On Tuesday morning, President Trump’s favorite morning TV show desperately tried to downplay reports that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner sought to set up a secret back-channel means of communication with the Kremlin before President Trump’s inauguration.
With help from Fox News reporter Kristin Fisher, Fox & Friends co-hosts Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, and Pete Hegseth touted an unbylined Fox News report headlined, “Jared Kushner didn’t suggest Russian communications channel in meeting, source says.”
The report, citing a single unnamed source, says that a December meeting between Kushner and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak — a meeting that Kushner didn’t disclose on his security clearance application — “focused on Syria.” The Fox News article adds that during the meeting, “the Russians broached the idea of using a secure line between the Trump administration and Russia, not Kushner, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News.”
That contradicts the Washington Post report from Friday that broke news about the Kushner-Russia back channel. That story, citing “U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports,” said that Kislyak “reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.”
Kushner Was Seeking a Line to the Kremlin. Then He Met Russian Banker Tied to Putin. Investigators Want to Know Why https://t.co/Qjg7y1wz38
— Matthew Rosenberg (@AllMattNYT) May 30, 2017
An editor from the Post tweeted that the notion Kushner wanted a back channel with the Kremlin to talk about Syria was spin coming from people speaking on behalf of Kushner, who at the time of the meeting with Kislyak was still head of Kushner Companies and looking for investors to redevelop the Manhattan office building he paid $1.8 billion to purchase in 2007.
We talked to these "people" too. We would not publish their account unless we could signal they were speaking for Kushner. They refused. https://t.co/UpNrh7UHDV
— Scott Wilson (@PostScottWilson) May 27, 2017
But on Tuesday morning, Fox & Friends ran with the version of events the Post decided not to publish because journalists there concluded it was pro-Kushner spin.
“So there was contact, and the Russians did want a back channel contact and that’s why he responded,” Kilmeade said. “A lot different than, ‘Hey, I have an idea. Meet you in the embassy. Let’s make private phone calls from there before my father-in-law gets in office.’”
Earhardt urged patience, saying that those with questions about the back channel should just wait to hear what Trump’s son-in-law — now part of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia — has to say about it.
“Everyone is so upset about this,” Earhardt said. “It’s like let him speak, let the investigation go on. If you have questions about what really happened, ask Jared, hear from Jared, and then we’ll discuss it. But the mainstream media is making this such a big deal when we don’t even know the details.”
The Post, however, reported that the White House “declined to comment.” The Times notes that the White House “has not denied the Post report.”
Hegseth then took aim at the Post and Times for using anonymous sources, ignoring that the Fox News report he touted was authored by anonymous reports and relied on a single anonymous source.
“Headline today is ‘inquiries turn on why Kushner met a Putin ally.’ They want that headline, Kushner, Putin. That’s where you get this idea of fake news from. What are you emphasizing? Why are you emphasizing this?” Hegseth said. “There’s no sourcing. It’s all innuendo. It’s all rumor.”
Following that segment, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway joined the show. She refused to confirm Fox News’ report about Kislyak actually being the one who sought the back channel.
Conway asked on Fox to back up report Kushner didn't ask for backchannel: "I’m not going to comment on any of that b/c there’s no reason to"
— David Wright (@DavidWright_CNN) May 30, 2017
Trump himself later retweeted the “source says” Fox News story, despite tweeting just two days ago that “[w]henever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names…it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!”
When they weren’t touting the dubious Fox News report, Fox & Friends repeatedly ran a clip of an Ohio Democrat saying during a CNN appearance that “nobody in Ohio is asking about Russia.”
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) May 30, 2017
Fox & Friends’ latest attack on “the mainstream media” and “fake news” comes two weeks to the day after the show devoted multiple segments to salacious coverage of the unsolved July 2016 murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich — the subject of unsubstantiated far-right conspiracy theorizing since last summer.
The show’s coverage centered on a quickly debunked Fox News report that has since been scrubbed from the network’s website.