basis for opening the investigation, but it makes for a useful scapegoat to blur that fact.”
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It also makes good propaganda.
U.S. Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), a former Assistant U.S. Attorney SDNY under Preet Bharara, Tuesday weighed in on the Steele Dossier aspect of Durham’s report.
“The Steele Dossier was irrelevant to the origination of the Russia investigation and irrelevant to the Mueller Report,” he tweeted. “Yet Durham spent the majority of his ‘report’ on it. Having failed as a prosecutor, Durham morphed into a bad politician in a prosecutor’s clothes.”
But again, the Steele Dossier, while not the basis for opening the investigation into Russia and Trump, did have useful information.
McQuade observes, “some aspects of Steele Dossier were confirmed by Mueller and DNI: Putin favored Trump and was working to influence the election in Trump’s favor and against Clinton. It also contained unconfirmed information that could have seriously compromised Trump as president.”
“Failing to investigate these ties would have been a breach of duty by FBI,” she concludes. “This was an investigation into RUSSIA. Russia was the threat and the focus. Trump was just Russia’s useful idiot.”
‘Circle of Garbage’: Experts Slam Durham ‘Wild Goose Chase’ as Investigation Into DOJ Trump-Russia Probe Ends With ‘Bupkis’
The four-year Trump-era probe examining why the FBI launched an investigation into Donald Trump, his 2016 campaign, and Russia’s efforts to attack the presidential election to help the GOP nominee win concluded Monday with the publication of a 306-page report that “appeared to show little substantial new information,” as The New York Times reports.
Former U.S. Attorney John Durham, once considered a well-regarded prosecutor, was assigned to lead the investigation by then-Attorney General Bill Barr four years ago, almost to the day. In October of 2020, Barr secretly altered Durham’s assignment, appointing him as a Special Counsel just weeks before the presidential election, ensuring the investigation would continue regardless of which party won the White House.
Legal and public policy experts, journalists, and political commentators are mocking Durham and his investigation, with several pointing out that Durham’s conclusions do not match the legal record, including sworn testimony.
“Special counsel John Durham concluded that the FBI should never have launched a full investigation into connections between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, according to a report compiled over three years by the Trump-administration appointee and released on Monday,” CNN reported, pointing to only the time Durham served as a Special Counsel.
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But experts say – and prove – the report obscures the actual facts.
MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, while reporting the breaking news of the release of Durham’s final report, interrupted herself to do some “fact-checking in real time.”
“Today’s report, NBC News notes, ‘accuses the FBI of acting negligently by opening the investigation based on big and insufficient information in a sweeping 300-page report made public Monday. This is likely to loom larger in politics than in law. I’m going to pause right here,” Wallace told viewers. “I’m going to keep reading you NBC’s reporting but I’m going to try to do some real-time fact-checking. Now that finding by Mr. Durham is contradicted by DOJ’s own IG, Mr. Horowitz, in 2019, who found that the investigation was opened was predicated, it was necessary, and that there was no bias.”
“Now, NBC News goes on to report that Durham finds that the FBI made a series of mistakes, including what I just talked about, the decision to open the Trump-Russia probe not being justified. Now the end of Donald Trump and Bill Barr’s term, their quest to investigate the Justice Department is where we begin today with these clashing narratives right the Durham report which contradicts another inspector general report already in the public sphere and on the record.”
Nicolle Wallace fact-checks the Durham report in real-time, “Now that finding by Mr. Durham is contradicted by DOJ’s own I.G. Mr. Horowitz in 2019 who found that investigation was opened, was predicated, it was necessary and then there was no bias.” pic.twitter.com/KDjDNrudWp
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) May 15, 2023
In fact, attorney and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa observed, “I’ll be interested to see how Durham argues that there was no predication in the Russia probe when the DOJ’s OIG [Office of the Inspector General] found the opposite AND a Republican-led Senate Intel Committee found that Trump’s campaign manager was, in fact, in frequent contact with a Russian intel officer,” she wrote. “As many have noted, even before Durham’s report was released Monday, that FBI investigation Durham claimed had no basis of being opened, resulted in dozens of criminal prosecutions.
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Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti also takes Durham to task. He writes, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller “rightfully resisted using the term ‘collusion,’ which has no legal meaning in this context, instead focusing on conspiracy law. Durham’s report comes out and says there is “no actual evidence of collusion,” a media soundbite, not a legal conclusion. What a contrast,” he notes.
“The Trump-Russia investigation produced 37 indictments and several other outside criminal referrals. People were convicted at trial. People pleaded guilty. Hostile foreign government actors faced legal and diplomatic sanctions,” notes Media Matter’s Craig Harrington. “All of this was real!”
Indeed, in December of 2019, Vox reported, “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team indicted or got guilty pleas from 34 people and three companies during their lengthy investigation.”
“That group is composed of six former Trump advisers, 26 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer. Seven of these people (including five of the six former Trump advisers) have pleaded guilty.”
That’s quite an accomplishment for an investigation John Durham claims should never have even been opened.
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Saying, “Point me to the confirmation bias here?” former FBI Counterintelligence Deputy Assistant Director Pete Strzok, who led the Bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, points out:
Paul Manafort – guilty
Rick Gates – guilty
Mike Flynn – guilty
George Papadopouolos – guilty
Roger Stone – guilty
Michael Cohen – guilty
Konstantin Kilimnik – wanted, $250k reward
Michael Sussman – not guilty
Igor Danchenko – not guilty
(above are direct quotes from Strzok)
Sussman and Danchenko were Durham’s, and they were found not guilty. The rest were the FBI’s.
Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign investigative correspondent Greg Miller of The Washington Post: “Durham’s report faults FBI for rushing to investigate candidate who urged Russia to hack opponent, was backed by Russian interference op, welcomed Russian offer of ‘dirt’, secretly pursued Moscow real estate deal, shared classified into w/Russian diplos…”
Others also slammed Durham.
“Durham’s mandate was to ‘investigate whether any… person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence, or law-enforcement activities directed at the 2016 presidential campaigns.’ Failing, he wrote a 300-page take,” says Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz, adding: “Basically he took Hannity monologues and converted them into two failed prosecutions, a guilty plea for someone who got probation, and a lengthy report that provides fodder for more Hannity segments. Circle of garbage.”
Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler, who specializes in national security and civil rights, says, “Durham took well over twice as long as Mueller and found, literally, bupkis.”
The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols, a retired U.S. Naval War College professor and Russia expert, called Durham’s four-year probe a “wild goose chase.”
‘One of the Worst Hours I’ve Ever Seen’: Critics Explode at CNN for ‘Spectacle of Lies’ Trump ‘Spewed’ for His ‘MAGA Zombies’
From the moment CNN announced it would host a “presidential town hall” that would star ex-president Donald Trump, many Americans voiced their outrage, expecting it to be a disaster.
Little did they know just how huge a disaster it would be – for both CNN and Donald Trump.
Throughout Wednesday night, Trump on stage, basking in audience applause, told lie after lie after lie to what some say was an ill-equipped anchor, Kaitlan Collins, who had no back up other than her earpiece. No video clips, no audio clips, just her microphone. Not only did she have to try, unsuccessfully, to keep the ex-president on track and fact-check him in real time, she was forced to contend with an audience so devoted to Trump they even laughed and applauded when he verbally attacked E. Jean Carroll, the journalist who won her sexual assault and defamation civil court case just one day earlier.
CNN, announcing the event on May 1, claimed the audience would be comprised of “New Hampshire Republicans and undeclared voters,” but on its own website Thursday morning CNN fully admitted it actually was a “mostly Trump-loyal audience.”
“Where are the never Trump Republicans? Where are the skeptical independents? This is not even a balanced audience of Republicans. It is gathering of MAGA zombies,” observed foreign policy, national security and political affairs analyst and commentator David Rothkopf.
In other words, this was not an event designed to help undecided voters make up their minds, 18 months before Election Day. This was an event designed to help CNN’s ratings and designed to promote Donald Trump to his already-decided fans.
It certainly seems to have backfired on CNN and Trump.
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“I’m no media expert,” tweeted conservative attorney George Conway, “but it seems to me that interviewing a narcissistic psychopath in front of a packed house of his flying monkeys is not the best format for television journalism.”
As expected, critics – which include casual observers, political experts, journalists including media reporters, university professors, and even CNN insiders who spoke with news outlets in real time and after the event – all excoriated CNN, including its chairman and CEO, Chris Licht.
Halfway through the 70-minute event, at 8:37 PM ET, The Daily Beast’s senior media reporter Justin Baragona tweeted, “Immediate reaction from a CNN on-air personality to me just now on this Trump town hall: ‘It is so bad. I was cautiously optimistic despite the criticism. It is awful. It’s a Trump infomercial. We’re going to get crushed.'”
Nearly one hour later, Baragona added, “Another CNN staffer reacts following the end of the Trump town hall: ‘One of the worst hours I’ve ever seen on our air.'”
Wednesday night Rolling Stone also reported what CNN employees were saying: “Network insiders who spoke to Rolling Stone were distraught that the former president had free rein to ‘spew lies’ during the ill-advised town hall.”
“One CNN insider who spoke to Rolling Stone called the evening ‘appalling,’ lamenting that the network gave Trump “a huge platform to spew his lies.”
Rolling Stone added, “the town hall was ‘a fucking disgrace,’ in the words of another network insider. ‘1000 percent a mistake [to host Trump]. No one [at CNN] is happy.'”
Overnight, CNN’s own Oliver Darcy in his “Reliable Sources” CNN newsletter slammed his bosses: “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.” And he admits, “CNN and new network boss Chris Licht are facing a fury of criticism — both internally and externally over the event.”
“Trump frequently ignored or spoke over Collins throughout the evening as he unleashed a firehose of disinformation upon the country, which a sizable swath of the GOP continues to believe,” Darcy wrote. “A professional lie machine, Trump fired off falsehoods at a rapid clip while using his bluster to overwhelm Collins, stealing command of the stage at some points of the town hall.”
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Trump lied about the outcome of the 2020 election, lied about fraud, lied about comments he’s made, lied about classified documents, and, as Darcy noted, “mocked E. Jean Carroll’s allegations of sexual assault, which a jury found him liable for on Tuesday.”
Actor and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted, “Only in America can you be found liable for sexually abusing a woman by a jury of your peers and then be applauded on CNN the very next day—as the GOP Presidential candidate front-runner.”
“And CNN aired it all,” Darcy added, effectively lambasting his bosses. “On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump’s unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage. And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement to his shameful antics.”
That does not bode well for Kaitlan Collins, the 31-year old “CNN This Morning” co-host who recently ended her assignment as CNN’s chief White House correspondent. Barely hours before the CNN/Trump town hall, Puck and later Variety reported Collins was expected to be awarded CNN’s coveted 9 PM slot to anchor.
Collins tried to push back against Trump, but it was no contest. While she had some rehearsed responses to his expected lies, apparently no one at CNN told Collins she had the authority to shut the show down if necessary – which she should have but likely did not. Instead, she tried to use facts to control Trump.
Facts are of little consequence to the twice-impeached ex-president who is under numerous federal and state investigations. Unsurprisingly, at one point he unleashed his usual misogynistic attack, calling Collins a “nasty person.”
“Nasty Person” quickly trended on Twitter.
How bad was Collins?
How did she handle Donald Trump lying about abortion claiming Democrats want to abort fetuses at nine months, and kill babies after they are born? (A repeatedly false claim Trump has made that CNN previously fact-checked in 2019.)
Rather than push back, Collins tried to change the topic.
Kaitlan Collins lets Trump slide when he lies about Democrats supporting the murder of born babies. Trump then refuses to answer a question about if he would sign a federal abortion ban, but indicates he’s open to it. pic.twitter.com/0e8B6VR4Z8
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2023
Early in the evening Collins did try to correct Trump’s lies, as she did when he falsely claimed that the 2020 election was “rigged.”
But he ignored her questions and just kept going.
Within minutes, Trump spews election denialism. Kaitlan Collins offers pushback. Trump completely ignores her and barrels right back into election denialism. Congrats to CNN on giving this guy a platform to promote his lies on national TV.pic.twitter.com/yEqcNtZzWw
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) May 11, 2023
Who is Kaitlan Collins?
Several critics Wednesday evening reminded Twitter users that Collins got her start in journalism at Tucker Carlson’s far-right website, The Daily Caller. She’s “famous” for writing a 2015 article rating the “hotness” of several Syrian refugees.
the great american journalism kaitlan collins did at the daily caller before cnn had her hosting the town hall tonight https://t.co/FLd0xWMBA1 pic.twitter.com/hkhCObFUk7
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) May 11, 2023
Media Matters’ Craig Harrington, just 15 minutes into the town hall, observed, “Kaitlan Collins just let Trump call insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt a ‘patriot’ and call the police officer who defended the Capitol a ‘thug.’ This is what happens when you play with Trump.”
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Meanwhile, others at CNN were also outraged.
Rolling Stone also quoted former Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone, a CNN contributor who wrote in an op-ed for the magazine: “Putting him onstage, having him answer questions like a normal candidate who didn’t get people killed in the process of trying to end the democracy he’s attempting to once again run, normalizes what Trump did.”
“It sends a message that attempting a coup is just part of the process; that accepting election results is a choice; and that there are no consequences, in the media or in politics or anywhere else, for rejecting them,” Fanone added.
Outside of CNN, others were equally critical and outraged.
Republican turned independent turned Democrat Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for the 2004 Bush–Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, also blasted CNN.
“Ok, I watched as much as I could,” he tweeted at 8:58 PM Wednesday night, about 12 minutes before the event ended. “CNN was completely unprepared to hold Trump accountable. CNN has done a complete disservice to our democracy. I withheld judgment on this until I saw it. CNN you failed journalism and our country.”
But NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, one of the best critics of the media, responded to Dowd, writing: “The failure was earlier. In the delusion that by bringing him into your space, you could force him into your world: where there are such things as facts, where verification matters, and the public record speaks. It was a failure to accept how far gone this is, though you knew.”
Just how bad and how dangerous for America and our democracy was CNN’s Trump town hall?
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, praising CNN’s Oliver Darcy’s take on the horrific evening wrote, “It is excellent and brave on
[Darvcy’s] part but debating how successfully Trump was fact checked misses the whole point about his disinformation. He isn’t arguing over what reality is. He’s displaying an assertion of the power to dictate an alternative version of it.”
As Darcy wrote, “And CNN aired it all.”
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