President Donald Trump’s claim that he’d been wiretapped by his predecessor, Barack Obama, during the presidential campaign may not have originated with Breitbart, one of the far-right sites we follow so you don’t have to, but the site is certainly stirring up its audience with the allegations — which are questionable at best.
Other news in this week’s review of the unhinged wing of the right wing: attempts to justify Jeff Sessions’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, and the usual dose of homophobia.
An article published on Breitbart Friday cited radio host Mark Levin, who has an ideology similar to the site’s, as outlining the “known steps taken by President Barack Obama’s administration in its last months to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and, later, his new administration.”
On his show the previous night, “Levin called Obama’s effort ‘police state’ tactics, and suggested that Obama’s actions, rather than conspiracy theories about alleged Russian interference in the presidential election to help Trump, should be the target of congressional investigation,” Breitbart senior editor at large Joel B. Pollak wrote.
The article was circulated among White House staff, The Washington Post reports, adding that “Breitbart is a right-leaning news organization that is a rather unreliable source of information. Often the material that is published is derivative and twisted in misleading ways.”
A White House spokesman told the Post’s Fact Checker column that Trump didn’t rely on the Breitbart report but instead on articles “from BBC, Heat Street, New York Times, Fox News, among others.” But it turns out they don’t substantiate Trump’s inflammatory claim.
The Breitbart report linked to Heat Street, another right-leaning source, to assert that the Obama administration last June sought permission from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court “to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several advisers.” That request was denied, according to Breitbart and Heat Street, but a narrower request placed in October, “focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks,” was approved.
But after reviewing Heat Street and the more reliable sources, the Post found, “Only one article, with British roots, reported that a FISA court order was granted in October to examine possible activity between two Russian banks and a computer server in the Trump Tower. This claim has not been confirmed by U.S. news organizations. Moreover, no article says that Obama requested the order or that it resulted in the tapping of Trump’s phone lines. The server, in fact, may not have even been in Trump Tower.”
“Moreover, the articles do not support the White House’s claim that these were ‘potentially politically motivated investigations’ led by Obama,” the Post continues. “The articles all suggest that the FISA requests — if they happened — were done by the intelligence agencies and the FBI.” (The American Civil Liberties Union has an explanation here of how FISA courts work.)
Also, Obama’s national intelligence director, James Clapper, has denied there were politically motivated investigations, as has a spokesman for the former president. And FBI director James Comey, certainly no Democratic partisan, has asked the Department of Justice to publicly repudiate Trump’s allegation.
No matter — Breitbart is still trumpeting the Trump claim, which it’s calling “DeepStateGate.” The allegation “is plausible and consistent with the behavior of the Obama administration over many years,” John Hayward wrote on the site Sunday. “That doesn’t mean it’s automatically true, but it should be investigated, every bit as thoroughly as Russian activity in the 2016 election cycle. Trump’s weekend tweets may have finally put an end to speculative reporting, strategic leaking, and innuendo. Perhaps the only way to end that game was for Trump to deal himself in.”
Some of what the far-right sites consider “speculative reporting” and “innuendo” has to do with Jeff Sessions’s meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year. Sessions, a veteran and ultraconservative U.S. senator as well as an early Trump supporter, was going through confirmation hearings before the Senate to become attorney general and said he had no communications with Russian officials during the campaign. Sen. Al Franken had queried him about this, in the context of allegations that Russia’s government had been in close communication with Trump’s campaign and made efforts to help him get elected.
Sessions wasn’t truthful with his fellow senators — he had indeed met with Kislyak twice. And he was under oath. (Some of you may remember when President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about a sexual affair.) This has led some Democrats to call for Sessions to resign as attorney general, and even many Republicans urged him to recuse himself from investigations of Russian interference in the election; he did agree to the latter.
But hold on, say right-wing media types — lots of Democrats have met with the Russian ambassador, and even with President Vladimir Putin! Townhall, for instance, reported approvingly on Trump’s tweet calling Sen. Chuck Schumer, now the chamber’s top Democrat, a hypocrite because he shared doughnuts and coffee with Putin in 2003. Schumer, by the way, responded with tweets of his own — and some important facts.
And for the record, they were Krispy Kreme donuts.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 3, 2017
What the cry of hypocrisy is missing is context. Members of Congress have many legitimate reasons for meeting with leaders of foreign governments. “Experts said the problem is not so much that Sessions met with the ambassador but rather that he was less than transparent about it during his Senate confirmation hearings,” reports fact-checking site PolitiFact, which interviewed people from across the political spectrum. “Even if it’s ultimately shown that he didn’t intentionally mislead the committee, they said, he didn’t make enough of an effort to meet the standard of full disclosure.”
Sessions is now saying he didn’t actually lie because he understood the question to be about him meeting with Kislyak as a Trump campaign surrogate, whereas the meetings were part of his work on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Whether this floats or not remains to be seen.
And hey, it wouldn’t be a week with the bat-crazy right without some big-time homophobia. Michael Brown, who’s published on Townhall and World Net Daily, among others, used a Huffington Post column written by a gay man, Michael Hobbes, as an excuse to say if gay people want to be happy, well, they should just stop being gay.
Hobbes, in a piece titled “The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness,” reported that many gay men report having a “feeling of emptiness” despite gains in societal acceptance, including marriage equality. He attributed this to the fact that even with this progress, LGBT people are still marginalized, and being a member of a marginalized group is stressful.
Brown wasn’t buying that. “Could it be that, generally speaking, there’s something intrinsically unfulfilling about homosexual relationships?” he wrote. “Could it be that, by divine intent, ultimate relational fulfillment for human beings can be found only in heterosexual marriage?” He based his argument in part on “testimonies from ex-gays, who have spoken to me about the qualitative differences between their old, homosexual relationships and their current heterosexual marriage.”
“Two men or two women cannot possibly experience the fullness found in a healthy male-female relationship,” he went on. “It simply the way God made us, and it makes perfect sense.” Obviously, many happy same-sex couples would beg to differ. And LGBT people who believe in God would argue that God made them just as they are.
Then there are the homophobic, transphobic Benham brothers, Jason and David. In a Sunday column published on WND, they made the tired assertion that equal rights for LGBT people = threat to religious freedom. But in a twist, albeit a not really surprising one, they said LGBT advances are punishment for America’s sin of allowing legal abortion.
“The cities across America where abortion clinics are ripping apart children, limb from limb, are the same ones now enacting ‘SOGI’ (sexual orientation and gender identity) laws that target religious liberty,” they wrote. “These are ‘laws through which we cannot live’ because these laws are based on subjective standards for people’s comfort, which is bad law; rather than objective standards for people’s safety, which is good law.”
It’s not exactly clear if they mean this is coming directly from God, but they did say the acceptance of something they consider immoral happened “because we have rejected God and shed innocent blood.” The solution, according to the brothers, “is to turn back to the God who made us great.”
Anyway, these beliefs are all in the family for the brothers, who became famous as real estate entrepreneurs. They are the sons of Philip “Flip” Benham, a major antichoice and anti-LGBT activist. They and their father, all North Carolina-based, were big opponents of the pro-LGBT Charlotte ordinance that led the state to enact the infamous House Bill 2.
We’ll be back next week with more analysis of these sites we read so you don’t have to.