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THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY'S RIGHT-WING MEDIA PROBLEM: Conservative media is working overtime to ensure that President Trump does not lose support from his base now that he's staring down the barrel of a formal impeachment inquiry. Trump's TV favorites — who also have a grip on the ears, eyes and hearts of his base — spent hours yesterday propagating conspiracy theories and baseless allegations. The goal was clear: Discredit the inquiry and the complaint from the whistleblower who accused Trump of pressuring Ukraine's government to investigate his political rivals.
- In conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's telling, Trump is being “impeached by the media” via a whistleblower's complaint that was “manufactured” by Democrats in a “coordinated coup attempt.” His main argument: “The one thing that will get you through this, and the one thing that you have to understand, is practically everything in the media about impeachment is a lie.”
- Or ask Sean Hannity: The Fox News host dismissed any notion of impropriety or even poor judgment related to Trump’s request to Ukraine's president at the very top of his show last night: “The president did not absolutely nothing wrong. Nothing.” He rallied his viewers to support the president, calling it “an all hands-on deck moment … This is about our way of life.”
- Hannity even went so far as to suggest that anyone questioning Trump’s actions is borderline stupid: “You have to suspend every bit of God-given intelligence and common sense that you to believe that there is anything to this.”
- Earlier in the day, Newt Gingrich — the former House speaker who led the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton — called the impeachment inquiry on Fox a “legislative coup d'etat” with the sole purpose of removing Trump from office. It was a refrain repeated by other conservative talkers.
More than just words: As Democrats investigate, Trump is busy lashing out at the whistleblower, musing that his impeachment could lead to an American civil war and questioning whether House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a leading voice in the impeachment inquiry, should be arrested for treason. These are the types of sentiments we heard frequently during our trip down the conservative media rabbit hole -- which offers a window into how his supporters' minds might not change even if Trump actually does get impeached by the House.
- A buffer: “The right-wing media provides a buffer for the Trump administration and his congressional supporters that makes accountability more difficult,” Robert Faris, research director at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center who wrote a book about disinformation and radicalization in American politics, told Power Up. “Partisan media is a narrative-generating machine that is armored against fact checking which explains a lot of where we are right now.”
- Conspiracies fly free: For right wing media, the real question is not whether Trump should be impeached — but why former vice president Joe Biden is not the focus of the investigation for his son's involvement in an obscure Ukrainian gas company. And Limbaugh floated multiple times various iterations of the baseless theory that the Obama administration somehow directed Ukraine to help Hillary Clinton's campaign.
The conservative media bubble is also putting intense pressure on the rest of the Republican Party.
- Limbaugh criticized Mitch McConnell for following the rule of law after the Senate Majority Leader confirmed that he would have “no choice” but to launch a trial if the House votes to impeach: “The Turtle said, 'Hey, if we do it, there’s gotta be a trial.' There’s nobody in official Republican strata that’s trying to refute this! They’re all dealing with it as though it’s a fait accompli. It’s not a fait accompli. But, see, there’s a whole different mentality about this stuff when you live in the Beltway,” Limbaugh shouted during his three hour radio show.
- Reality check: McConnell tamped down on speculation he could simply ignore the prospect of putting Trump on trial, per our colleague Seung Min Kim. “The Senate impeachment rules are very clear,” McConnell said. “The Senate would have to take up an impeachment resolution if it came over from the House.”
- Limbaugh also criticized Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) for accepting “the impeachment business” — even after Grassley and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wrote a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr asking if the Justice Department was investigating an already debunked conspiracy theory that the Ukrainian government was coordinating with the Clinton campaign in 2016.
Political ripple effects: “I think [Republicans lawmakers] can't escape from Trump to some extent,” said Geoff Kabaservice, the director of political studies at the Niskanen Center and author of a book on the downfall of moderation and the destruction of the Republican Party. “When Trump says 'CrowdStrike has DNC servers,' the president's allies are obliged to feed that — and then the rest of the party is forced to act. To how seriously any of the senators involved actually believe in these things is unclear but this didn't seem to be something they were terribly upset about before.”
- But there was one key fact-checker yesterday — and from the government, no less. The intelligence community's own watchdog came out to debunk one allegation rampantly pushed by Trump, GOP allies, and right-wing media — the idea that the whistleblower is not legitimate because they lacked firsthand knowledge of the details outlined in his complaint.
- The facts: “By law the Complainant — or any individual in the Intelligence Community who wants to report information with respect to an urgent concern to the congressional intelligence committees — need not possess firsthand information in order to file a complaint …" the statement says.
When, or will, Republicans break in their support?: “The question is whether people start to sacrifice their professional lives to tell a different story than the White House,” Faris tells Power Up.
- Key: “It's difficult to see where minds are going to change from all of this,” Faris told us. “Any politician on the right who is going to go up against Trump and his narrative and the White house narrative will face the opposition of not only Trump and the White House but from the core of the conservative media — and they understand that very well. Anyone who has strayed from that position has been quickly ostracized.”
- Trump, meanwhile, is counting his right-wing media “poll” numbers from on Twitter:
MEANWHILE, IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA: The scoops keep coming. Our colleagues Devlin Barrett, Shane Harris, and Matt Zapotosky scooped that Barr is personally involved in investigating the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
- Focus on Italy, Britain, and Australia: Barr has held private meetings around the world with foreign intelligence officials "seeking their help in a Justice Department inquiry that [Trump] hopes will discredit U.S. intelligence agencies’ examination of possible connections between Russia and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter."
- Key: "Current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials expressed frustration and alarm Monday that the head of the Justice Department was taking such a direct role in reexamining what they view as conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of misconduct."
- But, but, but: But the high-level Justice Department focus on intelligence operatives’ conduct is likely to cheer Trump and other conservatives for whom 'investigate the investigators' has become a rallying cry."
- And you can add this Cabinet official to the spotlight: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the administration officials who listened in on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president, a senior State Department official said Monday, a disclosure that ties the State Department more closely to the House impeachment inquiry," scooped the Wall Street Journal's Courtney McBride and Sadie Gurman.
STUDIES SHOW OBAMACARE IS WORKING: There’s an “emerging mosaic of evidence that, nearly a decade after it became one of the most polarizing health-care laws in U.S. history, the ACA is making some Americans healthier — and less likely to die,” our colleague Amy Goldstein reports.
- Some of the evidence: “Poor people in Michigan with asthma and diabetes were admitted to hospitals less often after they joined Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act,” Amy writes. “More than 25,000 Ohio smokers got help through the state’s Medicaid expansion that led them to quit.”
- How the research is being done: While it can be difficult to prove that law is solely behind a difference in people’s health, the growing body of research mostly draws on the three dozen states have expanded Medicaid under the ACA and the rest that have not.
Timing is key: “The evidence is accumulating just as the ACA’s future is, once again, being cast into doubt. The most immediate threat arises from a federal lawsuit, brought by a group of Republican state attorneys general, that challenges the law’s constitutionality,” our colleague writes. The Trump administration, despite failing to repeal the law, has weakened it though via several actions that don’t require congressional approval.
CALIFORNIA IS OFFICIALLY TAKING ON THE NCAA: “California became the first state to require major financial reforms in college athletics,” the Los Angeles Times’s Melody Gutierrez and Nathan Fenno report, “after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure that allows players to receive endorsement deals, despite the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. calling the move unconstitutional.”
- This may just be the beginning: Other states are exploring similar legislation, but so far California is the only one to take on the NCAA, the billion-dollar governing body of college sports.
- Why now: “Proponents say the bill could be transformative for young athletes, especially for those of color and from poor backgrounds. For too long, they argue, corporations and colleges have been able to excessively profit off these students, even after they have left college and joined professional sports teams,” the LA Times writes.
- Reaction: The Pac-12, a major conference that counts one-third of its members from the state and is headquartered in San Francisco, immediately slammed the law that will go into effect in 2023.
- What’s next: “Newsom, who played baseball at Santa Clara University, left open the opportunity for continued negotiations with the NCAA during the three years before the bill goes into effect,” the LA Times writes. “The sports body is expected to release a report in October with recommendations by a committee that includes conference commissioners, college presidents and athletic directors examining player endorsement deals.”
COLLINS RESIGNS, SET TO PLEA GUILTY: "Rep. Chris Collins is resigning from Congress and expected to plead guilty to insider-trading charges [today], following allegations last year that the Republican from New York schemed with his son to avoid significant losses on a biotechnology investment," our colleagues Renae Merle and Mike DeBonis report.
- The allegations: Collins "allegedly tipped off his son to confidential information about an Australian biotechnology company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, that he learned as a member of its board," our colleagues write. "Collins and several others used the information to avoid more than $700,000 in losses, according to prosecutors."
- What's next for the district: "Despite Collins’s close reelection race, the 27th District is considered reliably Republican — Trump won it by 24 points in 2016."