Trump Supporters Are Being Set Up to Dismiss His Ties to Russia

If you avoid right wing media, you might not be aware of the story that has them all galvanized right now, a remake of the old one about how the Russians bribed the Clintons to sell off 20 percent of America’s uranium. It’s the lie Peter Schweitzer tried to sell in his book, Clinton Cash, which has been repeatedly fact-checked since he and Bannon conned the New York Times into buying it in 2015.

The reason this whole nonsense has been resurrected is because a reporter named John Solomon has been writing about it at The Hill almost daily for the last week. To understand what’s up, it is helpful to know a little bit about his background. From 1987 until 2006 Solomon worked as a reporter for the Associated Press. Here is how Josh Marshall summarized his reputation among fellow journalists.

He had a well-earned reputation as the easiest mark in the business for GOP oppo research hits. It was actually a kind of running gag among Republican campaign operatives. No one will run with a story you’re trying to float? Bring it to John Solomon.

Since then, Solomon worked mostly for the conservative Washington Times before going to Circa News.

You may remember that Circa was a startup with an ingenious but ultimately flawed or perhaps premature concept that debuted to much fanfare but ultimately shuttered. The URL and social media feeds of Circa were purchased by Sinclair Broadcasting, a hyper-right-wing media conglomerate, which is now buying up properties to bring its style of post-Fox News propaganda television nationwide. Sinclair put Solomon in charge of Circa and relaunched it as a Buzzfeed for right wing propaganda focused on millennials.

His position at The Hill started this past summer.

There are a couple of stories prior to this one that Solomon is known for. Back in 2006, while working for AP, he attempted to smear Harry Reid by suggesting he had ties to Jack Abramhoff. In doing so, he wrote about contacts between the two but failed to mention that the former majority leader voted against the bills Abramhoff was pushing.

After his arrival at The Hill, Solomon was able to weaponize a story about how James Comey’s memos documenting his conversations with Trump contained classified information. That one made the rounds among right wing news sites. To demonstrate how that story was completely debunked, even Fox News issued a retraction. Even so, Solomon maintains a consistent presence on that network.

Solomon is one of Sean Hannity’s main sources for pushback against accusations of the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials. Solomon has appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News television program “four times in June and four in May,” according to Nieman Lab. Hannity frequently cites Solomon’s reports to tamp down accusations of the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election or the administration’s general improper behavior. On May 9, Hannity boosted one of Solomon’s reports to distract from fired national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials and instead hyped Trump’s claims that someone in former President Barack Obama’s administration unlawfully unmasked Flynn.

That tells you a bit about the guy who is trying to sell these stories. Right wingers suggest that they have credibility because they are being published at The Hill, which is being described as “a distributor of leftwing agitprop.” That is simply absurd.

On the facts of this particular story, here are a few bullet points:

  • Hillary Clinton did not approve the sale of controlling interests in Uranium One to Russia in 2010. The State Department was one of nine government agencies and two independent federal nuclear regulators that had to sign off on the deal.
  • Of the $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation, $131 million was from Frank Giustra, founder of UrAsia Energy—the company in which Russia bought controlling interests in 2010. His donation was made in 2007, two years before Clinton became Secretary of State and three years before the 2010 transaction with Russia. Also, Guistra sold his stake in the company in 2007, so he would not have been involved in the uranium deal.
  • Solomon’s first story last week was about an FBI investigation that began in 2009 and ended in 2015 with plea agreements that Russian nuclear industry officials engaged in a “racketeering scheme” while doing business in the U.S. He reports that these Russians were involved in “extortion, bribery, money laundering and kickbacks that were both directed by and provided benefit to more senior officials back in Russia.” He provides zero evidence that they engaged in kickbacks to any American, much less the Clintons.
  • Solomon’s latest entry focuses on the fact that the FBI uncovered a scheme early on in the Obama administration in which Russian intelligence operatives attempted to get information about U.S. foreign policy by cozying up to figures involved with the Secretary of State. It is hard to read his account and not think of the recent TV series titled The Americans. At any rate, the idea that the Russians attempted to spy on a member of Obama’s national security team is hardly a surprise.

Anyone wondering why major media outlets are ignoring this latest attempt to dig up old lies about Hillary Clinton need only look at the facts. But as much as Trump and right wing media outlets complain about the lack of coverage, I don’t think they are even attempting to reach a mainstream audience with this story. Instead, it is designed to prep Trump’s supporters for coming news from the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. In some cases, they’re not even being subtle about that. Take a look at how RedState introduces the story:

As the left and its media buddies continue to search for the elusive Russia/Trump collusion monster roaming forested hillsides, the FBI has actual evidence of a Russian plot that occurred in 2009 under Barack Obama’s watch.

Beyond thinking that they can point fingers and say, “Clinton and Obama did it too, only worse,” this story is designed to discredit the people who are involved in the current Trump/Russia investigation. Here is what they’re all saying about Solomon’s first report that focused on the FBI’s investigation of “racketeering scheme” by Russian nuclear industry officials:

Who was the prosecutor leading the investigation? Rod Rosenstein. That would be the same Rod Rosenstein who is now Deputy Attorney General and supervising the Russia probe.

Who was the FBI Director? Robert Mueller. That would be the same Robert Mueller who is leading the Russia probe.

Who was leading the FBI investigation? Andrew McCabe…This would be the same Andrew McCabe who approved his own refusal to recuse himself from the Russia investigation both because of his Clinton ties and because of his personal vendetta against Mike Flynn.

Only in Washington could this mess be carried out and the perpetrators still not only walk free but be thought of as men of integrity.

Whoa! So the guys who uncovered a plot by Russians working in the U.S. to provide kickbacks to their country’s oligarchs are now perpetrators who don’t deserve to be walking free? Do you see how far down the rabbit hole all of this has gone?

That’s the news bubbling all over right wing web sites and Fox News and spread via social media. It is nothing more than a pre-emptive use of Trump’s ubiquitous pattern of lie, distract and blame designed to provide him and his base with a response when/if charges of collusion with Russia are brought against his campaign.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .