How the Biden impeachment push echoes Trump’s effort to retain power


As might have been predicted, Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday eagerly seized on a “report” from the Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee asserting that Donald Trump’s prosecution is inescapably political. But committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was perhaps not prepared for where Bartiromo took the conversation.

Jordan had just offered a comparison in keeping with his argument: If the charges brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg focused on Trump trying to “obstruct” the 2016 election and the charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith in D.C. were about Trump trying to overturn the 2020 results, perhaps Republicans could look at those prosecutions through a similar lens.

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“Seems to me the truth really is,” Jordan said as he smirked, “[that] Alvin Bragg and Jack Smith are in a conspiracy to impact the 2024 race.” In other words, as Trump says, these indictments were aimed at electoral outcomes.

“Well, look,” Bartiromo responded, “I mean, at this point, American citizens are asking, what can you do about it?” She added that “people are sick and tired of congressional investigations that go nowhere” and “sick and tired of letters being written and sent to the people who we know are bad in the first place” — that is, people identified as bad by Jordan, Fox News and the broader right-wing information ecosystem. People were tired of waiting, she said, and “they want you to do something about it.”

Jordan eventually offered a meek explanation, telling Bartiromo that “our job is to get the facts out there and to look at legislation.” But of course, Jordan, like House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), had spent months telling Bartiromo and her Fox News colleague Sean Hannity — and anyone else willing to give them an audience — that they were on the brink of proving that President Biden had committed impeachable offenses. When it became obvious that they hadn’t and couldn’t, things got awkward.

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Bartiromo is a fascinating lens for all of this because she was the most credulous presenter of the now-discredited allegation that Biden and his son Hunter had taken a bribe from a Ukrainian businessman. It was an assertion rooted exclusively in one statement from one person, a person who the Justice Department has now accused of lying. Bartiromo nonetheless offered it up more than 200 times last year, either herself or in interviews with guests. Jordan’s elevation of the story would seem worth mentioning in the context of his committee’s new report but, instead, she moaned that the known bad guys were going unpunished.

It mirrors her approach to allegations raised after the 2020 election. Then, she was one of the most energetic supporters of the idea that there had been rampant fraud committed using electronic voting machines, a claim that was similarly without evidence or substantiation. Even Fox executives were murmuring about her susceptibility to false partisan claims.

To the frustration of the right-wing media ecosystem, neither the 2020 election allegations or the Republican impeachment push achieved their intended outcomes: keeping Biden out of the White House. The bad people were still in place.

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The other person on Fox News with a well-deserved reputation for promoting these anti-Biden efforts is Hannity. Hannity hosted Jordan and Comer scores of times in the past year, elevating each new allegation from the investigation into Biden and offering them up as dispositive. (Again, they were not.) But when it became obvious that Republicans had failed to make the case for impeachment, Hannity dropped the issue. The inquiry is theoretically ongoing but, as Media Matters noted last week, Hannity hasn’t mentioned it in a month.

The network’s focus on Hunter Biden has been staggering. Since the beginning of 2018, CNN and MSNBC have mentioned Hunter Biden at least 11,000 times each, according to analysis of closed captions gathered by the Internet Archive. In that same period — a period that covers the first Trump impeachment, in which Republicans attempted to shift blame onto Hunter Biden — Fox News has mentioned Hunter Biden at least 51,000 times, more than twice the number for CNN and MSNBC combined.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Hunter Biden’s attorney sent a letter last week to the cable news channel, demanding a retraction or correction for the claims about the alleged bribe. (Fox News and Fox Business have mentioned “bribe” or “bribery” in the context of Biden at least 2,600 times since May 2023.) Should Fox not comply with that and other requests, the letter warns, litigation might result.

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This too mirrors 2020 — explicitly so. NBC News reported that the success of lawsuits responding to false claims made about the election on the network offered a road map for a possible lawsuit from Hunter Biden. It remains possible that no lawsuit is filed, particularly because the bar for a defamation claim is so high.

Republicans, meanwhile, are still hoping to wring the intended utility out of their impeachment investigation. During a radio interview this month, Comer insisted that the probe he led could still lead to some accountability for President Biden. After rattling off a list of revelations he claimed had come out of his probe — all of them inaccurate or overstated — he identified the inquiry as a success.

“So the American people know the truth,” he said, “and I think that’ll be a valuable tool of accountability for people in November when they vote, but also legal accountability.”

The “legal accountability” here refers to his interest in passing criminal referrals for unknown crimes committed by unidentified people to the Justice Department — which he has at other times acknowledged won’t be taken up by Attorney General Merrick Garland but which he’s used to suggest the need for a new Trump-led DOJ.

The ultimate goal after the 2020 election and with the impeachment push is the same: strip power from Joe Biden. The methodology is the same: promote exaggerated, misleading or debunked allegations to create an air of wrongdoing. Those amplifying the allegations are also the same: Hannity, Bartiromo and other members of the right-wing media universe.

Should Hunter Biden sue, the repercussions for Fox News could be the same: a financial penalty for giving oxygen to false claims. Otherwise, the outcome so far has also been the same: President Biden is still in power.

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