With the first sketchy details of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report now in the public sphere in the form of a carefully worded and highly edited summary written without the consultation of Mueller by Willam Barr — the Attorney General hand-picked by President Trump because of his previously published views on the legal impossibility of charging a president with obstruction of justice — the Trump 2020 reelection campaign has jumped into action.
A tweet sent by Axios reporter Jonathan Swan included a memo sent by Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s Director of Communications, addressed simply to “Television Producers,” presumably all of them.
The Trump campaign is sending this memo to TV producers: pic.twitter.com/yhr03LAI7N
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 25, 2019
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The memo begins with a brief recap of Barr’s summary findings before making the demonstrably false statement that “The only way to interpret these conclusions is as a total and complete vindication of President Trump.” The many differing and qualifying interpretations widely circulated in both traditional and social media by Democrats and Republican critics of the president make that claim an obviously self-serving lie.
Murtaugh goes on to provide a list of prominent Democratic politicians, party leaders, and former National Security officials that it recommends the channels refrain from inviting on their airwaves because of their “vigorously and repeatedly claiming there was evidence of collusion” that Barr’s summary says the Mueller report did not find.
The Trump campaign operative then goes on to ask the bookers at the network news operations to “employ basic journalistic standards” by asking themselves the following question:
“Does this guest warrant further appearances on our programming, given the outrageous and unsupported claims made in the past?,” Murtaugh writes.
While it’s hardly surprising that the campaign of an aspiring authoritarian would call for the type of prior restraint that is in direct opposition to the principles of freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution’s First Amendment, it is surprisingly laughable to see Trump’s minion call for standards that would preclude the appearance of his own boss and the vast majority of Republican politicians and political commentators from the nation’s airwaves.
If the networks had applied these standards before the 2016 election then Trump himself would have had to forgo the hours of free airtime he received despite his years-long promotion and repetition of the ‘birther” conspiracy claims proven false by Obama’s publication of his birth certificate, not to mention the unprecedented number of lies he’s uttered since his inauguration.
The standards proposed would also have prevented any Republican politician who ever appeared on Fox News to rail on about Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s email server from ever gracing televised political discussions again.
Murtaugh’s memo shows not only the willingness of the White House to use Attorney General Barr’s whitewashed summary of the Mueller report as part of its arsenal of political weaponization, but also the damaging effects of the partial release of Mueller’s findings stripped of their rightful context.
Perhaps the introspection that Murtaugh calls for the media to exercise should be aimed inwards before attempting to silence presidential critics in violation of First Amendment principles. The silencing of one’s enemies and the banning of coverage of their criticisms is a step right out of the dictator’s playbook.
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