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Fox News Hasn't Always Shared Robert Driscoll's Credentials With Its Viewers


Cable news programs have been full of commentators talking about the president's legal problems and the question of possible Russian collusion. One frequent analyst on Fox News has an unusual credential. Robert Driscoll is a lawyer who represents a woman accused of being a Russian spy. But viewers don't always know about that credential. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The principle at stake was encapsulated pretty neatly back in May by, of all people, Fox News host Laura Ingraham. She was mocking the frequent TV appearances of the attorney for Stormy Daniels, who alleges she was paid during the 2016 campaign to hush up her earlier affair with President Trump.


LAURA INGRAHAM: There has been quite a few - have been quite a few mistruths stated by Michael Avenatti, who is brought on to some of these other networks as almost, like, an analyst. They almost forget that he's representing a client.

FOLKENFLIK: Ingraham herself has periodically interviewed Robert Driscoll. He was chief of staff for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under George W. Bush. This year, Driscoll spoke about the president's legal challenges, including questions of his ties to Russia, the larger investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, the credibility of the FBI and the prosecution of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort.

Back in May, Driscoll spoke on Fox News about the hush payments to Trump's alleged past mistresses.


ROBERT DRISCOLL: I think you can power through that because the public kind of accepted that. And if he can, you know, keep his eyes on the prize and get exonerated on the Russia stuff, I think he can weather the storm on this.

FOLKENFLIK: The Russian stuff - that's relevant here. Driscoll is defending an accused Russian spy, Maria Butina, against federal charges. If prosecutors are correct, she is very much part of the larger story of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Those charges became public back in July. Fox interviewed him about the case in subsequent days.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And coming up in this show, our exclusive interview with the attorney representing accused Russian spy Maria Butina. Robert Driscoll will join us live momentarily.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet Driscoll was interviewed at least three more times by Fox News on other matters related to Russia, such as Trump's withdrawal of security clearance from former CIA Chief John Brennan, whose intense criticism of the president centers on Russia.

Fox viewers were not told of Driscoll's role as Butina's defense attorney. Driscoll tells NPR there's no conflict because she is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, not Mueller.

DRISCOLL: Most of the contact done has been pretty general about the powers of the, you know, special counsel and, yeah, how long things take and those type of general questions. And Maria's case was not - it didn't overlap with any of those.

FOLKENFLIK: Not everyone agrees.

SID BEDINGFIELD: Once he took the job as her lawyer, his status changed.

FOLKENFLIK: Sid Bedingfield is former executive vice president of CNN.

BEDINGFIELD: He's no longer an independent observer, but someone with a vested interest in the larger story of Russian engagement with the U.S. election process. And therefore, a news organization owes it to its readers and viewers to identify specifically what role he's playing in the larger story.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox did not know initially of Driscoll's role. He tells NPR he represented Butina as far back as February, when the Senate Intelligence Committee first sought her testimony in private. Driscoll says he only told news outlets of his involvement in July. Yet, he appeared several times as an analyst without Fox disclosing that to its viewers.

Fox News' top programming executive tells NPR the network is now reminding producers of its aim to make all relevant disclosures. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KINOBE'S "CHASING CLOUDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.