MEDIA
03/28/2017 07:37 pm ET

Trump Really Wants To Deflect Attention From His Russia Scandal

The president hyped a Fox News segment featuring a guest tied to White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and top campaign backers.
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

President Donald Trump urged his 27 million Twitter followers on Tuesday morning to immediately tune into Fox News.

“Watch @foxandfriends now on Podesta and Russia!” the president tweeted at 7:16 a.m.

A minute later, “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy introduced Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute and author of the book Clinton Cash. Schweizer discussed how former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta had served on the board of Massachusetts-based energy company Joule Unlimited, which several years ago received a $35 million investment from Kremlin-backed fund Rusnano. 

It was Schweizer’s organization that reported in July 2016 on Podesta’s past ties to Joule, though the business arrangement was framed as a major revelation in the four-minute “Fox & Friends” segment, complete with on-screen graphics like “Kremlin Connection,” “Putin To Podesta,” and “Hidden Assets.” And the report questioned whether Podesta broke the law in failing to disclose owning stock in the company when joining the Obama White House in early 2014.

But the Fox News piece didn’t share with viewers Schweizer’s long-running ties to Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and two top donors, Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

In 2012, Schweizer and Bannon co-founded the Government Accountability Institute, and the Mercer family donated millions of dollars to it. Rebekah Mercer is now chairwoman of the self-described nonpartisan investigative organization.

The Fox News segment also failed to mention that Schweizer is now senior editor at-large at Breitbart News, the right-wing, nationalist site previously led by Bannon and part-owned by the Mercer family. Bannon and Schweizer co-wrote a Breitbart piece in August on the Podesta’s ties to Joule.

In addition, Bannon and Rebekah Mercer co-produced the 2016 film version of Schweizer’s Clinton Cash book. 

President Trump urged Twitter follows to tune into Fox News segment. 
Fox News
President Trump urged Twitter follows to tune into Fox News segment. 

Such disclosures, however, may have detracted from the report on “Fox & Friends,” a staple of Trump’s media diet. And Trump may have hyped the segment as a way to deflect attention from ongoing investigations into suspected links between several of the president’s associates and the Russian government. 

The U.S. intelligence community concluded earlier this year that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election by hacking the Democratic National Committee and swiping emails from Podesta’s inbox. National security adviser Michael Flynn resigned last month after it was revealed he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. On Monday, Trump’s top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, agreed to testify before Senate investigators.

But unlike the emerging details about key figures in Trump’s campaign and administration, the story the president sought to push on Podesta’s so-called “Kremlin connection” is one he and others have tried to spread since the 2016 election.

Schweizer and Bannon co-wrote a Breitbart News story on Aug. 1 off the Government Accountability Institute report, headlined: “Report: Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Mgr John Podesta Sat on Board of Company that Bagged $35 Million from Putin-Connected Russian Govt Fund.”

Bannon, then executive chairman of Breitbart News, joined the Trump campaign a couple weeks later as chief executive. The Trump campaign also highlighted Podesta’s role on Joule’s board. In October, Trump tweeted a campaign press release on “Clinton’s close ties to Putin,” which cited the Breitbart piece written by Schweizer and Bannon. 

That month, the national media began extensively covering Podesta’s stolen emails as WikiLeaks dripped them out daily. The Washington bureau for the McClatchy newspaper chain reported how emails related to Joule in the WikiLeaks cache shed light on Podesta’s “indirect ties to Russia.” McClatchy also reported that Podesta moved his Joule shares into a holding company before joining the Obama administration.

As the Russia story continues to ensnare the Trump administration, Breitbart News revisited its August story this month to suggest a double standard in the media, which it claimed has ignored “Clinton-Russia Bombshells.”

Last week, The Daily Caller, a conservative outlet co-founded by current Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson, published an “exclusive” report headlined: “Podesta was board member of firms linked to Russian investors.” The site next reported Sunday that Podesta “may have violated federal law” by failing to disclose shares of stock when joining the Obama administration.

Despite the renewed attention in the conservative media on the Joule connection, The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins wrote Tuesday that Podesta appears not to have violated any law because he wasn’t legally obligated to fill out the part of the disclosure form that The Daily Caller seized upon. 

“Basically, what’s ‘exclusive’ in this story is wrong, and what’s wrong with Podesta’s life in the revolving door was reported months ago in much better detail,” Linkins wrote, referring to McClatchy’s October article.

Nevertheless, Trump seems intent to drive attention to the “Podesta Russian Company,” as he described it in a Monday night tweet, while asserting that the “Trump Russia story is a hoax.”

“Fox & Friends” cited Trump’s tweet at the start of Tuesday’s show, and suggested ― like Trump’s campaign and Breitbart News ― that the news media isn’t giving sufficient coverage to links between members of Clinton’s circle and Russia. 

Trump tweeted his recommendation to tune in just as Schweizer was to appear on air

Tuesday afternoon, Trump returned to Twitter to again hype Fox News and the Podesta story.

Trump also urged his Twitter followers on Saturday to watch “Justice,” a prime-time Fox News program hosted by Jeanine Pirro. Pirro began her show by calling for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to resign from his position following the failure to pass a Republican health care bill.

Pirro echoed leading influential pro-Trump voices in the media who blame Ryan for the legislative mess, while lauding the president for handling the legislative setback “with dignity.”  

Fox News host Sean Hannity appears in the White House briefing room with Trump press secretary Sean Spicer. 
NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images
Fox News host Sean Hannity appears in the White House briefing room with Trump press secretary Sean Spicer. 

Since becoming president, Trump has given most of his sit-down TV interviews with Fox News, the right-leaning network to which he also retreated during the final months of the 2016 campaign. 

The president has praised Fox News as “fair,” while regularly bashing competitors as “fake news.” And such warm feelings apparently run in the family.

On Tuesday morning, Eric Trump heaped praise upon Trump’s biggest prime-time booster during a “Fox & Friends” interview that preceded the Podesta segment. 

“There is no better patriot in the world than Sean Hannity,” the younger Trump said. “He’s just a great, great man.”

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