How Sketchy Report On FBI’s Clinton Foundation Probe Went From Fox News To Trump’s Mouth

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A thinly-sourced Fox News report suggesting an indictment was “likely” in a FBI inquiry into the Clinton Foundation ricocheted around the internet Wednesday night before Donald Trump stated it as fact at a Thursday rally in Florida.

To top it off, the original report had been walked back hours before Trump even took the stage.

“The FBI agents say their investigation is likely to yield an indictment,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd in Jacksonville. Cheers of “lock her up” rang through the room.

Fox’s Bret Baier was behind the original reporting, which he said came from “two separate sources with intimate knowledge” of an FBI inquiry into the Clinton Foundation. His report included a number of claims about what he said his sources described as the “very high priority” investigation, including that there was “a lot of evidence” and that the sources believed an indictment was “likely,” “barring some obstruction.”

Baier had a much less authoritative take by Thursday morning. Appearing on “America’s Newsroom,” he said he wanted “to be clear” that a prosecutor needs to determine an indictment is warranted based on evidence.

The Fox anchor admitted he’d spoken “inartfully” by quoting his sources saying an indictment was likely.

“That’s not the process. That’s not how you do it,” he explained. “You have to have a prosecutor. If they don’t move forward with a prosecutor with the DOJ, there would be, I’m told, a very public call for an independent prosecutor to move forward. There is confidence in the evidence, but for me to phrase it like I did, of course that got picked up everywhere, but the process is different than that.”

Baier’s original report was picked up by a number of news organizations, including The Hill, Daily Wire, World Net Daily, Breitbart, The Washington Times and Real Clear Politics. Many of those reports, including the Hill’s, went beyond the language Baier used to describe his sources and attributed the information to “sources within the FBI.”

And that was the version of the story Trump told from the stage in Jacksonville, more than two hours after Baier dialed back the original report.

“She is likely under investigation for many, many years,” Trump said. “Likely to conclude in a criminal trial.”

“This will be a mess,” he went on. “They say it. They say it. This is going to be a mess for many years to come before they figure it all out. We don’t need that.”

Baier’s initial report came amid a flurry of leaks to news organizations from within the bureau about rank-and-file agents pushing to move the Clinton Foundation probe forward and being frustrated by what they claimed was resistance to do so on the Justice Department’s part. In turn, those leaks have fueled concerns, particularly among Democrats, that the FBI is improperly interfering in the election.

Other reporting on the FBI’s Clinton foundation probe characterized the investigation very differently from Baier’s reporting and has not touched on the prospect of an indictment at all. For example, a New York Times story this week described the probe as having “not developed much evidence and was based mostly on information that had surfaced in news stories and the book ‘Clinton Cash,'” which claims that foreign governments donated to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for favors from the State Department during Clinton’s tenure. The book was funded by a conservative nonprofit co-founded by Trump’s campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, and heavily promoted by Breitbart News.

According to a Wednesday Wall Street Journal report, secret recordings of a suspect in a public-corruption case discussing deals allegedly made by the Clintons also prompted some FBI investigators to push for the inquiry into the foundation to progress. But prosecutors thought the talk was hearsay, according to the Wall Street Journal, and was too thin to warrant more aggressive action.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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