GOP downplays obstruction charges
After a hearing in which former FBI Director James Comey accused the Trump administration of lying and defaming him, and said he’d orchestrated a leak in a bid to get a special counsel appointed, most of President Trump’s biggest boosters in the media still found plenty of reasons to gloat.
Comey’s testimony on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t short on revelations and compelling details, but when it came to identifying the biggest takeaway, there was a distinct divide between most of the press and outlets on the right.
For former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, a longtime Trump friend and one of the president’s most vocal media defenders, the top headline from the hearing was actually one damning of Comey.
"Clearly, Comey is no fan of Trump and the big bombshell is that Comey leaked bad stuff about Trump to The New York Times," O’Reilly tweeted.
He was referring to Comey’s disclosure that he shared a memo of his conversations with Trump with a friend, a professor at Columbia Law School, who in turn shared the contents of the documents with the New York Times.
Related: Why James Comey leaked information to press
The news lit up Twitter, where Columbia Law School quickly became a trending topic. The school’s website even crashed, presumably as a result of journalists flooding the server in an effort to identify the faculty member. (Dan Richman eventually confirmed to news outlets that he was the professor in question.)
O’Reilly was astounded by the revelation, and expressed shock that it was being ignored by "the sluggish Senators" on the committee.
"Major development!" O’Reilly tweeted. "If Trump knew about that, that was cause to fire Comey."
The problem with O’Reilly’s analysis: Comey had already been fired by Trump at that time, and Richman shared details with the Times after Trump implied on Twitter that he had recorded conversations he’d had with Comey.
But O’Reilly wasn’t the only member of the pro-Trump press to latch on to the "Comey leak" angle. Breitbart’s Matt Boyle wrote that Comey”s "open admission he orchestrated a potentially illegal leak puts him in serious potential trouble."
But as the Times reported in its story about the memo last month, the document was "unclassified," making the notion that Comey is in any legal jeopardy unlikely.
Several of Trump’s allies in the right-wing media universe also seized on Comey’s criticizing a Times story from February which said Trump campaign aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence. Asked about the story, Comey said "in the main, it was not true."
The pro-Trump media wasted no time lacing into the paper of record — which said it was looking into the matter — for the supposed flop.
"NYT Story Debunked," a headline on the Drudge Report blared. "Told you NY Times is fake news!," far-right internet personality Mike Cernovich tweeted. "That’s what fake news is," O’Reilly chimed in. Fox News host Sean Hannity, perhaps Trump’s most loyal soldier on cable news, said on his radio show that Comey’s testimony "busted" the Times, among other mainstream outlets, for "their fake news reporting."
Comey gave right-leaning media more ammo with an unflattering description of his interactions with Loretta Lynch, the attorney general under former President Obama.
Lynch, according to Comey, requested that he describe the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use only as a "matter." Comey also cited the meeting between Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac of the Phoenix airport as a factor in his decision to make public remarks about the email probe.
Both of those things garnered headlines on the right — and gave conservatives some ideas.
"When will the Loretta Lynch hearings begin?" Fox News commentator Todd Starnes asked on Twitter.