Fox hosts spin IG report that debunks their own conspiracies about the Russia probe: “We were right"

Though the report soundly undercut the core of the network's defense of Trump, its hosts declared victory, anyway

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 10, 2019 9:47AM (EST)

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster/Fox News)
Donald Trump (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster/Fox News)

Fox News hosts went into spin mode after the release of the Justice Department inspector general report they had hyped for years disproved many right-wing talking points about the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

The 432-page report released by Inspector General Michael Horowitz criticized the FBI for mishandling surveillance applications for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page but refuted President Donald Trump’s and his defenders’ repeated allegations that the FBI had “spied” on his 2016 campaign and the investigation was launched out of officials’ bias against then-candidate Trump.

Despite the report soundly undercutting the core of Fox News’ defense of the president, the network’s hosts declared victory anyway on Monday.

"Everything we have been reporting for years was dead on accurate," declared host Sean Hannity. "We were right every step of the way."

Hannity seized on the statement issued by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was tasked by Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of the Russia probe, criticizing the inspector general’s report and its findings on Monday.

"Clearly, he is signaling they have found evidence of criminal conspiracy with the intent needed legally to warrant a prosecution," Hannity said, despite no evidence of that in Horowitz’s nearly two-year probe.

“Premeditated fraud perpetrated repeatedly on the FISA court with all the unverifiable lies from Hillary Clinton's bought and paid for dirty Russian dossier,” Hannity claimed. “Nothing but outright lies, corruption, abuse of power, a massive political bias, omission on multiple occasions of exculpatory evidence.”

Hannity warned that the “deep state” should “understand they are all in deep legal jeopardy,” echoing the QAnon conspiracy theory.

That would be news to former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI counsel James Baker, who all declared themselves vindicated by the IG report.

"I think the president should apologize to us,” Baker told CNN. “The conclusions are quite clear that the president's statements over these past several years were all wrong — that there was no hoax, there was no conspiracy to overthrow anybody, there was no sedition, there was no treason, there was no evidence of any of that."

Other Fox News hosts who slammed the IG report accurately noting that it refuted allegations of bias behind the FBI probe but suggested that Durham’s report would vindicate them.

"How can you determine there was no political bias and the FBI is handling the Russia probe?" host Laura Ingraham asked. "It defies not just common sense but the evidence, as Horowitz himself developed. Nevertheless, Horowitz gave Democrats the talking point they craved."

But Ingraham insisted that “Democrats should not breathe a sigh of relief tonight.”

"The bottom line is that the forthcoming Durham report, which the attorney general has been assisting him on, is far more comprehensive in scope," Ingraham said. "We're gonna learn, I think, a lot more in the coming months. And despite the Democrat talking points and the facile coverage today, this IG report has provided us with a partial view of the corruption at the FBI and the politicization of the 'Deep State.’”

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed that the IG report showed the “deep state’s awesome control” of the government.

“After 621 days investigating some of the clearest abuses of power by the Obama-era intelligence agency, the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz declared he was unable to find any political bias behind the surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign,” Dobbs complained. “All this is more evidence of the ‘radical Dimms’ and the Deep State’s awesome control of our permanent bureaucracy of our federal government.”

“We have an inspector general who should be a countervailing influence within the Justice Department and the FBI,” he added. “Who should be bringing accountability to this corrupt cabal of agents and officials of both the FBI and the Justice Department. Instead, what we have got here, in 434 pages without exception, is a whitewash.”

Fox News host Chris Wallace had a very different take after the report was released.

Wallace said on the network that he viewed the report as a “reporter” and not a partisan pundit.

“Remember, this comes against the backdrop of Donald Trump talking about the investigation of him in 2016 as a political hit job. At one point, he talked about President Obama ordering the wiretapping of Trump Tower,” Wallace said. “In one of these hearings, Attorney General Bill Barr talked about the FBI spying on the Trump campaign and later said spying is not a pejorative word. I view it is a perfectly legitimate word and usually people talk about surveillance — not spying— which would seem to have a negative connotation.”

But the IG report, Wallace said, “didn’t find the things that Bill Barr and Donald Trump alleged.”

“So it seems to me that the headline here is that he basically found that the FBI conducted the investigations on the warrant on a proper legal basis,” he said. “There was some misconduct and allegations by individual people but not by any of the higher-ups.”

Former Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., slammed the other Fox hosts’ spin, declaring that the network owed the American public an apology for pushing a false narrative for years.

“What they’re doing over there at Fox is they’re cherry-picking those pieces of the report that bolster or support their narrative — it’s as simple as that,” Dent told CNN. “On the big question about the origin of the probes, there was no political bias. It was open in a fair manner. And no deep state conspiracy. No coup d’etat. And there you have the president and his supporters probably owe the rest of us an apology for spreading that nonsense.”

Trump, like Hannity, claimed that the report actually vindicated him and declared it was “far worse than what I ever thought possible.”

“This was an attempted overthrow, and a lot of people were in on it. And they got caught,” he claimed. “It’s a disgrace what’s happened with the things that were done to our country.”

But FBI Director Chris Wray disagreed with the president’s assessment.

“I think it's important that the Inspector General found that in this particular instance the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization,” Wray told ABC News.

Trump lashed out at Wray on Tuesday morning.

“I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”

Trump and Hannity’s insistence that the report proved them right did not stop frequent Trump and Fox News targets from celebrating the report that disproved their nonstop attacks.

“The allegation of a criminal conspiracy was nonsense. There was no illegal wiretapping. There were no informants inserted into the campaign. There was no 'spying' on the Trump campaign,” former FBI Director James Comey wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “Although it took two years, the truth is finally out.”

This “report confirms what everyone who worked with Pete Stzok already knew. In 25 years of protecting our country, his personal opinions never impacted his work as an official of the FBI,” an attorney for Strzok said in a statement to Axios. “Those who recklessly deny this truth for political gain do a grave disservice."

Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who recently opened up about the relentless attacks she has faced from the president and his supporters, also declared vindication on Twitter.

“The sum total of findings by IG Horowitz that my personal opinions had any bearing on the course of either the Clinton or Russia investigations?” she tweeted. “Zero and Zero. Cool, cool.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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