by Julie Kelly · July 10, 2018
Congress is finally closing in on the biggest perpetrator of the Trump-Russia election collusion hoax: the American news media.
After taking an eight-year break from its vital role as the executive branch’s watchdog, the media have been on a frenzied, anti-Trump bender since 2016. Every conspiracy theory, every rumor, every dubious source has been chased down and breathlessly covered by once-credible news organizations. (This shameful interview on CNN with a drunken former Trump campaign aide could be a new low in journalism.)
Despite sanctimonious protestations that the media are not—as President Trump suggests—the “enemy of the people,” their collective conduct before and during his presidency has been disgraceful and borderline subversive. The elite press is complicit in one of the greatest political scandals of all-time: How the Obama administration concocted the tale that Donald Trump’s campaign was working with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) now is asking his congressional colleagues to compel open testimony from several people suspected of working as conduits between the Justice Department and the media to facilitate the Trump-Russia narrative.
In a July 5 letter to the joint task force of the House Oversight and House Judiciary committees, Nunes listed 15 people who may have exchanged information with Justice or FBI officials about ongoing investigations into the 2016 election, including the secret that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved (and re-authorized three times) a warrant to spy on Trump campaign volunteer, Carter Page.
Nunes’s list centers around Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that produced the Christopher Steele “dossier.” Simpson was a longtime reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He then leveraged his chummy relationships with other journalists to peddle the dossier and start planting negative stories about Trump campaign associates a few months before the election.
Fusion, it seems, also paid unnamed journalists, presumably to write anti-Trump articles. Simpson continued to push the Steele dossier as a legitimate intelligence document even after Steele was fired as an FBI source for lying to federal officials about his contacts with the press. (When Nunes exposed Simpson’s chicanery last year, the Journal blasted their former employee: “Americans don’t need a Justice Department coverup abetted by Glenn Simpson’s media buddies.”)
In addition to Simpson himself, Nunes wants the public to hear from Simpson’s wife, Mary Jacoby, who claimed her husband was responsible for launching the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation; Simpson’s Wall Street Journal colleague Neil King—the husband of a former White House communications advisor who was working for President Obama when the Trump-Russia conspiracy was born—and went to work for Fusion after the election; and Nellie Ohr, the wife of a top Justice Department official who was hired by Fusion GPS in 2016 to help the firm “with its research and analysis of Mr. Trump.” Nunes also listed Hillary Clinton cronies Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer and her campaign manager, Robby Mook. (The Clinton campaign helped pay for the dossier.)
Nunes said on Fox News over the weekend that he hopes the task force will televise the witnesses’ depositions: “These people will help us get to the bottom of [whether] this was an orchestrated effort by the Left, working with the FBI and DOJ, to frame the president and many people involved, to dig up dirt and start this investigation.”
The media’s unethical behavior gradually is being exposed and could result in the wholesale delegitimization of the industry, not to mention the possible criminal prosecution of law enforcement and intelligence officials who unlawfully leaked classified information to their journo-accomplices. Here are a few of the most egregious cases:
Nine anonymous Justice Department officials talked to the Washington Post in February 2017 about recorded conversations between Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, and the Russian ambassador during the transition. Details about the conversation were allegedly picked up via FISA surveillance on the ambassador. (There is a chance a FISA warrant also existed on Flynn.) In his congressional testimony last month, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein confirmed that discussing a FISA is illegal. The article led to Flynn’s ouster.
Ditto for an April 2017 article on Carter Page. Citing law enforcement officials who spoke on “the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of a counterintelligence probe,” the Washington Post revealed that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on the Trump campaign volunteer in October 2016. Adam Entous, a reporter listed on both Post articles, previously worked with Simpson at the Wall Street Journal.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed in his report last month that reporters were showering FBI officials with gifts and perks, presumably for scoops. “We identified instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.”
After James Wolfe, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s security chief, was arrested last month as part of the FBI’s ongoing probe into illegal leaks of classified information to the press, it was divulged that Wolfe had a three-year affair with a young reporter. Ali Watkins, 26, told her bosses at several top news organizations about her illicit and unethical affair, which included her receiving gifts, trips and other perks paid for by Wolfe; they allowed her to continue covering the committee. She was recently “reassigned” at the New York Times.
Over the weekend, Politico revealed that four AP reporters met in April 2017 with key Justice Department officials, including Andrew Weissmann (now a top prosecutor for Robert Mueller) to exchange information about former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The reporters gave investigators a tip about Manafort’s storage locker in Virginia, which was subsequently raided by Mueller’s team in late May 2017. Manafort’s lawyers are now hitting back, claiming the unusual meeting “raises serious concerns about whether a violation of grand jury secrecy occurred.”
Those are just some of the worst examples; it would take thousands (millions?) of words to cover the missteps, corrections, and outright lies by the media about the Trump-Russia “collusion” tale. (For example, ABC News finally cut ties with reporter Brian Ross, seven months after he was demoted for incorrectly reporting on live television that Flynn would testify that Trump told him to contact the Russians during the campaign. The explosive news sent the stock market tumbling.) And it would be impossible to catalog all of the media’s endless speculation about who is flipping on whom; the tweets containing baseless accusations; or the commentary by influencers on cable news shows insisting the Russia scandal would eventually take down Trump.
The press considers itself a protected class, unbound to professional norms and immune from the same laws that apply to the rest of us. (The media’s objection to the government’s seizure of Ali Watkins’s email and phone records is the most recent example.) It is unclear whether any of the journalists who reported classified information could be criminally prosecuted.
Regardless of their legal liability, news outlets that systematically boosted the Trump-Russia story should be held publicly accountable. Nunes is on the right track. It’s time we hear from Simpson and company about how this charade went down: transparency should work both ways.