Text messages from the top Democrat in the Senate investigating Trump and Russia were not scandalous to Republicans who read them months before Fox News tried to turn them into a scandal.
The network broke into its regular programming Thursday evening as anchor Martha MacCallum hyped “brand new text messages revealed exclusively by Fox News that reveal a questionable relationship between the top Democrat in the Senate’s Russia investigation and a lobbyist representing a Russian oligarch,” in a report from chief national correspondent Ed Henry.
That was about a week after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sent a private message to a Twitter account he wrongly believed was helmed by Sean Hannity promising “some news about Warner,” the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Warner’s spokesperson told The Daily Beast Thursday that the senator had not been hacked, and a Republican colleague on the Senate Intelligence Committee quickly poured cold water on the “leak,” saying the texts were known to the committee last year.
“Sen. Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago. Has had zero impact on our work,” Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted.
That was after Fox had run an “EXCLUSIVE” chyron with the sentence “leaked texts show top Democrat in Russia probe tried to arrange meeting w/ [Christopher] Steele,” along with a segment by Henry, who said the texts were “obtained by Fox.”
Henry provided a statement to The Daily Beast through a Fox News spokesperson.
“The story I broke tonight on Fox News had absolutely nothing to do with WikiLeaks—I’ve never even spoken to Julian Assange or his operatives for that matter. I also never spoke to Sean Hannity about this story at any point in the reporting process,” said Henry.
“I contacted Senator Warner’s office several times to verify that the texts were authentic and they confirmed that fact this afternoon. In fact, Warner’s office never mentioned Assange in the multiple calls and emails I had with them to get their side of the story.”
Hannity and Assange did not respond Thursday when The Daily Beast asked if the leaked texts from Mark Warner were sent by Assange or a tip provided by Assange.
President Donald Trump jumped in on the conspiracy hours later after Fox News broke into programming to introduce it.
“Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. Warner did not want a “paper trail” on a “private” meeting (in London) he requested with Steele of fraudulent Dossier fame. All tied into Crooked Hillary,” he tweeted.
The Fox News report alleges Mark Warner texted lobbyist Adam Waldman, a D.C. lobbyist, in an effort to get in touch with Russia dossier author Christopher Steele.
In its report, Fox News said the messages “were turned over to the Senate panel by Waldman last September.” They say they were “obtained from a Republican source” and “are all marked ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ and are not classified.”
Hannity had briefly talked about WikiLeaks on his radio show Thursday.
“What is this WikiLeaks story? I haven’t had a chance to go through this today because I’ve been so busy on the Uranium One story and obviously the dossier issue. There’s a story that AIM, Accuracy in Media, revealed all the journalists who schmoozed with the Clinton campaign,” he said.
“Did that go out today? Remember, WikiLeaks has never been wrong. I think they’re going on 12 years now.”
The Senate probe into Trump and Russia, including WikiLeaks, has remained focused on the campaign’s ties to the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. The House’s Russia investigation, however, has descended into partisanship after an apparent White House plot to convince Republican chairman Rep. Devin Nunes that the Obama administration was out to get the Trump campaign.
Nunes released a misleading memo last week that claimed the FBI relied on Christopher Steele’s dossier to get a warrant that would allow the agency to spy on ex-Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Now it seems that the effort to disrupt the Russia investigation in Congress has moved from the House to the Senate.