Donald Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway admitted to MSNBC’s Brian Williams Thursday night that the Republican presidential candidate’s recent campaign-trail proclamation — that Hillary Clinton faces a “likely indictment” by the FBI — is based on inaccurate reporting. Still, she said, factual or not, “the damage is done to Hillary Clinton.”
The indictment claim stems from a since-retracted Fox News report alleging new developments in the FBI’s long-running probe into interactions between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation. Fox News’ Bret Baier reported Wednesday that “two separate sources with intimate knowledge of the FBI investigations” told him that there is “avalanche” of new evidence “coming in every day” into the more-than-yearlong probe, which is separate from the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. According to his sources, Baier said, the investigation “will continue to, likely, an indictment.”
Other news outlets, including ABC News and CNN, quickly disputed the Fox News report after checking with their own sources, deeming the claim of a likely indictment “inaccurate and without merit” and simply “not true.”
Still, Trump took to the campaign trail Thursday morning to announce “breaking news” about the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation, announcing to the delight of many cheering supporters at a rally in Jacksonville, Fla., that “an avalanche of information is coming in” and that “the FBI agents say their investigation is likely to yield an indictment.”
Meanwhile that same day, Baier walked back that crucial aspect of his report, describing his earlier suggestion of a likely indictment resulting from the FBI probe as an “inartful” representation of the situation.
“As a lawyer, though,” Williams pressed Conway during their interview, “you would concede ‘indictment’ is not only a term of art, it’s a term of law, and that’s a big difference to use the expression ‘likely indictment’ when all the reporting is to the contrary.”
“Fine,” the campaign manager conceded, before going on to argue, “It doesn’t change what’s in voters’ minds right now.”
Asked whether Trump would “amend his stump speech to walk back the same thing,” Conway replied: “Well, the damage is done to Hillary Clinton, that no matter how it’s being termed, the voters are hearing it for what it is, a culture of corruption.”
Several conservative outlets appeared to share Conway’s attitude about the report. The Washington Post noted the presence of articles referencing Fox’s “bombshell” report and Clinton’s “likely indictment” on the homepages of Breitbart, Hot Air, Infowars and other similar sites as recently as Friday morning.
Baier, however, contended just the opposite.
“All the time, but especially in a heated election on a topic this explosive, every word matters, no matter how well sourced,” the Fox News anchor said Friday, apologizing on air.
“Well, that just wasn’t inartful,” he said, walking back his earlier walk-back. “It was a mistake, and for that I’m sorry. I should have said, ‘They will continue to build their case.’”
The FBI does not issue indictments, but rather investigates and presents evidence to prosecutors within the Department of Justice, who then make decisions on whether the evidence warrants further action.