The Impeachment Hearings Threaten the First Amendment

Spying on reporters and criminalizing journalism is the new normal.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.

The only good thing about the Democrat shift from Russia to Ukraine is that the issue has shifted from the limits of free speech to the limits of executive authority. Unlike the First Amendment, the separation of powers is at least a legitimate topic for a power struggle between the branches of government.

But the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment report continued the ongoing Dem war on attorney-client confidentiality by illegally demanding phone records for Rudy Giuliani, the President's lawyer, from AT&T (the parent company of CNN), which they then also used to track phone calls by Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, also Trump's lawyers. (The harassment campaign against Alan Dershowitz, who has vigorously defended Trump in public, also appears to be part of the pattern.)

Four Trump attorneys, Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, have now been targeted in what can only be described as a pattern of abuse meant to intimidate opposing counsel, and dissuade lawyers from agreeing to represent President Trump. The media gloats when it runs stories on Trump’s trouble obtaining legal help. There’s a reason for that. Democrat intimidation.

Targeting attorneys in this fashion is unprecedented in the United States. And these totalitarian antics are coming from the same partisan faction that in the past declared that the right to representation was sacred, which invented a constitutional right to taxpayer-funded lawyers for murderers and rapists, and yet is conspiring to deny representation to the President of the United States through intimidation.

But the Democrats are also obsessed with attacking the First Amendment. And so the report zeroes in on John Solomon, a journalist whose work had appeared in The Hill, and the phone records are used to highlight and track conversations involving Solomon. His work is treated as if it were a criminal conspiracy with one paragraph declaring that, “Mr. Solomon was not working alone. As further described below, there was a coordinated effort by associates of President Trump to push these false narratives publicly, as evidenced by public statements, phone records, and contractual agreements.”

The Democrats know all about coordinating with the media to push false narratives. This entire process is the result of coordination between the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration, and key media figures, including Mother Jones’ David Corn and Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff. The Clinton campaign’s cutouts provided copies of the Steele report, a conspiratorial document filled with false claims, to reporters whose news stories about it were then used to provide corroboration for the investigations.

Reporters using politicians and their associates as sources is routine in Washington D.C. The Democrats and their House Intelligence Committee report is criminalizing opposition journalism. Even while the New York Times and other media outlets claim that President Trump’s use of the term ‘fake news’ is an attack on the press, their political allies are abusing their power to target opposition reporters.


The aggressive pursuit of the National Enquirer criminalized behavior that is routine in the mainstream media. That attack on the First Amendment was written off because the Enquirer is a tabloid. But Solomon is a veteran of the media. The only thing that an attack on him demonstrates is that any journalist, paper, or outlet that stands in the way of the Democrats is fair game for anything.

"Adam Schiff arbitrarily releases my phone records as a 1st Amendment protected reporter. State Department bureaucrats reportedly monitored my social media," John Solomon tweeted. "Whatever happened to civil liberties, privacy and decency?"

Civil liberties were the first casualty of this campaign. The war on Trump has always been a war of narratives. The common denominator between Russiagate and Ukrainegate is that both were really about the intangibles of narrative and the limits of speech. The real question of Russiagate was who is allowed to engage in journalism, to engage in opposition research, and spread it around. The attack on Solomon shows that, even though the geography has shifted, that is still the same big question.

Narratives, the business of journalism, to support political interests, was at the core of this all along.

The Democrats weaponized journalism, not just to spread narratives, but to act as an interlocking part in FISA applications and investigations of political opponents, leaking damaging materials to not only create a public narrative, but to launder them as supporting evidence for those same investigations. And, at the same time, they sought to criminalize contrary narratives as criminal conspiracies.

Russiagate falsely claimed that Russian Facebook ads had changed the outcome of the election, and that conservative ‘fake news’ was an urgent crisis that required social media censorship. This censorship was conducted by the media’s ‘fact checkers’. Social media companies were urged to promote media content and suppress conservative content to stop this grave opposition threat to democracy.

The ‘fake news’ debate, (does the term refer to the news media or to conservative social media users), is a battle of narratives. Any free society has pitched narrative battles going on all the time. What is dangerous about these narrative battles is that they’re not being fought with arguments, good or bad, but by criminalizing opposition narratives. The existence of a narrative becomes a criminal conspiracy.

And narratives are what the press and attorneys have in common. Both advance arguments and cite evidence. The Democrats are working to criminalize opposition narratives, by journalists and by lawyers.

The narrative is the real crime. Where possible, legal technicalities are used to find or invent crimes to get around the First Amendment, but these offenses are not the issue. The real goal is to silence the opposition’s ability to advance arguments, uncover evidence, and put them forward in either the marketplace of ideas or a court of law. The toolset is the familiar three-pronged approach used by China, Russia, and any random totalitarian country against domestic political opponents, accusations of foreign involvement, innovative criminal charges over acts not normally prosecuted or treated as offenses, and criminal charges based on unrelated misconduct. All three keep popping up in the war on Trump.

The Democrats are fighting a narrative war. Their targets are narratives. There is never anything more tangible in their scandals and investigations than narratives. Get past the arm-waving and pulpit-pounding rhetoric and the basic issue is that Republicans had damaging information about Democrats. The targets of their investigations are the machinery of how the information is obtained and distributed.

That’s the same issue at stake in California’s unconstitutional prosecution of the Center for Medical Progress journalists who captured undercover video of Planned Parenthood misconduct.

Dem investigations aren’t about money or special favors. The usual elements of political corruption never show up. Instead, it’s about who gets to find things out and who gets to report on them.

This isn’t just a war about Trump. It’s a war about the First Amendment.

Spying on reporters has become the new normal. Criminalizing journalism is at the center of every Democrat investigation of President Trump. And that’s an urgent threat to the First Amendment.

The internet destroyed a monopoly on narrative, allowing anyone to conduct opposition research, to spread ideas, and to put forward arguments. The impeachment push once again threatens a free press. Its thuggery is not accidental. It’s a deliberate effort to eliminate the civil rights of the opposition.

And it cannot be allowed to succeed.


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