The Russiagates of Hell
CPJ's 25k word Trump-Russia article gets the AIRSUCS treatment
In Late January the Columbia Journalism Review Published Jeff Gerth’s 24,000 word treatment of the media’s handling of the nexis between Donald Trump and Russia. It was valuable (Gerth’s article, not the nexis, though that too turned into a financial boon for its disseminators.) Though little remarked upon at time of publication outside of the overly-committed world of the Greenwald/Taibbi left and the Pro-Trump right, I thought I could give it more prominence here. So if you like links, headlines, and the up-until-now the garish visuals that result when you prompt Dall-E with “Yellow-haired overweight man reading a newspaper in the style of Soviet propaganda art” here you go. We are now 2/3rds of the way through our first entry in the AIRSUCS (Articles I Read So You Don’t Have To) cannon.
We last left the story of the story in mid-February 2017. The Times had just run an article headlined “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence" which Jim Comey would later tell congress was almost entirely wrong. A few weeks later we got:
Was it Impactful?: The main impact wasn’t about the Obama White House’s efforts, it was the Time’s adding sources who alleged there had been contact between Trump and the Russians. In February it was four, now it was “more than a half dozen officials.”
Was it Accurate?: Per Gerth:
FBI officials thought the story was a mess. Messages later made public from that day indicated the bureau thought the Times would try to “correct” its mistakes from a few weeks earlier and “save their reputation.” But, as Strzok saw it, the paper was “doubling down on the inaccuracies.
Status Today: Much of the article dealt with then-Attorney General Jeff Session’s dealings with the Russians, which were never proved, or even credibly alleged, to have been other than routine.
Fun Fact: The article includes multiple Democrats calling for Sessions to resign . He acquiesced 20 months later. Near the end of Gerth’s magnum opus article he asks Trump what his mistakes were. Trump’s answer: “Jeff Sessions was a mistake.”
Was it Impactful?: It slightly walked back the Time’s earlier assertion that “Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.” This story notes that ”intelligence officials” can mean lot of different things in a place like Russia. Also, according to Gerth, this article addressed Times’ Editor Dean Baquet’s unease with earlier stories that presented even innocent contacts as having a sinister sheen.
Was it Accurate?: It still made all the contacts seem pretty sinister, even as it quotes a former US Ambassador arguing against jumping to conclusions.
Status Today: Mueller, the FBI, and other agencies have not been able to show that Russian agents or assets had infiltrated the Trump campaign. The likelier explanation is that one-time campaign associates like Cater Page and Paul Manafort were venal but not traitorous. Donald Trump’s blanket denial of all contacts, even those that clearly occurred, did not add clarity.
Fun Fact: Article notes that “In a possible sign that Mr. Trump hopes to put behind him the impression that he is an uncritical admirer of Mr. Putin, he is expected to name Fiona Hill, a respected Brookings scholar, to the top Russia post at the National Security Council” He did. Hill wound up offering damaging testimony at Trump’s first impeachment inquiry.
Two days later we got this tweet:
Was it Impactful?: Change-the-Defcon-Levels impactful.
Was it Accurate?: If one were to give Trump the widest latitude of interpreting “wires tapped” as meaning any type of surveillance, “Trump Tower” as meaning anyone associated with him, and “Obama” as meaning the FBI of the Obama era to conclude that this tweet accurately describes FISA warrant on Carter Page. I still don’t think you can call the allegation “accurate”.
Status Today: This tweet is included in the timeline of media coverage of Trump-Russiagate for two reasons. One is to emphasize that “media” isn’t defined as big media companies, it also means anyone with a big platform. Also, this uncorroborated tweet is still believed by Trump’s ardent supporters, who incorrectly regard The DOJ’s Inspector General report as offering vindication.
Fun Fact: In a follow up tweet Trump misspelled Tap.
Was it Impactful?: It got wide play on every network, newspaper and Sunday show.
Was it Accurate?: Technically, emails between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyers offering dirt on Hillary Clinton aren’t circumstantial evidence, but they’re also not proof that there was actual collusion. Legally speaking “evidence” isn’t synonymous with “proof” or even “truth” though thats how it’s often used.
Status Today: Laregly discredited by the Mueller report, unless collusion is defined in broader ways than it was at the time of the utterance.
Fun Fact: According to a 2005 LA Times story ”Adam Schiff’s wife’s name is Eve. She apparently is not as amused by the coincidence as he is and resisted various Garden of Eden suggestions for their children’s names, Alexa and Elijah.”
Was it Impactful?: It named Sergei Millian as a key source for the Steele Dossier, described as a “well developed conspiracy of cooperation between [Trump] and Russian leadership.”
Was it Accurate?: This note was appended the original story nearly five years later
Status Today: You can only find the story on the internet archive not the Post Web Site
Fun Fact: Sergei Millan may or may not have contributed to the Steele Dossier, but he was involved in another, ethically murky influence operation, an appearance on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing
Was it Impactful?: Yes, because it provided at least 4 of the 5 journalistic W’s about the FBI surveillance of Trump officials. It claimed to offer “the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents.”
Was it Accurate?: Its implications were not ultimately borne out. Per the Mueller report :
The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government
Status Today: Page was never charged, and DOJ’s Inspector General faulted the granting of follow-up FISA warrants monitoring him. Also, per Gerth :
Its anonymous sources mirrored the FBI’s suspicions but left out the bureau’s missteps and exculpatory evidence.
Fun Fact: In late 2017 Carter Page wrote a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence arguing” I believe that if you surveyed Senator Franken’s harassment victims, a vast majority of them would most likely prefer being briefly groped rather than suffer the severe invasion of privacy and other historic abuses that I’ve continued to undergo”.
Was it Impactful?: Yes, this informed the public that the investigation was predicated on George Papadopoulos’ meeting with an Australian diplomat, not predicated only upon the Steele Dossier. In fact the article explicitly states “that information was not part of the justification to start a counterintelligence inquiry, American officials said.”
Was it Accurate?: This was the impetus for the surveillance of Papadopoulos, but Bill Barr argues that it should have been seen as only a “throwaway comment in a wine bar” which “amounted to a ‘suggestion’ of a ‘suggestion.’” It is also not accurate to say that this was an investigation into Trump, as Strzok says to Gerth
“There never was a case opened on the Trump campaign—it was opened to identify whoever might have received the Russian offer.”
Status Today: George Papadopoulos served a 14 day jail term, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer has left government, and Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, the source of the dirt, apparently disappeared in 2018.
Fun Fact: Papadopoulos and his wife Simona are both still MAGA supporters, he offering punditry in Trump-friendly media, she doing the same while also starring in independent films and starting her own swimwear line.
OOOH. We’re almost at 2018. Trump’s made it almost a whole year in office. The revelations about past Russia entanglements have all surfaced at this point. In the upcoming year Trump will make new mistakes, the media will react anew, and Robert Mueller will issue a report that settles little. Join us again for Part III of our AIRSUCS series on “The press versus the president”
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Exception: this excellent interview of Gerth by Eli Lake