Accuracy in Media

On the same week mainstream media got caught taking President Trump’s comments about gang members out of context, it is trying to spin comments by a potential candidate for New York Attorney General that indicated she would target Trump and his allies as soon as she got into office.

MSNBC’s Ari Melber asked Zephyr Teachout, who formed an exploratory committee to consider running to replace Eric Schneiderman as chief attorney for the president’s home state: “Would you be prepared to use the powers of that office, within your understanding of the law, to pursue people [involved with Trump] who might get federal pardons?”

Teachout, a Bernie Sanders supporter who has lost races for governor and a U.S. House seat, responded: “Absolutely. One of the most important things, that you may have talked about before on this show, is that the capacity to pardon [does] not include state crimes. And so, there’s many different ways in which a state attorney general, but in particular the New York state attorney general, has the power to really resist the lawlessness and corruption of the Trump administration.”

Under the Martin Act, passed by the New York legislature in 1921, the state’s attorney general has powers to investigate financial fraud that are unmatched by any regulator in any other state.

A fight among journalists erupted on Twitter when Brendan Nyhan, a political science professor at Dartmouth and contributor to the New York Times, tweeted: “She’s prejudging their guilt (“lawlessness” of the Trump admin) as a candidate for AG. Imagine if in 2016 Jeff Sessions said if he became AG he would use his powers to address the ‘lawlessness’ of Hillary Clinton or Obama or whomever.”

“She made no such promise,” wrote Brian Beutler of Crooked Media. “She quite appropriately said she would use her office to prosecute state crimes irrespective of whether comparable federal crimes were pardoned. And anyone who accepted such a pardon would be making a compelling statement of their built.”

Imagine if Trump was asked what he would do if a New Yorker received a pardon from the N.Y. governor, and Trump responded that he “absolutely” would use the power of his office to prosecute that person under federal law,” Andy Grewal, a professor at the University of Iowa, said. 

“Calling the Trump admin lawless is describing reality and isn’t specific to any person. It’s also a common political platitude. She prejudged nobody’s guilt except, arguably hypothetical pardon recipients, who would have confessed to their crimes. There’s no foul here.”

The list of potential or rumored candidates “continues to grow,” Vox reported. “After all, the attorney general is the second most important political office in the state and now, more than ever, offers a chance to build a national profile as one of Trump’s chief antagonizers.”

In a Washington Post piece May 8 about life in the New York State Attorney General’s office after Schneiderman’s departure, Aaron Blakes writes: “Schneiderman and Trump have butted heads in part because Schneiderman was attorney general in Trump’s home state, yes. But Schneiderman was also an ambitious, crusading prosecutor with eyes on Albany, and Trump provided an increasingly perfect foil – as he has for many a Democrat.”

Losing Schneiderman was particularly problematic for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation because his office was viewed “as something of a backstop – the guy who could take up the case against Trump’s former campaign chairman for state crimes if Trump effectively wipes Manafort’s federal slate clean.”

“The problem here, if there is one,” Beutler tweeted later, “may be a totally different norm of ubiquitous partisan prosecutors, but that wasn’t where we started.”

Actually, it was.  

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