It only took one day for a wild conspiracy theory about a made-up FBI plot to assassinate President Trump to move from a fringe website to Fox News.
Even as Trump's lawyers cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, conservative media outlets like Fox News are painting Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a partisan witch hunt.
Fox News hosts have been particularly incensed since Mueller removed FBI agent Peter Strzok from his team of investigators after it was revealed that Strzok sent text messages expressing anti-Trump views with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair. Among the 375 exchanges, which were released last week by the Justice Department and go back to December 2015, Strzok referred to Trump as an "idiot" and a "loathsome human."
Sean Hannity, who reportedly speaks with Trump often and is an ardent supporter of the president, has repeatedly demanded Mueller's firing. New Fox News host Laura Ingraham has claimed a "web of Clinton and Obama loyalists" have infiltrated Mueller's office. Watters' World host Jesse Watters, a Philadelphia native, was widely criticized for suggesting there may be an anti-Trump "coup" going on within the FBI. Jeanine Pirro, a Trump ally who has met with the president multiple times, called on her weekend show for the arrest of FBI officials. And Fox News legal commentator Greg Jarrett compared the FBI to the KGB, suggesting that Mueller has turned the bureau into "America's secret police."
"Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats," Jarrett told Hannity earlier this month. "It's like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door."
But Fox News contributor Kevin Jackson has taken criticism of Mueller and the FBI to a new level of conspiracy theory, suggesting on Tuesday afternoon's Outnumbered that the FBI might actually be plotting to assassinate President Trump.
"Well, I think they're going to say, is it — what was his intent, right?" Jackson said, referencing Strzok's texts. "Because that's exactly what FBI director, former FBI director [James] Comey said when he was letting Hillary Clinton off the hook. And his intent, regardless of whether it was an assassination attempt or whatever, it was definitely something."
To her credit, Outnumbered host Harris Faulkner pushed back immediately on the false claim. Faulkner noted that no credible news source has reported or even floated the idea of an FBI conspiracy to assassinate the president.
"Oh, it's been floated," Jackson responded. "When I talk about this, I'm talking about social media stuff and, you know, that's out there, I'm not talking about media sources."
"Nothing credible," co-host Sandra Smith interjected.
"Well, I mean yeah," Jackson shot back.
A Fox News spokesperson said the situation "has been addressed" with Jackson, but did not elaborate any further. Jackson, a Fox News contributor since Jan. 2016 who regularly appears on many of the network's shows, describes himself on his website as a "bestselling author, syndicated talk show host, nationally known speaker, former management consultant, and a rising star in political circles."
Jackson didn't cook up the conspiracy theory on his own. The "social media stuff" he's referring to stems from the fringe, right-wing conspiracy website InfoWars. Alex Jones, the host of InfoWars (a show Trump himself has appeared on), told his listeners Monday that "the Clintons and their operatives in the FBI" have been quietly making moves to permanently silence Trump.
"I think they're going to go ahead and make their move to kill the president," Jones said. "I think in the next 30 days, I think they're going to make an assassination attempt. I just — my gut — I see all of them together, they're that desperate. They're either going to give up or they're going to activate their cells."
For now, Trump is resisting calls to fire Mueller. Upon returning from Camp David on Sunday, Trump said it's "quite sad" to see reports of bias within the FBI, but denied planning to make changes to the special counsel's investigation.
"No, I'm not," Trump told reporters. "What are you, surprised?"