This week, Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano claimed that the British foreign surveillance agency GCHQ helped President Barack Obama wiretap Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The GCHQ called Napolitano’s claims “utterly ridiculous” and Fox News has reportedly pulled him from the network.
On March 20, The Los Angeles Times reported that Fox News hasn’t used Napolitano since Thursday. He was oddly absent during the network’s coverage of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings.
Sources told the LA Times that Napolitano isn’t expected to be on the network “any time in the near future.” An anonymous source also confirmed to Heavy.com that Napolitano was “benched.”
The 66-year-old Napolitano has been at Fox News since 1998, after serving as a judge in the New Jersey Superior Court from 1987 to 1995. Napolitano, who was born in Newark, New Jersey, is not married. According to Celebrity Net Worth, he has an estimated net worth of $7.5 million.
Here’s what you need to know about Napolitano and the diplomatic incident he started.
1. Fox News Says They Have Seen no Evidence That Obama Surveilled Trump
On March 14, Napolitano appeared on Fox & Friends, claiming that Obama asked British intelligence for surveillance on Trump so it wouldn’t look like the American government was behind it, reports LawNewz. Napolitano claimed that the GCHQ, the British version of the NSA, did the heavy lifting. He also claimed that the man who ordered the surveillance “resigned three days after Trump was inaugurated.”
Napolitano didn’t say who this man was or who his sources were. However, when the New York Times tried to contact Napolitano on March 17, they instead heard from former intelligence officer Larry C. Johnson, the same former Fox News contributor who spread a 2008 hoax about Michelle Obama. Johnson told the Times that Napolitano told him to call the Times and confirm that he was one of Napolitano’s sources for the report. He claimed to have came across the information “from sources in the American intelligence community.”
On March 16, Napolitano’s claims appeared on Fox News’ website in a column, which remains unedited since it was published. However, Fox News did add a link to the GCHQ’s statement.
In his opinion piece, the former judge wrote:
Sources have told me that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ — a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms — has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump’s. So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints.
Since there were reports that the U.S. government apologized for citing Napolitano’s report as evidence, Fox News has backed away from the reporting. In a statement on his show, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said that the network has “no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full Stop.” He said that the network can’t confirm Napolitano’s “commentary.”
2. GCHQ Called Napolitano’s Claims ‘Utterly Ridiculous’ & ‘Should be Ignored’
Although Napolitano never revealed the source for his information, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated the claims during his March 16 press conference. The White House has continued to try to justify Trump’s claims on March 4 that Obama wiretapped him in 2016. The White House has said that Trump was talking about surveillance in general, and didn’t specifically mean “wiretap.”
A spokesman for the GCHQ then told the Telegraph that Napolitano’s allegations are “ridiculous.”
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesman said.
The Telegraph also reported that National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster and Spicer called Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Prime Minister Theresa May’s National Security Adviser, to apologize. A spokesman for the U.K. government said that they “made clear the allegations were ridiculous and received reassurances that they would not be repeated” after speaking with the U.S. government.
But then, Buzzfeed reported that the Spicer is not apologized. “I don’t think we regret anything,” Spicer told Buzzfeed.
Another official told the New York Times, Trump “didn’t apologize, no way, no how.”
And when Trump was asked about it by a German reporter during his press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said, “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
Leaders of the intelligence committees in both houses of Congress have said they haven’t seen evidence to back Trump’s wiretapping claim.
3. Napolitano Sided With 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists in 2010
Back in 2010, even the conservative News Busters took Napolitano to task for appearing to side with Geraldo Rivera on the conspiracies about how the original 7 World Trace Center fell on September 11, 2001.
“It’s hard for me to believe that [WTC7] came down by itself. I was gratified to see Geraldo Rivera investigating it. I’m gratified to see the people across the border interested,” Napolitano said in an interview on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show. “I think 20 years from now, people will look at 9/11 the way they look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn’t possibly have been done the way the government told us.”
Napolitano hasn’t said anything on the topic of 9/11 conspiracy theories publicly since, but in September 2016, he praised Congress for overriding Obama’s veto of a bill that would have prevented 9/11 victims and families from suing Saudi Arabia.
The veto override means “that shroud is about to be lifted by plaintiffs’ lawyers, who will bring people from the Saudi government into their offices in New York, put them under oath and ask them questions,” Napolitano said on Fox News. “This essentially becomes law in a couple of minutes. As of this very moment…survivors of 9/11 or their families can sue for damages.”
4. Napolitano Called the Decision on Trump’s First Immigration Executive Order ‘Intellectually Dishonest’
After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate Trump’s first immigration executive order, Napolitano criticized the decision as “intellectually dishonest” and “so profoundly wrong.”
“This is an intellectually dishonest piece of work that the 9th Circuit has produced tonight, because it essentially consists of substituting the judgment of three judges for the president of the United States, when the Constitution unambiguously gives this area of jurisdiction – foreign policy – exclusively to the president,” Napolitano said on Fox News.
A few days later, Napolitano advocated for the creation of a new immigration executive order, which is exactly what Trump did. The new immigration executive order was issued on March 6 and has since been blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland.
In a March 16 appearance on Fox & Friends, Napolitano criticized the Hawaii judge for judging the executive order on Trump’s intent. He said that the court should only judge an executive order basedd on the exact written works and not go into “psychobabble and try and figure out what the intent was.”
“Basically what the judge said last night in Hawaii was this is a Muslim ban by another name,” Napolitano said. “That’s the way I would summarize this with a very short handle on it. Without getting too much into the weeds, he basically looked at the things that candidate Donald Trump said, that our friend Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani said, that Kellyanne Conway said.”
5. Napolitano Isn’t a Fan of Abraham Lincoln
Napolitano has an unpopular opinion of President Abraham Lincoln and famously appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2014 to defend his reasons for not liking Lincoln. He appeared on The Daily Show a month after saying on Fox News that he is a “contrarian” on Lincoln, suggesting that slavery could have been brought to an end without the bloody Civil War.
“At the time that [Lincoln] was the president of the United States, slavery was dying a natural death all over the Western world,” Napolitano told Stewart. “Instead of allowing it to die, or helping it to die, or even purchasing the slaves and then freeing them — which would have cost a lot less money than the Civil War cost — Lincoln set about on the most murderous war in American history.”
Napolitano also claimed that Lincoln enforced the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which allowed slaveowners to use the federal government to get escaped slaves back, even if they were found in a free state. Politifact rated this claim “mostly false,” noting that the law was enforced inconsistently at the start of the war.
Napolitano didn’t suddenly become anti-Lincoln in 2014. Back in 2007, he wrote The Constitution in Exile: How the Federal Government Has Seized Power by Rewriting the Supreme Law of the Land, which includes a chapter called “Dishonest Abe,” in which me makes the case that many of Lincoln’s actions were unconstitutional.