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Fox News pundit: Justice Department officials should be prosecuted for fraud

Trump advocates are desperate to undermine the credibility of the Mueller probe.

Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett argued on Wednesday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former FBI Director James Comey, and other former top Department of Justice officials should be prosecuted for fraud and other crimes for their role in spying on a former Trump campaign official.

The inflammatory and ill-founded accusations are the latest example of how pro-Trump pundits are trying to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump’s Russia ties by claiming that the Justice Department has been compromised by anti-Trump bias and corruption.

Jarrett made the accusations during a discussion with Fox News host Sean Hannity at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Wednesday. Hannity asked Jarrett which government officials might be in “serious legal jeopardy” over the way they handled the Steele dossier, a document put together by former British spy Christopher Steele alleging deep ties between Trump and Russia.

Trump supporters, including House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, claim — without merit — that Justice and FBI officials used that dossier inappropriately to get permission from a court to spy on former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page during the 2016 presidential campaign. Jarrett told Hannity that he thinks top officials who signed off on using the dossier in the legal request for permission should be in big trouble.

“Well, I think James Comey, who signed off on it, Rod Rosenstein, who signed off on it, [former FBI Deputy Director] Andrew McCabe signed off on it, [former acting Attorney General] Sally Yates as well,” Jarrett said.

“Using a fake document as an officer of the court to convince a judge to spy on an American citizen is six different crimes: abuse of power, false and misleading statements, it’s perjury, it’s major fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and obstruction of justice,” Jarrett added. “Those are the crimes and people need to be prosecuted.”

Jarrett called the Steele dossier a “fake document,” suggesting that its claims are totally manufactured by a political operative. That language in part stems from the fact that the dossier was partially and indirectly financed by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

But the author of the document is a retired British intelligence officer who has expertise on Russian matters and commands respect in the US intelligence community. Furthermore, there is nothing inherently credibility-destroying or remotely illegal about the FBI using tips from people who could or do have a political agenda — that happens all the time. Some of the details of the dossier have already been confirmed by former Trump officials themselves.

Legal experts say Jarrett’s claims are pure political theater.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that crimes were committed in connection with the use of the Steele dossier, and no serious commentator has even come close to making such a suggestion,” Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law School professor specializing in criminal prosecution issues, told me. “I can only conclude that Jarrett is deliberately seeking to misinform his viewers for political reasons.”

Republicans are desperate to undermine the Mueller probe

Efforts by pro-Trump advocates and lawmakers to attack the credibility of the Department of Justice have created a big stir in right-wing media, but on a substantive level they’ve generally fallen flat.

Earlier in February, Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee voted to release “the Nunes memo,” a document put together by the panel’s Republican chair, Devin Nunes, that was meant to provide damning evidence of anti-Trump bias at the FBI in connection to the surveillance of Page.

But as my colleague Zack Beauchamp illustrated in a comprehensive breakdown of the document, the memo was a total dud. Among other things, it revealed definitively that the Steele dossier was only part of the case that Justice Department and FBI officials made to a court to get permission for surveillance of Trump campaign officials who made contacts with Russians.

Pro-Trump media has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to tarnish the reputation of the FBI as a way to shield Trump from the Russia probe. On Friday, Mueller filed his first charges against Russians in his probe — a substantial development in his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But in the following days, Fox News hardly covered it, and focused instead on attacking the FBI over its failure to respond to warnings about the Florida mass shooter.

The overarching goal of Fox News rhetoric is clear — it wants to both distract from and unravel the Mueller probe by damaging the reputation of the entire Justice Department. Is it working? Most Fox News viewers would probably say it is.