MSNBC Republican Charlie Sykes: Trump’s Tweets Display ‘Textbook’ ‘Authoritarianism’

January 3rd, 2018 6:20 PM

For the past several months, news coverage of extreme political bias within the FBI and the Justice Department against Donald Trump and in support of Hillary Clinton has been piling up. As congressional Republicans have stepped up their efforts to get to the bottom of precisely how and why the FBI’s investigation into Trump-Russia collusion began and many media outlets have followed these developments, MSNBC has transformed into one the leading voices opposing any journalistic or prosecutorial endeavors related to uncovering corruption within the FBI or the DOJ (see here, here, here, here, and here for just a few examples).

On Tuesday’s Deadline: White House, MSNBC’s pundits continued this pattern of shameless anti-journalism coverage. While in the midst of a discussion about the latest Trump-Russia collusion story, New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters and MSNBC contributor Charlie Sykes went on the warpath against Trump for his recent tweet calling for an investigation of longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and former FBI Director James Comey for mishandling of classified information.

For his part, Peters dishonestly claimed that journalists working on FBI and DOJ corruption stories were promoting “disinformation” and a “conspiracy theory.” Sykes then used Peters’s assessment to attack Trump for pointing to these stories and characterized his calls for investigating Abedin and Comey as an example of “textbook” “authoritarianism” with the sole purpose of “go[ing] after his political opponents.”

With the help of Deadline host Nicolle Wallace and MSNBC National Affairs analyst John Heilemann, Peters made his case that Trump and journalists are pushing fake news about the FBI and DOJ:



PETERS: [W]hat Mark and my other colleagues have reported, I think, really peeled back the layer of what -- this, this layer of misinformation that the Trump campaign and the Trump White House had always tried to throw over this story, which is that this is a partisan witch hunt, this was -- you know, Hillary Clinton had done similar things and, and the Justice Department wouldn’t go after her. They're only going after Trump because he's Trump. And, as John said, not only are they softening up the ground, not only do, do they want to lay the groundwork for an all-out assault on the Justice Department, on the FBI. They’ve been doing that for months. In fact, there's an entire news network devoted to doing this in prime time every single night. There is talk radio,-

HEILEMANN: [sarcasm] Which one is, which one is that, Jeremy?

[Wallace and Peters laugh]

PETERS: -talk radio-

HEILEMANN: [talking under Peters] Just as a -- just to clarify.

PETERS: -that is devoted to doing this every single day.

WALLACE: [interjecting] Fox!

PETERS: And in these -- the, the, these hosts, not only,-

WALLACE: [interjecting] Not all of ‘em.

PETERS: -not only are they on the air, where Trump listens to them every night, they're in his ear on his phone when they talk to him, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro being two of the main [clears throat] purveyors of this conspiracy theory.

Sykes concurred with Peters’s analysis, adding that “members of Congress now” were also involved in promoting “this conspiracy theory.”

However, Sykes should not have been so quick to accept Peters's statements at face value. As NewsBusters has noted previously, the NYT reporter seems to have a penchant for spreading his own brand of disinformation. On December 21st of last year, while discussing the same topic of alleged FBI corruption, Peters falsely claimed that:

1) The FBI and the DOJ are constitutionally “independent” entities.

2) Former FBI Director Robert Mueller and his investigators’ ties to Democratic donors are only “alleged” (several of his investigators are admitted donors themselves to Clinton or other Democrats).

3) The FBI/DOJ corruption stories are a sole invention of conservative media outlets (Fox News and talk radio primarily).

It bears repeating, especially in relation to point #3, that Peters’s portrayal of the coverage of the FBI and DOJ investigations of Trump and Clinton is almost certainly a conscious lie. Given the wide array of politically diverse outlets that have raised questions about the partiality of both Mueller’s current special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign and the FBI’s past clearing of Hillary Clinton on charges of mishandling classified information, it appears unlikely that any media figure could genuinely believe that only Fox News and conservative talk radio have covered these stories.

Moreover, Peters’s dismissal of the notion that Hillary Clinton was given special treatment by the FBI and the DOJ ignores reporting done by CNN last December [emphasis mine]:

A former top counterintelligence expert at the FBI, now at the center of a political uproar for exchanging private messages that appeared to mock President Donald Trump, changed a key phrase in former FBI Director James Comey's description of how former secretary of state Hillary Clinton handled classified information, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

Electronic records show Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server as the No. 2 official in the counterintelligence division, changed Comey's earlier draft language describing Clinton's actions as "grossly negligent" to "extremely careless," the sources said.


The shift from "grossly negligent" to "extremely careless," which may appear pedestrian at first glance, reflected a decision by the FBI that could have had potentially significant legal implications, as the federal law governing the mishandling of classified material establishes criminal penalties for "gross negligence."

Because of these and other revelations about political bias against Trump within the ranks of the FBI, in a piece entitled “Trump is right about the FBI,” CNN legal analyst Paul Callan explained his reasons for agreeing with Trump that the actions of FBI leadership have tarnished the agency’s reputation [emphasis mine]:

The ferocity of President Donald Trump's recent attacks on the integrity of the FBI has sent shock waves through an agency accustomed to public adulation in recent years. Sadly, much of the presidential criticism of the bureau may be entirely legitimate.


Strzok was one of the FBI's top counterintelligence agents supervising the investigation of Clinton's controversial email problems. He subsequently joined Robert Mueller's Trump/Russia investigation, and the question lingers as to why his obvious anti-Trump prejudice was not uncovered in his job interview for the position with Mueller.


Strzok was abruptly removed from the Mueller investigation in mid-summer of 2017. It seems that he had exchanged a series of 375 text messages with Page, clearly documenting their joint revulsion at all things Trump. The President is variously described as a "loathsome human," an "idiot" and a "d*uche," while they describe the prospects of the President's election as "terrifying."

The shocking aspect of the Strzok/Page discussions about the "terrifying" possibility of Trump's election is that some of those discussions may have taken place, according to one of Strzok's texts in "Andy's Office."

CNN has reported that the text was presumably referring to the office of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in August of 2016. Page had previously opined, according to the texts: "There's no way he gets elected." Strzok, however, texted that even if Trump's election is a long shot, "I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office ...that there's no way he gets elected -- but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40."


Causing further headaches for FBI brass, we now know that Deputy Director McCabe's wife, Jill McCabe, an unsuccessful Democratic 2015 candidate for the state senate in Virginia, had received approximately $700,000 in campaign contributions from then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's political action committee and the state's Democratic Party. While this didn't violate any laws or FBI protocols, the association looks unseemly for an agency conducting an investigation with potentially historic implications.

In light of all this information, one should not be shocked that, as Newsweek and many others reported last fall, James Comey drafted a memo exonerating Hillary Clinton from her alleged criminal offenses months before his FBI agents had the chance to complete their evidentiary reviews and witness interviews.

And yet, in spite of mountains of evidence in support of the notion that Hillary Clinton, Abedin, and Comey should (at the very least) be officially investigated for potential criminal wrongdoing, Sykes followed up Peters by proclaiming that Trump’s call for such a legal inquiry was a “textbook” example of “authoritarianism”:



SYKES: There are two things that we ought to underline in red ink here. First was the interview that Donald Trump gave to uh, to uh,-

WALLACE: Michael Schmidt. Yeah.

SYKES: -Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, where he specifically said at one point-

WALLACE: Incredible.

SYKES: -in passing.

WALLACE: I know what you’re gonna say.

SYKES: He said: I have absolute control over the Department of Justice. Which was, you know-.

WALLACE: [interrupting] And I admire the way Eric Holder protected Obama.

SYKES: Protected it. Look [gibberish] -- basically implying that the role of the attorney general was to protect the president against any kind of investigation. Then, of course, today you have him tweeting out that the Department of -- you know, the President of the United States urging the Department of Justice with its vast investigative, uh, um, uh, you know, uh, powers to go after political appointments, uh, po-, po-, opponents,-

WALLACE: Appoint-, opponents, yeah.

SYKES: -these are not normal things. But I do think that there is that moment where you step back and you go, when the president says I have absolute control over the Department of Justice, that we can all say: Well no; not on the norms, not on the guidelines. But the reality is that a president who does not respect those norms and those guidelines in fact has tremendous power. A president who does decide he's going to use the vast powers of the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys to go after his political opponents and to protect himself, his family, and his allies, then we are in a completely new age. I noticed the Wall Street Journal editorial today said: Oh, there’s no Constitutional crisis; we shouldn't be worried about, you know, authoritarianism. And yet there you have the President of the United States declaring his absolute power-

WALLACE: [talking under Sykes] Right, it’s textbook-.

SYKES: -over the justice system. It is textbook.

It should not surprise any readers of this blog that last September, in a piece promoting his book “How the Right Lost Its Mind,” Sykes decried a conservative “fake news revolution” and whined about unspecified “excesses” in conservative media coverage of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama during their presidencies. There is no doubt that genuine conspiracy theories and bad information were circulating around right-wing circles in those days, but if Sykes is really so concerned about combating “fake news” and a “post-truth culture,” perhaps he should stand up to the liberal bias and misinformation at his own network.