The pro-Trump propagandists at Fox News have been busy constructing an alternate reality in which the indictment of a sixth Trump campaign adviser is secretly good news.
On Friday, Trump's longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone became the latest Trump associate to face charges in special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russian interference and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.
Stone was indicted on seven counts, including one charge of obstructing Congress, five charges of making false statements, and one charge of witness tampering. His indictment makes him the sixth former Trump adviser who has been hit with criminal charges stemming from the Russia probe, five of whom have pleaded guilty.
Most observers would consider this to be a pretty dire development — but not the folks at Fox News, who have spent the past three days desperately trying to make the case that Stone's indictment is secretly good news.
During the network's first segment on the indictment, co-host Steve Doocy and national correspondent Ed Henry wrote off the seven counts as mere "process crimes," and claimed that the indictment shows "there is no Russia collusion, which is what the whole investigation was about."
Pro-Trump commentator and frequent Fox News guest Dan Bongino latched onto the "process crime" talking point, arguing that it was the Mueller investigation — not Stone's alleged criminal behavior — that "produced the crime."
Bongino then offered up his own theory on the charges, suggesting — without any evidence — that Mueller had rushed to produce the indictment to get ahead of bad news. That bad news, as it turned out, was a Fox News conspiracy theory about wrongdoing at the DOJ and FBI.
On a later segment, Bongino laughably asserted that Stone's indictment "proves" there is "zero evidence" of collusion, and accused Mueller of "doing the country an enormous disservice" by continuing the investigation until its completion.
Fox News guest and National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy parroted a similar line on Monday, arguing that Stone's indictment makes it clear that there was no collusion with Russia.
"If Trump and his campaign were in a criminal conspiracy of espionage with Russia, if they had colluded with Russia, why would the campaign have had to turn to Roger Stone to find out what WikiLeaks had?" McCarthy asked, ignoring the fact that Stone is Trump's longtime adviser and was part of the campaign. "They would've known that from Russia. They wouldn't have needed people like Roger Stone."
Meanwhile, Sean Hannity spent the weekend ranting about how unfair it was that Stone had been charged for criminal activity, calling his indictment and arrest "the biggest abuse of power scandal in modern American history." He then echoed Bongino's ridiculous talking point about Mueller being responsible for Stone's behavior, saying, "Robert Mueller started an investigation. This is, in other words, created by the fact that Mueller had an investigation."
Unfortunately for the pro-Trump propagandists at Fox News, their alternate reality doesn't match up with the stone cold truth presented in the indictment.
Among other things, the charging document alleges that Trump’s campaign asked Stone to act as an intermediary to contact WikiLeaks and solicit information about future releases of emails and other documents that were hacked by Russian intelligence agents for the purpose of damaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign. According to the indictment, Stone agreed to the request — and then lied repeatedly to cover it up.
Despite Fox News' attempts to brush off Stone's charges as mere "process crimes," the indictment makes it clear that the alleged crimes were carried out with the goal of obstructing investigators so they couldn't find out the truth about the Trump campaign's response to and potential coordination with Russia's efforts to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump.
And although Stone wasn't charged with conspiracy in this indictment, that's not an indication that the evidence for such charges doesn't exist. As former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade explained, the indictment actually hints at more charges to come.
Given the language used in the charging document, McQuade says it appears that Mueller is still actively investigating coordination between the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and Russia.
In the second paragraph, the indictment makes note of the fact that the Democratic National Committee came out in June 2016 and "publicly announced that it had been hacked by Russian government actors." The indictment also says that after WikiLeaks dropped some of the hacked DNC emails in July 2016, "a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton campaign."
"Together," McQuade writes, "these two paragraphs allege that when this directive was made, the Trump campaign knew that WikiLeaks was working with Russia. It further suggests that the directive was made by a high-level official in the campaign. Who would have the authority to direct a senior Trump campaign official but an even more senior Trump campaign official, or even Trump himself?"
If the allegation is true, any individuals who sought damaging information about Clinton could potentially face charges for violating campaign finance laws prohibiting the solicitation or receipt of a "thing of value" from a foreign national.
McQuade also points out that the indictment suggests there may be a basis for charging some Trump campaign associates with conspiracy to defraud the United States for their alleged participation in staging the release of stolen documents in an effort to influence the election.
Hacking and stealing emails are only part of the conspiracy, McQuade explains. Another part of the conspiracy involved exploiting the hacked emails to damage Clinton's campaign by coordinating messages about the content of those emails — for example, by pushing disinformation about Clinton's health.
"Any Trump campaign members or associates who knowingly helped to coordinate the timing or messaging around the release of the emails could be guilty as co-conspirators," McQuade says.
Finally, the latest indictment — along with the Cohen sentencing memo filed in December — shows that Mueller is aggressively pursuing Trump associates who may have lied to Congress. If he finds evidence that anyone perjured themselves while testifying about substantive matter, McQuade writes, "you can expect charges to follow."
With the future of Trump's presidency at stake, Fox News is doing what it does best: desperately trying to construct an alternate reality into which Trump can escape because the world outside of the bubble is too much for him to handle. While that may provide some short term reprieve, it's only going to make things harder for Trump when that bubble pops and forces him to confront the reality that Fox News is not reality.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.