Yesterday I wrote about reports that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s campaign retained the services of former Clinton counsel Marc Elias. The hiring was astonishing not only because of Elias’ controversial record but a still ongoing special counsel investigation touching on his role in the last election. Elias has challenged past elections and I raised the question of whether he might be part of post-election challenges. When Fox News asked the McAuliffe campaign, the response was . . . well . . . a killer.
The campaign responded to Fox reporter Tyler O’Neil with an email sent by McAuliffe spokesperson Christina Freundlich asking “can we try to kill this.” She later sent out an email which seemed to claim success in spiking the story without having to respond to questions about Elias’ record.
On its face, it seemed like the McAuliffe campaign was asking Fox to kill the story in a Twitteresque fashion. After all, many in the media killed the Hunter Biden laptop story before the election. Indeed, even journalism deans have called on reporters to kill stories rather than respond to the merits.
If that seems an unlikely request to Fox News, there is the alternative possibility that Freundlich meant the response to go to media allies or campaign staff to see if they could somehow kill the story. If so, it was a chilling first response to the column. It had that Shakespearean Dick the Butcher feel to it: the first thing we do is kill all the lawyer stories.
The greater controversy however remains the hiring of Elias for any election purpose when a special prosecutor is still in the field presumably looking, among other things, at Elias’ role in the 2020 election. (Elias is not the sole or primary focus of the investigation, which is looking at origins of the Russian conspiracy theories before the last election).
McAuliffe does not appear disturbed by Elias’ highly controversial career or his possible exposure in the Durham investigation. Elias’ former law partner at Perkins Coie was just indicted by Durham. Even if he is not indicted like his former partner, Elias is likely to be featured in any report.
I do not disparage any campaign for lawyering up in what could be a close election and there are a host of pre-election and post-election matters for counsel to address. This is particularly true in the state with recent changes in voting rules. However, there remains the question of why McAuliffe would hire Elias in the midst of the special counsel investigation. That is putting aside the allegations of reporters that Elias and the Clinton campaign lied to them to conceal the funding of the Steele dossier before the last election.
While Elias has denounced Republicans challenging elections, he has unsuccessfully challenged elections where the Republicans prevailed. He was previously sanctioned by a court in a case challenging a Texas voting law.
After Freundlich asked Fox “Can we try to kill this,” Fox said that she sent an email stating “To dispute the challenges of the election.” Fox described it as “ostensibly responding to an email that did not go through to Fox News.” (For the record, I appear as a Fox contributor).
Freundlich then sent out an equally cryptic tweet saying “I think it’s clear based on this story that we did in fact…kill the story.” That would suggest that she was asking Fox (and others) to simply kill the story.
It is not clear if Freundlich is saying that she was able to get most of the media to kill the story even while openly calling for (and then celebrating) that blackout. There are some newspapers like the New York Post which ran the story but it is not clear if the Washington Post or other media will do so. It is doubtful that such media would show the same restraint if a sanctioned Trump lawyer was hired by Youngkin to help manage election issues or challenges.
Elias has enjoyed such protection from inquiry in the past. One of the most glaring examples occurring recently on CNN when its media correspondent Brian Stelter asked Elias “what should we be doing differently?” in covering elections. Stelter accepted Elias’ portrayal of his past work as “pro-democracy” and never asked him about objections from other reporters that he and the campaign lied about the Steele Dossier before the presidential election. Elias called on the media to report with a “pro-democracy slant.” It is an open call for bias and just assumes that Elias’ work is pro-democracy and, by extension, those who oppose his work are anti-democracy.