OPINION
02/02/2018 12:54 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2018

Fox News Is Driving Us Toward A Constitutional Crisis

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Fox News and Sean Hannity have, through their own brand of propaganda, successfully manipulated the president of the United States into taking action that the FBI has “grave concerns” about and that his own Justice Department described as “extraordinarily reckless.”

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee took an unprecedented vote this week to declassify a memo prepared by Republican staff of Chairman Devin Nunes that accuses the DOJ and FBI of abusing their authority to obtain a surveillance order from the FISA court. On Friday, Trump chose to release the document.

The Daily Beast reported that “Trump has been in regular contact with Hannity over the phone in recent weeks, as the Fox News prime-time star and Trump ally has encouraged the prompt release” of the memo.

“Hannity’s persistent advocacy reinforced Trump’s already growing determination to get that memo into the public realm,” the outlet said.

The Washington Post reported that Trump “did not actually see the memo ... until Wednesday afternoon.” 

The president has now willfully ignored the director of the FBI (who he appointed) and his own deputy attorney general in favor of Hannity. Remember that the next time Trump and Republicans talk about being the political party that will restore law and order in America.

It’s worth noting that transcripts of the Intelligence Committee’s meeting revealed that when asked directly by one of his colleagues if “staff members that worked for the majority had any consultation, communication at all with the White House,” Nunes dodged the question, saying, “The chair is not going to entertain” that question.

There is also zero chance that Nunes would proceed with such a high-stakes maneuver without support, consultation and guidance from the White House.

I spent four years working as a senior adviser for a congressional investigative committee, and I can tell you that there is zero chance the chairman’s staff would proceed with something this controversial, volatile and unprecedented unless they had explicit direction from the chairman. In Congress and at the committee level, the staff is a direct extension of the chairman. There is also zero chance that Nunes would proceed with such a high-stakes maneuver without support, consultation and guidance from the White House.

It raises the question: Why was the White House so involved in orchestrating the release of this memo?

The answer lies in Trump’s No. 1 resource for intelligence: Fox News and his new consigliere, Sean Hannity.

Conservative TV and radio personality Sean Hannity said the Nunes memo would expose a massive political scandal.
Mike Theiler / Reuters
Conservative TV and radio personality Sean Hannity said the Nunes memo would expose a massive political scandal.

On Monday night, the Fox News host declared the Nunes memo would expose “the biggest political scandal in American history” that “makes Watergate look like stealing a Snickers bar from a drugstore.”

“We’re talking about potential crimes,” he said. “We’re talking about people being charged, going to jail. ... It’s a scary night.”

Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro piled on, saying to Hannity that then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “needs to be taken out in cuffs.”

The right-wing hype machine has relentlessly stoked Trump’s enthusiasm to sign off on the release of this memo. The president seemed to take their hyperbolic descriptions of the Nunes memo at face value, and is portraying its release as the silver bullet that ends the Mueller investigation. 

It’s obvious that Trump sees the Nunes memo as a means to discredit Mueller and remove Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But in many ways, Trump’s embrace of the memo telegraphs how desperate he is to undermine Mueller.

These are not the actions of an innocent man.

Ironically, Fox News may have done Trump the bigger disservice by overstating the contents and impact of the Nunes memo. Anything short of the “biggest political scandal in American history” was going to be a huge letdown. They overplayed their hand and set an impossible standard to meet. Their irresponsible and sensational rhetoric has given Trump completely unrealistic expectations about the memo and how he can use it to attack Mueller.

With the memo now public, Trump has officially declared war on his own Justice Department and the FBI. He has laid the groundwork for a full-scale constitutional crisis that threatens to destroy the very fabric of our democracy.

CNN’s Brian Stelter observed Thursday night that Hannity was already trying to move the goalposts and redefine success by saying the memo is just the “tip of the iceberg” and represents just “10 to 15 percent of info that will be coming out in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

The Nunes memo is a Hail Mary pass. A desperate, last-ditch effort by Trump and his Fox News enablers to stop the Mueller investigation before it goes any further and inflicts any more damage.

With the memo now public, Trump has officially declared war on his own Justice Department and the FBI. He has laid the groundwork for a full-scale constitutional crisis that threatens to destroy the very fabric of our democracy. He is pushing the boundaries of executive authority in a way that the framers would have found distressing and unfathomable. Most concerning of all, he is doing all of this at the behest of Hannity and Fox News.

I used to think that Fox was following Trump’s lead. Now, it appears as if Trump is following Fox and Hannity’s lead ― and in the process, effectively surrendering the powers of the presidency to his own propagandists.

Kurt Bardella is a columnist for HuffPost, USA Today and NBC THINK. He is a former spokesperson for the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee and Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella

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